Last night I attended a special CDC Foundation screening of Contagion. Being able to watch this alongside CDC staffers was an experience of a lifetime. From the scientists to the communications staff, the pride they have in the work they do shows very clearly.
The moment Dr Cheever walked into the CDC lobby and each time the building was shown afterward, great cheers went up. (The CDC scenes were filmed on location, although the lab sets were constructed since the real labs were not camera-friendly.)
Seen Through Eyes of the CDC
Judging from the crowd’s reaction, the depiction of the daily goings-on at the CDC was accurate, from the way the scientists interacted with one another, to the internal jargon that made its way into the dialogue. The question, “What’s your single overriding communications objective?” brought loud cheers and laughter. Being in that theater was like being a part of a big inside joke.
This isn’t to say that the movie was a bust otherwise. It wasn’t. The premise of a super-virulent, deadly, unknown virus is entirely plausible and kept me thinking about it for hours afterward. The scariest thing was the normality of it all. There was no scary virus-from-space, the symptoms were not especially gory, and it spread through ordinary cold and flu means – aerosol and fomite (contaminated objects) transmission. The camera lingered in many scenes just long enough to notice the many possible ways in which the virus could be transmitted. It certainly made me look twice at the stir sticks at the coffee shop this morning!
Another important aspect was addressed – panic-mongering. Having introduced myself as WebMD’s Blog Manager to a number of people, I admit I had a good hard cringe when the non-virus villain of the story turned out to be the (unethical) blogger. The breakdown of order was depicted in a way that isn’t at all hard to imagine. It made me wonder how differently a situation like this might actually play out – or if it would be any different at all.
As we were leaving the theater (after a rather satisfying ending) there was a table set up with samples of hand sanitizer and cards promoting the CDC Museum’s upcoming Watching Hands exhibit. Interestingly enough, many of the people around me dismissed it with a, “Nah, that stuff doesn’t work. It’s just alcohol.”
It’s worth watching, but be sure to wash your hands before and after, and be careful what you touch!
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