My favorite Bette Davis movie is “Jezebel” made in 1938. It’s a love story set in New Orleans during one of the city’s horrible yellow fever epidemics.
The movie is set in a time when people thought yellow fever was caused by “miasma” in the air. To disrupt this miasma, people burnt tar in barrels and fired off a fever canon.
Even now there is no cure for yellow fever, though there is a vaccine that helps prevent it but doesn’t seem to impact people who already have it.
I’ve thought of this fever canon approach during the COVID epidemic because the whole miasma idea showed a lack of knowledge about diseases and how they were spread. Yellow fever is spread by mosqitoes.
The movie shows the fear the populace had of yellow fever, of those who got it, of how to combat it, and the need to isolate the victims. While we’re a bit more civilized now, we still have many of the same fears and we’ve been addressing them in multiple ways across the country.
As I think about that fever canon on the movie, I wonder which of our approaches is similar to that: i.e., totally wrong headed and ineffective. Perhaps one day we’ll know the answer to that. Or perhaps, as some say, we’ll never get rid of COVID altogether but will learn how to prevent most of it and treat it more effectively.
I think we’d all feel better about our chances of success if our approach nationally was more cohesive. As it is, mandates and mask ideas and vaccine notions come and go weekly. Those of us who were around during the polio epidemic saw some of the same kinds of fears and confusion until the Salk and Sabin vaccines became available.
I’m a cynic, so I can’t help but wonder which of the things we’re doing is really just a fever canon. I do think I’m more hopeful about a COVID solution than the residents of New Orleans were about yellow fever in 1905. Time will tell–perhaps.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of fantasy and magical realism novels and short stories. To learn more, click here.