Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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May 13: The Wisconsin Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Tony Evers’ (D) extension of his stay-at-home order. Calls mount for a federal investigation into the fatal shooting of emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor by police executing a “no-knock” search warrant at her Louisville, Kentucky, home in March. 

From the cutting room floor...

According to marketing analysts, Americans have entered the “Escapism + Optimism” phase of the virus experience. (Given M’s note, above, it seems particularly humorous to point this out.) At least on Pinterest, they have. A VP at Vayner Media, a marketing analytics firm, says that Americans are projecting their “utopian view of a post-COVID world” as they search the internet for a positive, hopeful vision of the future.[1] Examining Pinterest searches offers a good way to anticipate long terms consumer spending, they say, and to plan for profit-making opportunities. For marketers, utopias are the perfect commodity, pitched as something that people can buy through their own consumer activism. Marketing in the modern world has become the “keeper of the utopian flame.”[2]

A few weeks ago, in the early days of the shutdown, Americans searched for how to make a home office and how to cut their own hair. Over the following month, the excitement of quarantine gave way to worry and fatigue. People searched for what to send in a care package and what to wear while they worked from home. Now, these marketers claim, we are in the third phase. Searches for “Virtual sleepover” have jumped 800%, as have “free virtual field trips” and “kids virtual birthday party.” They are looking for apartments they might move to and weddings that might happen when life gets back to normal. In phase four, marketers say, Americans will recover and rebound. Many are already planning for the wonderful summer they expect will come after states relax health restrictions, which is already happening. Stage four Americans will search for “summer party” and “event planning.”

To me, this seems profoundly non-utopian; desperate even. These Pinterest searches reflect a population that tried in the first month of the epidemic to adapt to their changing world and to help friends and family. This was an effort to exert control over a universe in chaos. I search on Pinterest to see what I should send to our oldest daughter, who has not left her one-bedroom apartment in DC for two months. I am awestruck by the beauty and thoughtfulness of these packages. They show careful, meticulous work and creativity, and lots of love. One woman wrote ten individual letters and glued them to the inside flaps of the cardboard package. Each tells her husband something that she loves about him while he is deployed in the military. Another simply says, “Please don’t feel blue, and know that we love you.” They remind me of how good it feels to help others, that giving always rewards the giver more than the receiver. They also ring of isolation and longing, of the distances that stretch between us—distances that we cannot safely close.

Moreover, these images are clearly only reflective of a certain population of people in America. People who search on how to set up a home office are people who still have jobs. Those are the same people who can afford to create and mail care packages. In that sense, Pinterest is utopian, since it reflects a world where everyone has work and goods to share and time to give and people to love. Philosopher Susan Schoenbohm insists that utopias don’t just show us better ways of living in the world, they also force us to look closely at our own social conditions here and now, and hopefully, reveals how to change them.[3] Pinterest’s utopia extols possession: the ownership and sharing of consumer goods as a proxy for personal creativity and connection with others. I am fine with that, I suppose; I just wish that more people in America could have access to it.

When phase three hit, the one we are in now, those same people who were building home offices and sending care packages started searching for how to manage their kids and stay sane. No one knows how to do parenting right now. My sister-in-law in Los Angeles sent a long letter yesterday.[4] She has a teen and a tween at home, and she admits that she at times finds it “very difficult to have the compassion they need me to show them… we are all stuck with each other all the time now. That can be a shit show.” Three sets of my friends, all of whom work full time, have admitted to me that, while they love their kids, all-day-every-day parenting inside the house is a nightmare. How do we do our own jobs from home, make sure the kids have a stimulating environment where virtual school can happen, which includes helping them navigate the stress and anxiety of this experience, and still manage our own physical and mental health? No wonder Pinterest searches are up on how to do virtual sleepovers… anything that might resemble the world we once knew. 

The American Psychological Association has a website dedicated to parenting during COVID-19. In times of high anxiety, they recommend “slow counting” and “positive self-talk.” With their kids, parents can repeat the phrase, “The adults are working on stopping the virus,” which will evidently make them feel better.[5]

The APA says that someone is working on stopping this. But I’ve been following the coronavirus pandemic as closely as I can for months now. Because I know what the adults are doing, it doesn’t make me feel better to say that. It terrifies me. It feels like lying. Yet I’m sure there are adults who believe that things are soon going to get better. That “adults” are working on it. These must be the same people who are searching for “summer parties” on Pinterest.

