What's in store for us? We're self-isolating and trying to figure it out. This week: smooth-brained TV, Korean baseball, and the end of movie theater chains.Justin Paget / Getty Images
Upper-middle-class millennials will bore grandchildren with inflated pandemic stories: Years from now, in well-appointed condos towering high above variously desiccated and flooded cities, the children of Doomers will notice the red, raw hands of their grandparents and ask why they continue to wash up every thirty minutes despite the drought. These grandparents will quietly, solemnly come to the end of their handwashing jingle, pour themselves a glass of rosé or White Claw, and then launch into an hours-long tale about an era they'll insist on calling the "beforetimes," when "time just felt so crazy," they'll say.
"Your grandfather and I had to wear face masks for nearly 18 months. I still have mine," one grandmother will say, removing a folded no-sew mask created from a vintage floral print dress. "We wore them all the time. We wore them as we worked from home in our separate offices, frantically delaying product rollouts for two, three, even four months at a time. We resorted to baking bread with sourdough starter on the weekends. We even learned how to make a stew topped with jammy eggs and garlicky yogurt. We had to try to make a heaven of hell. We had to survive....," they will say, as the Doomer spawn slowly falls to sleep in the arms of a Roomba. —R.S.
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At-home workout equipment will be sexy, again. Growing up, I remember my dad having a Bowflex. He didn’t go to a gym, but he was fit. In my mind, this was exclusively thanks to the Bowflex that sat dusty in the corner of his bedroom. I wanted my own. In reality, he never really used that Bowflex, but the thing chilled there, signifying that he was a man who might use a Bowflex.
Google trends for Peloton for the past 3 months. Will this equate to 3x sales as they report earnings this week? Anecdotally speaking, few friends I know have bought a Peloton due to the lockdown. pic.twitter.com/zhxruijQnR — Kapil Israni (@kapso) May 3, 2020
Now that gyms are sweaty COVID incubators, many people have pivoted to at-home workouts. A (perhaps un)healthy amount of gym-goers will return to their gyms when stay-home restrictions are lifted. (Or, in Puyallup, right now.) But many won’t. Where will they go? Peloton’s looming Wednesday earnings report, which is expected to exceed analyst expectations, might give us an idea.
Smooth brain reality television is here to stay, baby. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of smooth brain, I’d like you to envision a brain free of wrinkles; small, pink, reptilian, uncomplicated. This is the brain I assume Netflix’s reality show producers are catering to with their onslaught of reality programming—especially their dating shows like Love Is Blind and Too Hot to Handle.
As Josef Adalian pointed out in his newsletter covering the streaming industry in February, the content streaming behemoth has all but cornered the market on dumb, popular, and completely engrossing reality shows. And with nearly 16 million people signing up for the service in the first three months of this year, the need for undemanding and buoyant content is at a high. Speaking as someone who is freshly out of Unemployment Hell, watching Francesca and Harry lose thousands of dollars an episode because they can’t keep their hands off each other, to me, seemed more of a comforting watch than McNulty and Bunk trying to stop the institutional decay of Baltimore’s government. In this time of uncertainty, sometimes dark content isn't what's needed. Hot and dumb reality shows aren't going anywhere. —J.K.
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Movie theater chains will finally die. It brings me no pleasure to report that America's big movie theater chains are careening down an even rockier road. AMC is fighting off bankruptcy. Not satisfied with one fight, AMC Theatres has also picked a fight with Universal after it took a “victory lap” in the press over its digital-only success of Trolls World Tour. AMC responded to Universal's celebration by hissing that it won’t screen any Universal films going forward, as a type of retribution.
Unfortunately, movie theater chains need studios more than studios need movie theater chains. I don't mind these big-monied fisticuffs—just, please, spare the little art house gems like The Grand Illusion and The Beacon.—C.B.
