(Charles McNulty’s article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, 8/19; “Hamilton’s” Javier Muñoz, shown in 2016, had a thoughtful response to a performer’s Instagram post concerning vaccination. (Walter McBride/Getty Images)
Broadway performer Laura Osnes’ exit from a one-night concert performance at East Hampton’s Guild Hall over a COVID-19 vaccine requirement has provoked an uproar in the theater world. Vaccination advocates and resisters have been thrashing it out on social media, echoing the conflict between personal autonomy and collective responsibility that has been playing out across America since the start of the pandemic.
In a nation as divided as ours, it’s only natural that policy is vigorously debated. But our polarization has reached a lethal form of decadence when governors, to score political points, are blocking mask requirements in their school systems and the misinformed and rationally unreachable defend their decision to remain unvaccinated even as ICU units reach capacity in their hometowns.
The writer Isaac Asimov, decrying “the cult of ignorance in the United States” in a 1980 column for Newsweek, identified a “strain of anti-intellectualism” running through our politics and culture that’s “nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” This strain has been especially virulent during this pandemic, when even in the face of a common mortal coronavirus enemy, our citizenry has fallen back into the usual partisan camps or taken refuge in an American individualism that isn’t so much rugged as selfish and stupid.
I don’t know about you but I don’t have the energy for a listening session with actors who want to explain, through fuzzy math and fuzzier logic, how they decided that it was the better choice for them to put their collaborators at risk than get a shot that has saved countless thousand lives. Delta has taken over, and the fall theater season is hanging by a thread. Or more accurately, it’s relying on the incomplete bulwark of vaccinations to allow us to move forward with some semblance of normality.