As in the run-up to the Iraq War (which I detailed more fully in my 2004 essay,"Premediation"), the run-up to a potential pandemic is notable for the way in which news media rehearse the forms of coverage that they would undoubtedly employ if a pandemic would occur. Take, for example, the use of maps. Here's the New York Times:
Obviously, this is precisely the kind of map that would be used (though with much more color and detail) if a pandemic were to occur. CNN News was (unsurprisingly) more dramatic in their cartographics, using a map of North America in much the same way they would use an electoral map, coloring in those states where cases of swine flu had been reported. In their map, Canada was treated not as the Times did, province by province, but as a single country. As John Stewart, who understands premediation as well as anyone, so insightfully asked in his report on "Snoutbreak '09: The Last 100 Days," "For six mild cases of the flu, you're going to turn 4 million square miles bright red?"
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M - Th 11p / 10c|
|Snoutbreak '09 - The Last 100 Days|
But maps are not the only form of premediation being employed in the swine flu pandemic. Crawls, breaking news, dramatic lead-ins, special reports, interviews with government officials and people affected by the virus--all of the usual modes of televisual news reporting are being deployed. My local paper, The Detroit Free Press, featured a story on how the Michigan state government was combatting the virus and published a syndicated AP article, "What you can do to protect yourself from swine flu," an article that would likely be no different, if more urgent, than the article they would print if a pandemic were to occur. And one does not have to look far to find numerous other examples of this premediated pandemic.
In calling attention to some of the specific forms of premediation being employed, I mean to underscore and elaborate the point I made in my previous post: that medialogically we are already experiencing the pandemic. Our media experience in the run-up to a pandemic that might never occur is very much of a piece with, and in many cases identical to, the media experience we will have if a pandemic does occur. The effect of this virtual pandemic is at least twofold: to prepare us affectively for a pandemic if it were to happen, so that the public could deal more effectively with the shock of the disaster; and to provide us with the affective, medialogical experience of a pandemic whether or not it ever materializes.