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People are going to fly less and, if they do so, it will be for shorter distances. Long national and international flights will see a sharp decline in business. Regional tourist destinations reached comfortably with an automobile, however, will be popular. Most people do not enjoy flying to begin with: the frequent bursts of turbulence easily shatters the nerves, the seats in economy class are always cramped, the wine sold during flights is expensive and bad at the same time, and the wait at TSA checkpoints never fails to take forever. Now, combine all of these disadvantages with the real danger of catching a deadly virus at a crowded terminal or packed plane and what you get are lot of people deciding it's best to stay on the ground. It is no accident that the billionaire speculator Warren Buffett recently dumped his $4 billion stake in four major US airlines (United, American, Southwest and Delta Air Lines). “I don’t know if Americans have now changed their habits or will change their habits because of the extended period,” said the most famous speculator in the world. He does not see a recovery happening in this industry in even three years. —C.M.
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Americans will become international sports fans. I know, I know, international sports are already a thing. You have friends that watch the Champions League and sometimes you watch ice dancing at the Olympics. But, in this current unprecedented sports desert that will last who knows how long, people are going to start tuning in to wherever there are sports, whenever there are sports, and actually following them. The Korean Baseball Organization started up again yesterday and ESPN secured a broadcasting deal. My brother, who doesn't usually give a shit about baseball, tuned in last night at 11 p.m. to watch because he missed watching sports so much. The KBO is only able to be played with no fans and strict rules (no handshakes, no spitting). As things get better worldwide, I can see other sports gradually coming back, but it's going to be some time before American leagues can materialize, especially if we're projecting 3,000 deaths a day by June. We're going to see American sports fans tuning in and keeping up with all types of international sports. There may even be a World Series that's actually a world series somewhere down the line. —N.G.
Eye makeup will become a frontier of self-expression while we’re all wearing masks to the grocery store.A month ago when the CDC recommended that cloth masks should be worn in public to help combat the spread of coronavirus, face coverings quickly became an essential part of every conscientious citizens’ public presentation. And anyone who has, perhaps, optimistically attempted to wear blush, foundation, or—God forbid—lip gloss, soon learned that aspect of self-expression tended to get smeared on the inside of their mask. HBO’s Euphoria already kickstarted a graphic eyeliner movement among teens and young adults on social media that will now become even more popular as wearing masks in public becomes part of the fabric of our daily lives. Yes, you can’t see me smile, but you can see the pink and white daisies I’ve carefully painted above my eyebrows. Break out your neon eyeliner and get creative! —J.K.
APRIL 28 PREDICTIONS
Trump will become a supplement kingpin: America was built on grifters, hoaxers, and bullshitters of all kinds, but the coronavirus outbreak is opening up a new lane for supplement purveyors looking to exploit their paranoid audiences. The Food and Drug Administration has already had to warn Alex Jones to stop "advertising dubious dietary supplements as coronavirus treatments," according to The Daily Beast, and they've sent similar letters to 37 other companies since the beginning of March. Given the President's natural inclination to spread dangerous misinformation for personal gain, Trump, who will become an Obama figure for the nation's surprisingly large number of drunk uncles, will parlay his presidency into a lucrative career in bullshit natural supplement advertising. After all, he already has some experience in the industry. According to an investigation from STAT News, in 2009 Trump started a business network that "sold customized vitamins and scientific testing kits, claiming they would yield health benefits. But according to many outside experts, the network was selling bad science." —R.S.
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I have bad news for my public transportation comrades. The COVID-19 world will not be favorable to mass transit. Expect the virus to send millions of urban Americans back to the social isolation of the car. And to make matters worse, auto companies are practically giving the deadly machines away: 84-month zero interest loans, no payments for 120 days, low monthly payments. Also, gas prices will likely remain low in the coming years (a blow for the electric car industry). Lastly, expect the pro-car media to blame New York City's exceptionally high infection rates on its relatively low car ownership rates. All of the ground urbanists made in the first two decades of this century will be lost in the first years of the third decade. —C.M.
