How do you fight an invisible enemy? If you’re the Elisabeth Moss character in The Invisible Man (2020) you dump a can of paint on him, then try to stab him with a knife. And if you’re a struggling character in Real Life (2021), you dump yourself in a virtual line to try to get stabbed with a vaccine. These may sound like truly identical situations, but there are actually a few subtle differences. Poor Elisabeth Moss, psychologically tortured by her unseen foe for about an hour, has to make her assailant visible before she can attack him. Comparatively, after being physically AND psychologically tortured for about a calendar year, we are forced to approach our enemy differently. As a community, to make it to the end of our movie, we must make sure we can still visibly perceive our enemy long after it’s been wounded. Lead with the knife; finish with the paint. This approach has a name: Vaccine Visibility aka the reverse-Elisabeth Moss. And it’s coming soon to a theater near you.
Since we’re already talking about theaters, I want you to imagine the next time that you’re sitting in one. The last time you were here, you were bare-finger wiping popcorn from the corners of your mouth while you watched Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker trace a bloody smile up his. Now that theater doors are mostly open once again, you’ll take your seat and see the spectators on either side of you diligently wearing their masks. Until one day, maybe soon, maybe already, they won’t be.
By the dim light of the silver screen or the soft candlelit glow of an indoor restaurant, you’re seeing more lips, chins, and nostrils than you’ve seen in a year. For many of us, this may bring back a fear we haven’t felt so keenly since the early days of the virus when we were Clorox-wiping every potato chip bag before it touched the counter. A new study from Stanford* shows that staring at other people’s faces, up-close and personal, can trigger some of our most primal instincts. “The brain is particularly attentive to faces, and when we interpret them as being close, our ‘fight or flight’ reflex responds,” says Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. “From an evolutionary standpoint, if there was a very large human face close by to you, and it was staring right in your eyes, you were likely going to engage in conflict or mating. Neither responses are a good fit for a work meeting.”
Indeed, he’s talking about Zoom.
If this is the psychological rigor imposed by tight shots of coworkers’ faces on a computer, imagine how jarring the return to uncovered real-world close-ups will certainly be.
Now imagine you’re back in that theater. You look over at the adjacent spectator, see soda dripping from his Ron Swanson mustache, and your mind — after a year of conditioning — begins to race. But then you see something on his wrist, its bright green hue visible even in the low light: a distinctive wristband. Thick as a finger it reads: COVID COVERED. And you know he’s vaccinated.
Whether this hypothetical scenario takes place in a world where masks have been made optional or not, it no doubt allows those nearby the wearer to literally breathe a little easier knowing that said breathing is not as likely to result in infection. This is Vaccine Visibility in action. And it is the transitional tool that we need to make our way back to feeling protected in public places. The wristband is not a virtue signal; it is not just a prop for an Instagram post (although it certainly can be); rather it is the feeling of splashing paint on the invisible man that lets us know a space is safe.
COVID COVERED is an initiative that is working to do just that. As the inoculation effort ramps up across the country, my friend, Peter Burns, and I co-founded this movement in order to increase vaccine visibility in our communities. A large portion of the proceeds generated by each wristband purchased goes to “No Kid Hungry”, an organization which is feeding vulnerable children during the pandemic, and providing them books, games, and other educational materials.
A communal feeling of safety can often be just as important as the instrument of that safety. And while the vaccine itself can deliver a lasting blow, together we can make sure our invisible enemy doesn’t have a corner to hide in.
As we return to shared spaces for work and for play, please take a moment to visit covidcoveredband.com to learn more about how you can be a part of pulling off the reverse-Elisabeth Moss aka vaccine visibility.
Follow CDC guidelines, get vaccinated, stay safe out there.