What is satire in 2020?
Who knows. Maybe this is. Or maybe it's almost non-fiction. With this cast of characters, anything is possible. I happened upon an article in Slate about Poe's The Masque of the Red Death and proceeded to reread the original... and then I was fully down the, ahem, rabbit hole and now there's Lindsey Graham in a bunny suit. What can you do? I definitely recommend reading the original first.
Le Lapin de Pâques
Like many travelers and immigrants over the last centuries, the Virus, seeking opportunity and freedom, had come to America. It was a silent invasion; it crept undetected across the vast country for weeks and only announced its presence after strongholds had been established, rendering all known defenses meaningless. Unwitting hosts had brought it to their houses of worship, to birthday parties and ballgames, to schools and movie theaters, to salons and shops that sold unnecessary things for too much money. America was a particularly ripe target, a population that had convinced itself of its singularity and invincibility, but had also grown suspicious of its leaders and each other and over the last decades had cleaved into two major groups which appeared to inhabit two very different realities. The Virus cared not whether a faction believed in it — it attacked indiscriminately.
To the Americans, it came from nowhere — it was as if they had experienced a decades-long beautiful day, temperate, with an endless azure sky only to wake to an unpredicted and unending hurricane. They had grown soft. Americans had lost the ability to believe in things they couldn’t see or imagine a world turned upside down overnight. Each day, one would muse that something would never happen here, only to be proved wrong hours later. Hospitals quickly became overrun. Nurses and doctors were infected because for too long the country had indoctrinated its citizens with its mythology and history while neglecting to do the boring and quotidian work that made it once true. The citizenry took exceptionalism as fact, as birthright requiring no contemplation or continuing effort. The shining stories of its glory and heroics soon tarnished under the strain and revealed the empty chasm the years of consumption without sacrifice had created. The infected fought to breathe, the system began to collapse and, more rapidly than any had foreseen, triage became policy. The “death panels” that, years before, the craven had used terrify the low information became a sort of new reality.
The President was a germaphobe, mendacious and malevolently narcissistic. Long before the Virus took hold he would tolerate no coughing in his presence. He lied so fluently and with such conviction he might be excused for an honest ignorance of the truth. His vainglory was legend — he was incorrectly certain that no one had ever accomplished as much as he. His style was unusual and distinctive — he favored an orange colored foundation makeup that he applied only to areas he could see in the mirror assuming wrongly that no one could see better than he. His hair was a puff of mangy cotton candy, typically a strange yellow, the color of movie theater popcorn or a tooth too often missed in the brushing, held in place by hairspray and vanity. He was utterly devoid of empathy and as such was largely unaffected by the devastation and reports of the dead being stored in refrigerated trucks in major cities. A showman, a carnival barker, a crass outer-borough native, he never quite fit in with the crowd he believed to be his peers. He was a pretender, a grotesque caricature of a wealthy man, performing an empty pantomime of power. Using a tiny computer perfectly sized for his fists, he insulted and ordered and fired and deceived, all the while refusing to fulfill even the most basic duties of his office. His bluster was convincing enough for the unsophisticated who knew him only through the television as a successful and brash businessman. This too was a fiction, heavily edited in his favor. He was a second generation husk who had inherited the wealth of his father, as well as a proclivity for creative accounting, racism, misogyny, a sense of entitlement, and a desperation for respect that he constantly demanded but could never seem to earn. Bankruptcy and fraud were the family business and he taught these well to the one child he loved and the two that he tolerated. There were five altogether.
As the Virus continued to infect the once proud nation, the President retired to a luxurious retreat where he intended to hold a celebratory resurrection party for a thousand of his sycophants, suckups and those to whom he had delivered a tax windfall or a Presidential pardon. The palatial home had been built by a food tycoon, a woman, a purchase which he enjoyed because it gave him the opportunity to not only underpay a woman but also feel as if he has bested an actual billionaire even though she wasn’t alive to care. It simultaneously lit up multiple pleasure centers in his brain.
The retreat, as built, had faucets of gold which the original owner believed would be easier to clean. The current owner felt the gold was very on brand for him and never once gave a thought to those who might have to clean them. This was also very on brand. The ball would take place in an enormous central atrium with a gilded ceiling, outfitted with enormous flat screen televisions upon which all angles of the party would be broadcast. The President believed that which is unobserved and unenvied did not exist, so it was important that, despite the deeply troubling lack of conscience demonstrated by the mere existence of the event, it be seen by those not in attendance, broadcast on all channels, even in the hospital rooms of the dying.
Never one to shy away from appropriating the ideas of another, the President’s wife chose a Masquerade for the fete, encouraging revelers to dress in the manner of the court of Louis XVI, as the previous owner had for her Everglades Costume Ball. She would dress as Marie Antoinette. The President’s wife was said to speak five languages; irony was none of them. She would describe the American Easter tradition in French for authenticity. There would be a “Lapin de Pâcques,” literally, the rabbit of Easter who would distribute golden baskets at the closing of the festivities. She reminded someone that they should spell it phonetically for the teleprompter. The message was carried from the speechwriter, to the speechwriter’s intern, to the intern’s intern. The proper pronunciation was, unfortunately, lost in translation. But the President rarely stuck to prepared remarks. He liked to follow his whims and riff on occasion to tailor his message. It was unlikely to be an issue.