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Meet the Doomers. People are still out here calling babies "Millennials." The pandemic babies born today aren't Millennials. They aren't even Gen Z. Babies born today are, technically, Generation Alpha. The start and end dates for Generation Alpha are vague, but if the cohort follows the 15-year trend set by its previous generations, then Generation Alpha will include people born from 2011 to 2026. Gen Z's birth period was 1996 to 2011. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. The easiest way to distinguish between Gen Z and Millennials is to ask that "young" person if they remember 9/11. Gen Z shouldn't, unless they were five and living in Manhattan.
The general consensus used to be that Generation Alpha would be "the most formally educated generation ever" and "globally the wealthiest generation ever." This was before COVID-19, a global event that will shape the birth years of this young generation. The kids born today are coming into a great depression defined by aggressive partisan politics and a warming planet. Their parents, who are mostly Millennials, are the downwardly mobile generation. In light of this, Stranger writer Rich Smith joked that this generation should be called the "Doomers," which I'm running with.
There's even the slight possibility that many of these Doomers could be the byproduct of a post-quarantine baby boom, when their Millennial parents are finally released from their homes and throw reckless, unhygienic orgies in 2021. Even if that doesn't happen, it would be very like Millennials to spitefully nickname their children's generation the inverse of the Boomers. —C.B.
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Bidets are here to stay. Toilet paper is clearly canceled. —N.G.
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A renewed push for the internet to become a public utility. In early April, when he stood with Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and announced the closure of this state's schools for the rest of the academic year, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal went out of his way to make a point about basic rights, the internet, and education.
With the COVID-19 crisis forcing state educators and students to shift to virtual learning, Reykdal said that if we're assuming every student in Washington state has an internet connection that enables them to distance-learn, we are terribly mistaken. A significant percentage of students come from families that can't afford internet service. For some students whose families are both rural and poor, they couldn't get an internet connection even if they had the money for one.
"Right now, this is our moment to connect every family," Reykdal said, "and [make] it as much of a right to be connected as clean water.”
If state lawmakers wanted to, they could make internet service free for all students in Washington state right now. (Either by negotiating a student rate with private internet service providers and then picking up the tab for kids whose families can't afford it, or by requiring that internet service be free and available to all students—and then forcing the creation of the infrastructure to make it so.) Legislators in Olympia haven't done this yet, but if Chattanooga, Tennessee can lay down its own fiber optic cables and become its own damn internet service provider, Washington state theoretically can, too. —E.S.
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There will be a plant-based meat boom. Meat-processing plant workers are falling ill in droves, federal plant inspectors are even getting sick, and 20 workers have died. Many plants were going to shut down. But on Tuesday morning, Donald Trump ordered that plants will stay open as part of the Defense Production Act to prevent a projected meat shortage. Either the plants close down and cause a shortage or people become warier about what they're consuming from an industry stricken with COVID-19 cases.
Combating the American meat-obsessed ethos was always a big hurdle for the plant-based food industry. But, consumers will either face supply-chain shortages akin to what we saw with toilet paper or face the choice of consuming a more expensive product churned out by an addled industry. In a meat-compromised purgatory, Americans will turn to veggie patties and imitation chicken nuggets and realize they're not half-bad. —N.G.
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Reality is finally virtual. At the middle of the last decade, VR was set to become the next big thing. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft made huge investments in the technology (platforms, headsets, cameras, controllers), and in 2018, the king of Hollywood directors, Steven Spielberg, made a science fiction movie about VR, Ready Player One. But VR never really took off. Nor did it really die like a fad. It just stagnated in all other entertainment sectors but video games. This situation is going to change in a COVID-19 world. Social distancing is not going away until a vaccine is found. This might take a year to years. And while reality is thus suspended, many will turn to virtual reality. This is already happening with live music. There are now Oculus Venues where you can watch singers, rappers, and what have you on a headset with friends. Expect the future to revive a demand for VR uses and content. —C.M.
