Hollywood mirrors

8 July 2014

The year 2014 may be the year of the epidemic. Hollywood often mirrors back society's current fears; for example, the '50s and '60s produced films like "Godzilla," reflecting our atomic angst. The '70s produced stories about nuclear Armageddon, such as the television mini-series "The Day After." In the '80s, robots and computers were trying to take over the world. The epitome of this genre was the trilogy of "Terminator" movies. But lately, entertainment trends turn towards an ancient enemy: disease.

Precursors have paved the way — "The Andromeda Strain" in 1971, "Outbreak" in 1995 and "12 Monkeys" in 1995 — but three television series on the topic within a year connote a trend. This year we have "Helix," a show where CDC scientists investigate an outbreak at an arctic research center. "The Strain" is a thriller whose main character is an epidemiologist, and disease is not spread by mosquitoes but by vampires. Probably the best of these will be TNT's "The Last Ship," in which a virus destroys most of the world's population. A Navy ship of survivors roams the world, searching for other survivors and fighting for their lives.

The CDC's Linda Reynolds stated, "Viruses have the capacity to mutate, to change and to become more deadly; therefore, they're a great evil antagonist to your protagonist in a story." In many current, real-world scenarios, viruses are a true force of evil with a seemingly increasing number of victims. Africa is now experiencing the worst Ebola outbreak on record. In another event, at least 86 federal employees were exposed to live anthrax bacteria. People risk their lives in these kinds of jobs because they help protect millions.

The United States races to stay up to speed to properly protect its citizens from viruses and toxins engineered to be weapons. Even without intentional scientific modification, viruses and bacteria are engineering themselves to become more and more resistant to the medicines we use to treat them.

Although disease has existed for all human history, some fear that humans may not outlive their microscopic planetary cohabitants. It's a war, and the generals are epidemiologists like those trained at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. It doesn't seem overly optimistic to believe that in the battle between human and viral ingenuity, humans will come out on top.