‘Untact’ versus contact

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‘Untact’ versus contact

The author is a deputy popular culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Looking back on the past three months of writing columns on the coronavirus’ impact on the cultural arena, I feel like going through the five stages of anger from the Kubler-Ross model. It is based on the five stages of grief by American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The pattern goes from denial to anger to bargaining to depression and finally to acceptance.

I experienced the “denial” that the epidemic would not ruin Korea beyond China and had “anger” over the rapid growth of positive cases in Korea. Then I tried to “bargain” with social distancing and daily routines. However, I could not avoid the “depression” as the epidemic spread around the world. When the health authorities of Korea and the United States warned of a second wave of outbreak in the winter, I realized that we cannot go back to the pre-Covid-19 world. The world of contact is transforming to the world of “untact,” or contactless.

Many already embraced the contactless trend and acted quickly. A homemade pie restaurant in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, started to deliver tomato stew that had been a part of its course menu. Owner Lee Geon-soo said that dine-in customers decreased by two-thirds, but stew sales made up the loss. He is now working on packaging all the courses of the meal to deliver. As home meal replacements and meal kits gain popularity, restaurants will inevitably change the layout of their businesses.

What about theaters? The Bolshoi Ballet of Russia and musicals by Andrew Lloyd Weber — which come to Korea once every few years — are being released for free on YouTube. After the Berlin Philharmonic opened its digital archive, membership is growing fast. In the world of easier and expanded simultaneous access, the boundary between elite and pop culture will be blurred. Real-time comments in various languages and social experience will become the culture of the native digital generation.

Then, what will happen to the world of contact? In the animation “The Simpsons,” Homer Simpson goes through the five stages of death. Homer eats a poisonous fugu fish and is told that he has 24 hours to live. In the last stage of acceptance, he decides to do what’s on his bucket list. The list includes acts of close contact — such as “Have man-to-man with Bart,” “Make peace with dad” and “Be intimate with Marge.” It is none other than a prophecy that contact will become more precious as a lack of it becomes more common.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 23, Page 23
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