APRIL 21 PREDICTIONS
The end of Chimerica. For about the past 30 years, the world's economic order has been structured by a tight relationship between China and the US. The former produced cheap goods, and the latter consumed them. The conservative Scottish-American historian Niall Ferguson described this relationship as Chimerica. After the crash of 2008, Chimerica pulled the world out of the recession with bailouts and massive fiscal spending. The US's stock markets bounced back, and China's infrastructure became one of the wonders of the world. The crash of 2020, however, is not only worse than the previous one, but finds the two economic superpowers growing further and further apart. The US is blaming China for the virus, and China is blaming the US for bringing the novel coronavirus to Wuhan. What all of this means is that the next global economy will not be Chimerical. It will just be China. The US will play second fiddle. And Europe will do what it has done since World War One: decline. —C.M.
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Strippers, drag queens, DJs, and other nightlife performers will stay online. The club has decamped to Instagram. It's where strippers are dancing in front of millions, DJs are playing in cyberspace, and drag queens are performing in showers. Nightclub performers were among the first hit when statewide shutdowns of non-essential businesses went into effect. But by mid-March, queens started to take their club shows to Instagram Live and Twitch. A few weeks later, queens were telling me (and others) that these shows have been more successful than they anticipated. Many performers have made more money for a three-minute number in their bedroom than they made for a three-hour gig in a club. With bars and clubs stuck in an indefinite holding pattern, these performers will take those tips and invest in new digital shows where they have more control. The most interesting club is now on your phone. —C.B.
We'll finally get stronger regulations on digital ads. It didn’t happen after Russians quietly bought thousands of political ads on Facebook to help Donald Trump win the 2016 election, so maybe it won’t happen now. But the coronavirus is showing us once again that it would be useful to have more insight into the money behind online political messages.
Here in Seattle, Council President Lorena Gonzalez recently led the nation in passing a law that mandates disclosure of the money trails behind normal election-year ads that appear online AND requires disclosure of the money trails behind “any paid advertisement (including search engine marketing, display advertisements, video advertisements, native advertisements, and sponsorships) that communicates a message relating to any political matter of local importance.” That language is broad enough that it could, theoretically, cover paid Facebook messaging aimed at whipping up politically-motivated coronavirus lockdown angst.
Look for this law to be challenged before it’s widely emulated, but who knows, maybe the frightening realities of our online pandemic “discourse” will speed it toward becoming national policy. —E.S
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A renaissance of craftsmanship is coming. Everyone I know has taken up a hobby or an interest that is tactile and useful. People are feeding budding sourdough starters and sowing the seeds of their own victory gardens. I sanded, stained, and finished two wooden planks into shelves at the beginning of quarantine. I even helped paint an entire apartment. I have a DIY craving I’ve never felt before. I bet you have one too. In the post-pandemic times, the crafts we did to kill time will become staples. Sure, I'm talking lasting hobbies but also side-hustles. Forget driving for Uber or Lyft, your hand-sanded side tables and perfected sourdough loaves will pad your pockets in the new world. —N.G.
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RIP FOMO. When there’s nowhere to go, how can you have the dreaded "Fear of Missing Out"? And when even the machinery of commerce is forced to take a break from conditioning you to constantly feel FOMO, will your FOMO immunity bounce back to its full and natural strength? Will we all emerge from lockdown saying, "IDGAF about MO, just gonna keep crafting..."? Maybe! Or maybe not. —E.S.
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Big Tech will get Bigger. The mounting antitrust investigations of early 2020 seem like a decade ago. Many of us will look back on this period with a fondness for FANG: Facebook is a lifeline for bored Boomers, Amazon is delivering our "essential" packages, Netflix keeps us entertained with a Reality TV resurgence, and Google remains Google. This morning, Bloomberg highlighted how the NYSE FANG+ Index is "handily outperforming the broader market this year." Look closely and you'll see that this overperformance is mostly due to Amazon and Netflix. Hopefully their increased growth will be met with increased skepticism, but I'm not holding my breath. —C.B.
