I started making Going Viral before the Ebola crisis and by the time the show opened the crisis had more-or-less passed. But there was a period in between where it looked as though the show I was making might be horribly topical. You sometimes want to catch a wave, to find the world suddenly talking about the thing you’ve been thinking about all along. But if you’re less fortunate this can end up looking like the grisly spectacle of making entertainment from untold human misery.
But just as the world doesn’t remain fixed wherever it was at the point when you started making a show, nor does what you think the show is going to be about. I started by making a show that was going to be about viruses and advertising. Viruses, though, were way more interesting, and in any case, the description of advertising as a flesh-eating bug, however well made, is a bit pat. We ended up far more interested in the socio-political response to a major virus, and what that reveals about the world we share.
Thus, Going Viral ended up being not a show about the amorality of advertising, but about empathy. George Orwell observed that if we can only feel empathy for people like ourselves, then it’s not much cop as empathy (I paraphrase). So in Going Viral we see someone like me (very like me) thrown into the maelstrom of a global epidemic, and watch him repeatedly offered opportunities to make the empathetic choice.
But everything about the way we have set up our society makes it difficult for him to do so.