“Everything Fell Apart Pretty Quick” A COVID-19 Oral History

I interviewed a twenty-one year old journalism major at Auburn University about his experience during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic on September 20, 2020. His overall reaction was a mixture of frustration with forces and groups within the United States, but also a newfound appreciation for friends and the small things in life. Over the course of the twenty-four minute interview, the narrator explained his experience over the last six months, as well as his general thoughts and observations about the factors that have lead to COVID-19 having such a disastrous effect on the United States.

I tried to first ask him about himself and his daily routines, but he works at the newspaper so the topic quickly swerved into the media and it’s handling of the pandemic coverage.On the whole he rejected the idea that the pandemic had united people at all, instead it has only further divided the country into two irreconcilable camps. He blames many of the problems in the pandemic on right wing media outlets who “haven’t dropped the ball, they were never trying to pick it up,” and inciting widespread conspiracy theories as well as noncompliance from a vocal section of the the population. Which also lead to a larger societal critique of how the United States has become a country of “ultra-individualism” where people do not care about each other. In general, it seemed like the narrator was more interested in talking about society at-large then his own issues. Additionally, he saw COVID as just a part of a year which shows how fragile the world is and how “humans are at fault for just about everything,” including new developments since the arrival of COVID-19 such as the wildfires and Black Lives Matter protests.

However, when asked directly he talked about how he did not feel restricted by the COVID safety procedures, and sees it as more about protecting other people than themselves. In general the narrator counters what has become a popular narrative of the pandemic, that everything slowed down. Instead, he said the world wouldn’t let him slow down with work, school, and new issues arising out of old problems over the pandemic summer. On the bright side he kept highlighting the importance of being near friends and people he liked as keeping him together during the pandemic, especially how he could talk through the rapidly changing world with other people having a similar experience. He also touched on how rapidly reality changed and people had to adapt to the new normal, echoing a popular sentiment. “Everything fell apart pretty quick” as information became more readily known about the COVID-19 virus and executives around the the state scrambled to keep up.

I felt like on the whole I was able to get a good idea about how the narrator felt about the pandemic, as well as his general worldview. He both affirmed widespread narratives such as a deep concern to help other in the time and the importance of in-person interactions, but also pushes against popular messages of COVID-19 bringing people together as well as slowing down the world. I tried to make sure I affirmed the narrator’s feeling and ask follow-ups to questions. I think I made the narrator comfortable with informal small talk before the interview about things in their lives not related to this oral history. I think the narrator was forthcoming, and was very accommodating to my questions as well as small things such as my writing down questions. Additionally, I think this process has taught me that when you interview someone about something you both experienced it helps to get you reflecting about the event too. In the end there are no great, packageable lessons here about an individual’s striving to succeed and rise above the circumstances. This is not StoryCorps, this is life.

2 Comments

  1. Fascinating that both you and Laura have narrators that focused almost immediately on media impact and particularly media impact on daily life. Perhaps so much of our experiences then are dictated by media framing?

    1. I would say they are, and people in media and politics realize this. I was reading today on Politico about how Biden’s campaign has three different spin rooms, each focusing on a different set of media to shape message around the debate earlier. Trump’s campaign won’t say what they’re doing, but I imagine its something similar. For better or worse (probably worse) the initial narrative of things are now written on Twitter.

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