Back to Summer: ‘ZOOM Culture’

Published in: July-August 2021 issue.


THE working title for this issue was “Who’s Zooming Whom?” with apologies to Aretha Franklin, who had a hit song by that name in the 1980s (minus a “g” and an “m” on the last two words). The title question could be seen as slightly prophetic now that a cyber platform known as “Zoom” has taken over our lives, or so it has seemed for the past fifteen months. And we now have an answer to Aretha’s question. Everyone is zooming everyone.

            In addition to saving us both commercially and psychologically, Zoom and its attendant meetups, reunions, presentations, lectures, tours, etc., produced a huge amount of sheer content, meaning that this pandemic will be by far the best documented in history. Most of this conversational clamor will be forgotten, but a few memorable exchanges may be preserved, such as those that appear in this issue.

            Looked at another way, it’s a good thing Zoom (or something like it) existed, as face-to-zoomface communication is about all there was to do socially during the pandemic. Authors who would have given readings to half-empty bookstores were suddenly talking to thousands of viewers. Tour guides, rather than dragging their charges up the Acropolis, were now zooming in on the Parthenon’s art with a side trip to the British Museum. Professors and filmmakers who would otherwise have been in the classroom or on set were available for virtual discussion. Indeed, this issue is no doubt the beneficiary of the isolation that allowed many busy people to step back from current projects and reflect upon their past work.

            The lineup of individuals interviewed for this issue is indeed impressive. André Aciman, acclaimed for his novel Call Me By Your Name and the film that followed, has a new sequel out titled Find Me. Alan Ball is a producer and screenwriter (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) who recently directed the gay film Uncle Frank. Michael Lowenthal and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore are two widely published writers—the former a novelist, the latter an essayist—who also happen to be old friends. Paul Rudnick’s award-winning plays include Jeffrey and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told; his new novel is reviewed in this issue. Sarah Schulman is a longtime activist and the author of numerous novels and plays and, most recently, a history of ACT UP titled Let the Record Show.

            The pandemic is winding down in the U.S. as I write, and perhaps the Zoom culture that became the new normal for a time will fade. Or it could become a lasting fixture to remind us that we don’t have to jump in the car every time we need to meet with colleagues or feel like visiting a friend.