Don’t Look Up

Fiction and Mindset

Over the last two weeks on no less than five occasions people I was talking with spontaneously spontaneously recommended that I watch the recently released science fiction satire “Don’t Look Up”. That is highly unusual, so I did. It did not disappoint. My five friends and acquaintances were a good clue, but that fact that this movie struck a chord far beyond my acquaintanceship came out in a commentary in the New York Times

According to Netflix, which self reports its own figures and was the studio behind the film and its distributor, the movie is one of its most popular films ever, amassing an unprecedented 152 million hours viewed in one week.¹

“Don’t Look Up” casts Leonard DeCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as a pair of frustrated astrophysicists trying to communicate an important discovery. Meryl Streep is cast as the President of the United States. The movie is an insightful, satirical commentary on the interrelation of science, politics, propaganda, and belief systems—but it is worth watching just for the acting. (Note: The movie contains language and implied sex that might not be suitable for children. Besides, the youngest would be bored and older children, unaware of satire, might have nightmares.)

The movie is free to stream on Netflix. If you’re not a subscriber it is worth the $8.99 plus tax for one month of a Basic subscription just to see this one movie. (What would you pay in a theater?)²

Do not discount the influence of fiction on the mindset and value systems of the viewer or reader. The New York Times article reminded me of that:

Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that it seemed like a documentary. Several admirers likened the film to “A Modest Proposal,” the 18th-century satirical essay by Jonathan Swift.

Indeed, works of fiction and story-telling non-fiction like Uncle Tom’s CabinTo Kill a MockingbirdCatch 22HiroshimaDr. Stranglove, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to name just a few, have all had profound effects on attitudes toward slavery, war, atomic weapons, and psychiatric confinement—and those attitudes seep into politics and voting. Fiction or true story, we humans tend to internalize and often adopt that to which we are exposed in print and on our many screens. (Watch “The Brain Washing of My Dad” free on YouTube for a clear illustration.)³

Satire, when properly deployed, can be a great stimulant to thought. “Don’t Look Up” is terrific example such satire. Watch it and spread the word. (Be sure to watch through the credits. There is a short, entertaining bonus at the very end.)

Keep to the high ground,


For perspective, those 152 million hours of viewing imply that “Don’t Look Up” appeared on a screen in front of one or more Netflix watchers more than 67 million times (divide by 2.25 hours, the duration of the movie). If there were an average of just 1.6 people watching each of those screens that would imply that a third of the population of the United States watched this movie—in one week! This movie is cultural phenomenon and reference thought ought not be missed.2

There might be a freebie month offered if you’re new to Netflix. Of course, the trick with all this is to remind yourself to cancel if you’re not going to use the subscription later. Ignored subscriptions are financial death by a thousand cuts. 3

It should come as no surprise that many conservatives demonize most of the Hollywood movie industry as “out of touch liberal elites” or that Republicans in a number of states are passing laws under the guise of “anti-CRT”, laws that can be used to keep books like “To Kill a Mockingbird” out of public school classrooms. Nor should it come as a surprise that extreme Christian Fundamentalists decry the Harry Potter books and movies as paganism and the work of the Devil.