Doctors will become socialists. Nothing like a pandemic to radicalize a traditionally pretty conservative workforce. When not treating patients on 28-hour shifts, resident physicians and medical students rising up the ranks right now are looking around at an inequitable system that takes advantage of their labor and oppresses their patients, and they are not happy.
I am an internal medicine resident in NYC giving it my all caring for patients with #covid_19. This is hard for all the reasons you would expect: it is traumatic, heartbreaking, exhausting.
But it’s also hard because of how we as residents are being treated. a thread… 1/12 — Colleen Farrell, MD (@colleenmfarrell) April 20, 2020
After the curve has flattened, after the vaccine comes, and after they finish administering the vaccine to everyone, they will remember being denied hazard pay. They will remember being asked to work for free. They will remember the party that made their lives harder, and they will remember the party that didn't do enough to make their lives easier. But most of all, they'll remember the solidarity they found among themselves and their allies during this long and deadly fight. If not socialists, they will at least become progressive Democrats and lead the charge for massive reform of the health care system.—R.S.
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People in the streets. It took a minute, but Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has now gingerly half-embraced the idea that we should let people-powered movement take over some of our unused roadways during some days of the pandemic. We could soon see 15 miles of “Stay Healthy Streets” closed off to cars and reserved for walkers, bikers, runners, tricyclers, and scooters on certain days. To speak the darkest fear of the “War on Cars” crowd and the wet dream of the urbanist cohort: Once 15 miles of Seattle streets close to cars and the sky doesn’t fall, what’s to stop us from turning a bunch of this city's roadways into car-disfavoring greenways just like Portland??? —E.S.
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Many independent bookstores will be wiped out. In The New Republic, Alex Shephard offers a solid analysis of the rise of independent bookstores following the Great Recession and a sobering prognosis for the industry in a post-COVID economy. In short, absent significant federal subsidy and sustained donations, independent bookstores are fucked. Lots of sectors of the economy will be fucked, of course, but Shephard’s reporting here reveals an industry buttressed by beams that will be hard to replace even after stay home orders are lifted: live events, cozy public spaces, and a relatively cheap workforce willing to be exploited for the sake of their calling. The inevitable fear of human interaction and browsing books in close proximity, unionization, and an inability to compete with Amazon on shipping will challenge the current structures of many stores. If you want to prevent this fate from happening, buy from your local bookstores or from Bookshop. —R.S.
For decades, the center of Portland's reading life has been Powell's Books. It takes up a whole city block, and houses over a million volumes, new and used.
Essential workers will become more essential. The reason why there is a great push to open the economy soon is because the pandemic is changing what Americans deem as essential and inessential work. Before COVID-19, bankers were really a must. Nothing could be done without them. Surely, they deserved those bonuses. But in a COVID-19 world, bankers are worthless. The occupations that matter most, outside of those in the healthcare system, concern stocking supermarkets. Trucking supplies. Picking fruits and vegetables. Driving buses. Collecting the garbage. Also, the public is now appreciating that these jobs, which are often low-paying, have always been essential. The scales fall from the eyes. The future of labor in the US will not be same as it ever was. —C.M.
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We'll probably update this post with more predictions each week—and cross out the predictions that fizzle.
Charles Tonderai Mudede, The Stranger’s senior staff writer, is a Zimbabwean-born cultural critic, urbanist, filmmaker, college lecturer, and writer. Mudede collaborated with the director Robinson Devor on three films, two of which, Police Beat and Zoo, premiered at Sundance, and one of which, Zoo, screened at Cannes. He has also written for the New York Times, Cinema Scope, Tank Magazine, e-flux, LA Weekly, and C Theory.
Eli Sanders was The Stranger's associate editor. His book, "While the City Slept," was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. He once did this and once won this, but he also once crashed his bike into a parked car while on his way to a staff meeting, never mind this, so… His website, which probably hasn't been updated in a while, is www.elisanders.net.
Rich Smith is The Stranger's associate editor. He writes about politics, books, and performance. You can read his poems at www.richsmithpoetry.com
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