The decorations were reminiscent of those designed by the President’s wife for Christmas one year which had been accurately described as a red dystopian hellscape. This was a dystopian hellscape in pastel colors, bringing to mind one of the President’s most trusted advisors whose husband had not received an invitation. There was a small room off the atrium that had been decorated by another of the President’s most trusted and least hirsute advisors, a perpetually oily looking man with a lightbulb shaped head. It was draped entirely in white. This room contained a single screen, the smallest on the property, tucked in a corner of the room. It displayed the count of the infected and the dead. There was a chime each time another milestone was reached. At some point during the last amount of time, the remote control had been misplaced and despite the best efforts of the staff, they could not mute the chime and it echoed through both rooms, causing the briefest of pauses as acknowledgement of the tragedy that raged beyond the walls.
The entertainment largely consisted of a number of the very modestly talented who had only managed to achieve notoriety upon the announcement of their surprising devotion to the President. The Lapin de Pâques would appear as the climax, the denouement. But the actor who had agreed to perform the role had disappeared the day before the party. Unbeknownst to all, after multiple dress rehearsals on the property, he had recently gone to the nearest waterfront field hospital only to find it empty of the ventilators that had been promised by the President and he had expired in the Walmart(tm) Waiting Place triage tent hoping for a test. It was rumored that he and the President’s wife had had a close relationship, the actor bearing a more than passing resemblance to the Prime Minister of the North. But he was a sloppy fellow and never seemed to put the costume away when he was finished. It had been picked up and moved by the pastry chef, the cleaning crew, the waitstaff, security, the speechwriter’s intern’s intern and other assorted employees. It had finally been hung in the white room, out of the way, near the screen that continued to tick up and sound a mournful note as the numbers of infected and dead climbed ever higher.
Only the most tremendous and non-febrile citizens were summoned with invitations that were golden, lustrous and brimming with the best words, promising a buffet of delicacies, decadent cocktails, towering cakes and ice cream, a considerable amount of which had been split from the shipment and stowed in a secret freezer in the President’s private apartments for his personal consumption. The guests arrived, filing through metal detectors that offered no protection from the actual threat but theoretically protected the largely gun humping crowd from themselves. The guests all had one thing in common: their confidence exceeded their competence on a logarithmic scale. Three Mikes, a Roger, Ghislaine, one Kanye, Mitch, Mother, Reince, Gym, Doug, Rand, Rudy, Sean, and one very wise man named ARod, a valued advisor, were among the honored guests. Dr. Fauci had not been invited, and would likely not have come anyway.
As they arrived, the guests were, without exception, required to stand at a podium and offer at least three unique compliments or perform an ode to the President. At the completion of this, the President entertained his guests from the stage with conspiracy theories, assorted distortions and lunacy all the white gesticulating as if playing an invisible accordion. He ended his program after approximately three hours by assaulting the nation’s flag in a manner reminiscent of behavior he once copped to on tape to an entertainment reporter and confirmed by nearly twenty different women, none of whom were in attendance. No one could enjoy the buffet until the performance was over, but the diligent wait staff and cleaning crew and pastry chef and speechwriter’s intern’s intern and security ensured that the drinks flowed freely and the President’s wife welcomed each guest with a warm embrace as she made her way through the crowd. At long last, the party goers were free to eat and mingle.
As the party wore on, the chimes grew louder, crescendoing with one that shook the very foundation of the enormously gauche home, it was the actor’s post mortem diagnosis that pushed the nation’s number of confirmed infections beyond half a million. The screen in the small white room went from black to red as the number changed, flooding the room with a crimson glow. The President was furious at this inconvenient reminder and also very angry at the delay in receiving his golden basket. His face was burnt-orange with rage and he pursed his lips then proceeded to lash out, as was his habit. “Who dares,” he spat, “rob us of the Pox Bunny?” He mispronounced and slurred and sounded inebriated, which was common, despite claiming to be a lifelong teetotaler. The President stalked across the golden atrium and burst through the entrance to the now red room frantically in search of the Lapin de Pâques and the Presidential basket which had been loaded with twice the spoils of any other. He found the costume, empty, hanging near the screen. Furious at the actor’s absence, the President looked around. Senator Lindsey was directly behind him, as was often the case. The President ordered him to put on the suit and perform as the “Lapin de Pox,” taking thumbs up photographs with each guest and handing them their basket of jelly beans, reminiscent of a more successful era, four rolls of two ply toilet paper and a hollow white chocolate bust of the President. At the completion of this theatric, the guests were dismissed and the President retired to his quarters to focus his limited attention on the ice cream secreted there. But he was a large man with a ponderous gait, and he had not moved quickly enough to miss a guest’s discreet wheeze.
And the Virus held ceaseless privilege over all.