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The Medical Noir


The Medical Noir:


The Lies of Preparedness and Security


     Safety is not just physical; it is mental, social, and even spiritual. The United States has, since 2001, increased efforts to make security paramount to the country. This is most apparent in border control, the new Department of Homeland Security, and the increasing millions of dollars spent on worldwide biosecurity. Joseph Masco states that the actions related to this increase in security are directly related to the literature of Noir. This is, at first glance, a tenuous connection, yet Masco proceeds to show that both fictional Noir and real-life security Noir rely on a fundamental understanding of the world as being wholly uncertain, chaotic, and full of threat. The ever-present dangers of a murderer in a Crime Noir are structurally similar to the ever-present terrorist that exists in the American consciousness: each is at once constant and nonexistent.


     Masco also notes the connection that surfaced between national security and the medical community. Biological weapons appeared to be around the corner; natural pandemics were to be expected: yet we now sit at the razor’s edge of COVID-19 with seemingly no proper plan in place. The current administration consolidated the agency that was meant to protect Americans from pandemics. Costly simulations were not heeded. If we’re the detectives of this noir, we must piece together what went wrong and how we can prevent such a collapse in the future.


     Mr. Trump recently stated, "'Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before.'" (Sanger, 2020). Not only is this not true (e.g.: Spanish Flu, Ebola Virus, Black Plague, etc. were far worse), but it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the goings-on within his own political administration. This also points to the massive scope and effort that America has taken to attempt to protect itself. Masco notes the presence of American Army bases overseas as evidence for this decentralization. This was intended to prevent a pandemic from ever reaching American soil via swift action overseas. The costs of this deployment are high, including the pay and housing of thousands of military personnel who are stationed in these bases. But, it was quite demonstrably not effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Why?


      Well detectives, we might find our answer in an article by Andrew Lakoff. This author writes about the assemblage of actors that were concerned with preparing for a Bird Flu pandemic. To one committed scientist’s surprise, his creation of a virulent H5N1 strain did not yield praise. His findings were subsequently kept top secret, despite their use in understanding the dangerous virus. The scientific community accused the US government of censorship and that the information could help prevent a pandemic. Nonetheless, the study was shelved as confidential, and the assemblage was regulated by a new third-party (Lakoff, 2017). Risk assessment was the knot that tied off the well-meaning camaraderie of the assemblage.


       Risk assessment is a form of uncertainty that reflects the Noir that Masco writes of. Furthermore, the censorship incident shows the fragility of the government's relationship with scientists. This compounds upon the realization that the Crimson Contagion Scenario, which was conducted within a year of the COVID-19 outbreak, was definitive in its assessment that America needed more ventilators and protective gear (Sanger, 2020). Government officials ignored these portents, refusing the scientific risk assessment for a “common sense” approach. Simulations like the “Crimson Contagion” have proven ineffective in leading to policy change time and time again. Previously, these simulations were used to instill fear in governmental officials in order to increase biosecurity funding (Masco, 2014). This can be useful for research purposes, but the facilities in place deal with terror as existential threats. They are not actually interested in promoting security; they instead focus on convincing the public that safety is assured so long as they have funding.    


       Ultimately, COVID-19 has transferred the overwhelming feeling of Noir that was already present in the biosecurity world to the medical lives of most citizens. This was accomplished via a willful negligence of the government’s executive body and a refusal to take fully committed action to mitigate the potential effects of a pandemic. This Noir has been further heightened by miscommunication and contradicting statements from Mr. Trump and his advisors.


Works Cited

Lakoff, A. (2017). A fragile assemblage: Mutant bird flu and the

limits of risk assessment. Social Studies of Science Vol. 47(3): 376-397.


Masco, J. (2014). “Biosecurity Noir”. The Theater of Operations:

National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror.

Duke University Press Books. 


Sanger, D.E., Lipton, E., Sullivan, E., and Crowley, M. (2020).

Before Virus Outbreak, a Cascade of Warnings Went Unheeded.

The New York Times.

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