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Talking to Will Menaker About the Left, Our COVID Future, and ‘Friday Night Lights’

Today in our 'What Now' newsletter.

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Chapo Trap House coach Will Menaker motivating his players.
NBC

Welcome back to What Now! I’m Katherine Krueger, your host this week. Over the weekend I chatted with Will Menaker, perhaps best known to you as the co-host of Chapo Trap House but best known to me as the person I love and cohabitate with. You have no choice but to believe me when I say wow, this was a tough get! But it gave us the excuse to talk ON THE RECORD about a bunch of things that had been swirling around my head without even having to log onto Zoom or pay a $200 copay. I hope you enjoy!

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Here’s a big question: What do you think Friday Night Lights says about America?

It’s funny, because – and I like this show a lot, we’re obviously having a lot of fun diving into the canon – it’s one of these great shows that I’d never watched. What I think it says about America is sort of summed up in the first episode, where you really care about all these characters and you really admire Coach Taylor, you find yourself really invested in the struggles of this team and whether they win the game or not. But in the very first game, a main character is parlyzed for the rest of his life just so Coach Taylor doesn’t lose a high school football game. Some teenage kid losing use of his legs for the rest of his life maybe isn’t worth the fate of a football game, but we as a country love football. It’s also interesting that this show is taking place and aired at the height of the Iraq War, and I think Coach Taylor is like a benevolent George W. Bush figure, he even kind of looks like him. He represents our collective wish to be led by a strong, moral father figure, even though he’s leading us to sacrifice our bodies and lives for something deeply stupid and unnecessary. Is it a metaphor? I don’t know, but it’s damn good television.

Now, when I think “America,” I think about a nation ravaged by the mismanagement of COVID. It feels like we’re seeing this interesting conservatism among liberals that even as people are getting vaccinated en masse, they seem to be pumping the brakes. I sent out a reader survey awhile back and the results were interesting, a lot of people reported that it almost didn’t matter if you were vaccinated in terms of behavior like wearing a mask even outdoors with a small group. Do you think we’ll ever feel free of this current COVID world? What kind residual things do you think might stick around for a long time defining our new-new normal?

My big fear right now is that we will never really get “back to normal.” When things are in a freeze, you don’t notice them, but when they begin to thaw out, all this simmering anxiety and madness that have been brewing in lock down comes to the surface, like ancient bacteria in the permafrost. And I have a very big fear that this last year may have just unzipped something in all our brains that might not be reversible. So to the question of “When do we stop wearing masks,” it’s hard to say.

I think this is just going to be an open question for years to come. But in terms of people’s behavior, I think a certain kind of person has gotten addicted to a new kind of self-righteousness that they’re not going to want to give up so easily as it relates to how we behave and how we can judge the behavior of other people. I see a lot of people saying, “Oh, don’t treat your vaccination card like it’s a get out of jail free, do whatever you want kind of thing.” Obviously we want as many people to get vaccinated as possible. But what is the reason if not to get all of our fucking lives back? Right? At what point can we say it’s time to chill out about this or that we can get back to all the things we’ve been missing.

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