April 23, 2020
A Warning about Life After COVID
School of Cinematic Arts graduate Julio Vincent Gambuto goes viral with a prescient essay
You may have seen the article. Titled “Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting” it challenged readers not to succumb to a rewriting of their pandemic experience by companies that will try to sell us everything under the sun to make us feel “normal” again. The writer, Julio Vincent Gambuto, warns that companies will try to position their products as the feel-good antidotes to all the trauma and inequities the quarantine uncovered. “Billions of dollars will be spent on advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make you feel comfortable again,” Gambuto writes, “Based on this cardinal principle: Find the consumer’s problem and fix it with your product.” But the real truth will be hard to cover up, he warns: “What the trauma has shown us, though, cannot be unseen… We, as a nation, have deeply disturbing problems.”
Gambuto is a 2016 graduate of the Master’s program in Film & Television Production. He lives in New York City, his hometown, where the COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard. His essay was published on Medium on Friday, April 10 and by the end of the weekend had amassed some 15 million views on Medium and more than 30,000 shares on Facebook. Within two weeks (at the time of this writing) it had almost 20 million views.
We asked Gambuto, who works in the entertainment industry, to answer some questions about what made him write the essay and the impact it has had online. Here’s what he had to say:
You have a thriving career as a writer and producer. Do you also frequently write essays?
I’ve been writing essays on-and-off. Whenever I am driven by frustration or anger, I find it hard to resist a long Facebook post. But then I stop, take a deep breath, and craft what is usually a “rant" into as thoughtful a piece as possible for Medium. I’ve been writing on the platform for a few years now. The last piece I wrote, before this one, was on the exclusion of the Pride Center in my hometown’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. The local paper picked it up and printed it on the front page as an opinion piece. I love my film craft, but sometimes an essay like this is an easier and faster way to communicate, as opposed to channeling it into a screenplay directly.
How did you get the idea for this piece?
(The previous) week was one of the toughest weeks I have had since I came home to New York City in 2017. In a matter of days, we lost five family friends. My grandmother came down with a fever and couldn’t breathe (she’s okay now, thankfully). And a community member in my home borough was stranded in Africa and was kicked out of her hotel because the local people thought she brought COVID into their town. By Friday, the darkness of it all was overwhelming. So, I buried my head in the pillow. Then got up and wrote.
Why do you think your essay went viral so quickly?
I think it struck a deep chord in people all over the world who are watching America struggle. There is nothing objectively wrong, in my view, with capitalism in theory, but we are seeing it spin out of control in our country, and millions of people here and abroad are directly affected. The essay could be viewed through a political lens, an economics lens, a self-help lens, even a spiritual lens, so I think it had broad appeal. I didn’t write it to cover all of those bases, but that’s the complicated POV I see the world from. When I was at USC, few people knew that I grew up in a working-class family, and it’s impossible for me to see the world from any other vantage point. Also, I think people have the time now to actually read a 2,000-word essay.
What has the experience been like? Any stories (good or bad) about going viral?
It has been surreal. I have gotten thousands of messages and emails about the piece. Most are very supportive and want to engage in a conversation. Some are offers to appear on radio and TV and podcasts. Some, though, only saw me as a loud leftie and lobbed some crazy and vile things at me…in my own inbox. I am not a big Twitter guy, so I am pretty uninitiated in the swirl of criticism and insult that comes when you tweet something provocative or partisan. This was thousands of words longer than a tweet, so you can imagine what has already come my way.
How do you think this will impact your creative life?
There’s a thread of connective tissue, simply in how I think about the world and the importance of the connections between communities and families. I am going to continue to write, and it’s my hope that I can contribute as a voice of reason in what promises to be a very challenging year ahead. My next movie is specifically about income inequality through the lens of an American working-class family (my own), so I hope my writing and that next film can be part of a larger conversation in this country about the class issues that are swallowing us right now.
To read Vincent’s essay on Medium go to:
For more about him and his work:
To hear him interviewed about the essay:
- WDET, NPR Detroit radio interview: https://wdet.org/posts/2020/04/17/89504-viral-author-society-can-make-better-choices-after-covid-19/
- The Hill, “Rising” show appearance - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYyeUtT1UwQ&feature=youtu.be