Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
That’s the question often asked, in black comedy fashion, whenever we’re looking to find good things in an otherwise pretty dreadful situation.
It’s not a bad question to ask, though, about our present circumstances. What good things have come out of the pandemic of 2020 that we ought to embrace and make part of a “new normal” in the future? Here are some ideas.
1. More public high school graduation ceremonies. Schools have had to invent new ways to properly honor graduates in the absence of a single big graduation ceremony. Some of those ideas seem worth turning into traditions. For instance, Radford is among the localities that has produced banners featuring each graduate’s photo and hung them on lampposts along Main Street. Here is a variation to consider: What if localities held parades or other events to honor their college graduates? This seems a warmhearted thing to do, but there actually is a cold, bottom-line calculation to this. Every locality wants more of its college graduates to come home after graduation. But many of those college graduates will not be coming back — they already have plans. For them, a parade — or some other community event — would still be a nice send-off. For those whose plans are uncertain, this could be a way to remind them that their hometown supports them.
2. Celebrity well-wishers making virtual appearances at graduation. Graduation ceremonies for Roanoke County included virtual appearances by University of Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett, former Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer and former NFL player and Cave Spring alumnus Tiki Barber. Those celebrities — and others — also were part of a virtual statewide ceremony hosted by Gov. Ralph Northam. That event also included a much longer list of celebrities with Virginia connections, such as musician Dave Matthews and NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin. Granted, it is easier to line up celebrities this year since many of them are out of action. But why should this be a one-time-only thing?
3. Working from home. Not everyone can, but we have learned pretty quickly just who can and who can’t, and what the upsides and downsides are for those who can. The downside: Sometimes pets like to Zoom, too. And a lot of rural areas still struggle with internet service. The upside: Some workers are a lot more efficient at home, and there’s no commute time, so less carbon is spewed into the air.
We don’t know yet how many companies and workers will make this a permanent change, but for those who do, this is a huge opportunity for communities outside the major metro areas to make their pitch to a new generation of telecommuters.
Facebook says it expects 50% of its workforce to start working remotely, and Mark Zuckerberg says 75% of them might move to another city. That makes sense: Silicon Valley is super-expensive. Facebook also says it likely will reduce their pay if they do. That’s not as draconian as it sounds. Virginia pays state troopers more if they’re based in Northern Virginia because the cost-of-living is so much higher there.
4. A new appreciation for the arts. What did people do when they were confined at home? They turned to the arts. They might not have thought about it that way. For some the phrase “the arts” sounds very hoity-toity. But all those shows you’re watching on Netflix — those are part of “the arts.” Every time you tell your kids to entertain themselves by watching a movie or playing a video game so you can have your Zoom meeting, you’re making use of “the arts.” Think about that before you say “the arts” aren’t essential.
Ironically, at the same time that consumers have turned to the arts like never before, the artists responsible for them have had the toughest time staying in business. We most clearly see this through the music industry. Musicians today generally make most of their money touring because streaming doesn’t produce the same kind of revenue. But tours are shut down. So are all manner of local arts organizations — concert venues, museums, symphonies and theaters.
What happens when this is over? Will there be a new hunger for live entertainment? Will we see people donate at new levels to make sure their local arts organizations stay afloat? Will we see new interest in making sure schools put as much emphasis on the arts as athletics? Ideally the answer to all those questions will be yes. Remember that when the crisis hit, we didn’t turn to politicians for comfort; we turned to artists.
So, when we ask, “Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” we really do mean the play — even if it only was virtual.
THE ROANOKE TIMES