Has 'Midsommar' Madness Hit American Conservatives?

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Sunday March 29, 2020

[Warning: Some spoilers for the film "Midsommar" follow]

In Ari Aster's extraordinary horror film "Midsommar," a group of unassuming college students find themselves visiting a bucolic Swedish retreat where a traditional event celebrating the summer solstice is taking place. For them, it is at first an anthropological look at quaint ceremonies by a benign cult acting out some ancient rites in a place where the sun never sets.

Things, though, soon turn bloody when they join their hosts for a ritual involving a senior couple. First, the couple are feted at an outdoor luncheon, then taken to cliff where (spoiler alert) each steps to the edge and jumps to their death. If they don't perish in the fall, cult members stand by with clubs to finish the job.

Of course, the students are horrified. A pair of British students attempt to escape, but their American counterparts are calmed when told the sacrifice is part of an ancient tradition in which the victims volunteer to die. You will have to watch the film, which is available to stream, to find out what happens next, but that ceremony came to mind this week with posturing by numerous right-wing pundits involving the coronavirus.

"Forget 15 days to slow the spread,'" writes a report in Politico. "A growing chorus of conservatives have started arguing that older adults should voluntarily return to work to save the country from financial ruin."

The "Midsommar" solution appears to have begun in an interview on Tucker Carson's Fox News show on Monday night when he interviewed Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican Vanity Fair reports.

"No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?'" But if they had? "If that is the exchange, I'm all in," he said. "Let's get back to work. Let's get back to living. Let's be smart about it. And those of us who are 70 plus, we'll take care of ourselves. But don't sacrifice the country."

"So you're basically saying that this disease could take your life but that's not the scariest thing to you, there's something that could be worse than dying?" asked Carlson.

"Put in those terms, Patrick appeared momentarily taken aback but responded, 'Yeah,'" Vanity Fair writes.

Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck echoed those feelings on Tuesday, reports the Washington Post.

"I would rather have my children stay home and have all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working," Beck said. "Even if we all get sick, I'd rather die than kill the country. Because it's not the economy that's dying, it's the country."

Since then President Donald Trump suggested that he wants normal life to return by Easter Sunday, two weeks away; despite advice from his medical experts that such a date is unrealistic.

Still, it hasn't kept many conservatives from sounding like members of the cult from "Midsommar."

Over at the conservative website The Federalist, columnist Jonathan Ashbach addressed the issue of keeping the country under social distancing. First he writes that the benefits of social distancing will keep the already fragile health care system from collapsing in crisis from a virus far more dangerous than the flu.

Then he addressed the negatives of social distancing.

"The extreme reactionary measures to the pandemic focus only on the benefits of those actions, entirely ignoring the costs. And the costs will likely be massive," he says. "Of course, it sounds very callous to talk about considering the costs. It seems harsh to ask whether the nation might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die. Probably for that reason, few have been willing to do so publicly thus far. Yet honestly facing reality is not callous, and refusing even to consider whether the present response constitutes an even greater evil than the one it intends to mitigate would be cowardly."

Then, after weighing the pros and cons of lifting social distancing, writes: "Many of all ages and conditions might prefer to risk death bravely rather than to live huddled away in fear. Both of those factors weigh in favor of a return to normalcy."

Suggesting that irritation and boredom will eventually set in, Ashbach concludes: "As time drags on, the case that America is overreacting to coronavirus may begin to feel strong indeed."

It was feeling echoed by Trump confident Sean Hannity on his Fox News broadcast on Friday night when the subject of balancing the lockdown and commerce came up: "By the way... of course we don't want the morgues full, but we also have to eat. You have to balance it," Media Matters reports.

His Fox News colleague Laura Ingraham added to the divisive blather by claiming the media doesn't want normalcy to return: "You get the sense that the media, they don't almost -- some of them don't want things to go back to normal in the United States. They like this crisis point and they really don't want things to go back to normal, and that a lot of them seem -- as the news comes in that might be slightly better than we thought, they're angrier and grumpier than they should be. It's odd."

With such dystopian rhetoric, is "Midsommar" so far off the mark?

Watch this compilation of scenes from "Midsommar" that feature graphic violence. The discussed scene begins 2:10 in.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].