All of this marketing data is critical to the big firms, who are seeing this moment as an opportunity to expand. Early in the twentieth century, the federal government put rules in place to resist monopolization. Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Democrats like Harry S Truman believed monopolies were anti-capitalist, against progress, regressive defenders of oligarchy and the status quo against regular workers. Since then, layers of regulations have occasionally resisted the attempts of large companies from merging into super-corporations, entities that crowd out and buy up real competition so they can set prices and control the market. Entities like Facebook, like Google.

Now, even that modicum of protection against monopolization and for capitalism is failing. Some large companies claim to be in danger of folding under the pressure of the virus and the lockdowns and argue that only a merger can save them. It’s called the “failing firm” argument.[6] It used to be very difficult to get government approval for a merger based on this argument. It feels, however, that we’ve slid back into the very early twentieth century. Mergers have already happened during the pandemic that were set to be blocked. Amazon scooping up Deliveroo in the UK is only one of the prominent examples.[7]

Companies are using the “failing firm” argument to declare that they must also reopen, regardless of the danger to employees or customers. T. J. Maxx, which sells last season’s consignment clothes and housewares, reopened in northern Arkansas this past weekend. It was packed with people on opening day, with hardly anyone wearing a mask.[8] Tesla Motors’ CEO, Elon Musk, likewise, decided to open his Fremont, California factory up for workers. (I suppose he would claim that if he doesn’t, his billionaire children might starve, including his newest progeny, named “X Æ A-Xii” after a song on his girlfriend’s latest album.)[9] Trump, who also knows the numerous pains of a starving child, sympathized with Musk’s plight and encouraged him via the thoughtful gesture of tweeting with his thumbs. Today, Musk followed up by letting his employees know they’re now officially being called up and cannot choose to remain at their homes, despite California law, if they want to retain their paying jobs. That is the early-twentieth century robber baron reality that underlies Pinterest’s gilded utopia.


[1] Swant, Marty, “From ‘Virtual Sleepover’ To ‘Accent Wall Dots,’ Marketers Are Using Pinterest To Find COVID-19 Hobbies,” Forbes, 05-13-2020.

[2] Stephen Brown, Pauline Maclaren, and Lorna Stevens, “Marcadia Postponed: Marketing, Utopia and the Millennium,” Journal of Marketing Management 12, no. 7 (October 1, 1996): 676,; Robert V. Kozinets, “YouTube Utopianism: Social Media Profanation and the Clicktivism of Capitalist Critique,” Journal of Business Research 98 (May 1, 2019): 66,

[3] Susan M. Schoenbohm, “The Function and Questionable Purpose of Utopian Thought,” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 91, no. 1/2 (2008): 22,

[4] The entire letter can be found on the website.


[6] Schoenbohm, “The Function and Questionable Purpose of Utopian Thought,” 22.

[7] Koenig, Bryan. “Mergers During COVID-19 Create New ‘Failing Firm’ Paradigm,” Law360, May 11, 2020.

[8] David A. Kass, Priya Duggal, and Oscar Cingolani, “Obesity Could Shift Severe COVID-19 Disease to Younger Ages,” The Lancet 0, no. 0 (May 4, 2020),

[9] Rachel Sandler, “Elon Musk Welcomes Child With Musician Grimes,” Forbes, May 6, 2020,

Read more

“Tesla’s Musk says ‘ready for arrest,’ reopens plant against order,” Reuters, May 12, 2020.

Duvall, Tessa, Darcy Costello, and Phillip M. Bailey. “Senator Kamala Harris Demands Federal Investigation of Police Shooting of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.” USA TODAY, May 13, 2020.

*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Kozinets, Robert V. “YouTube Utopianism: Social Media Profanation and the Clicktivism of Capitalist Critique.” Journal of Business Research 98 (May 1, 2019): 65–81.
Garcia-Hodges, Ahiza. “Some Tesla Factory Employees Say They’re Being Pressured to Return to Work,” NBC News, May 13, 2020.
Koenig, Bryan. “Mergers During COVID-19 Create New ‘Failing Firm’ Paradigm,”, May 11, 2020.
US Naval Institute. “COVID-19 and China: A Chronology of Events.” USNI News, May 13, 2020.
Leung, Wai Shing, Jacky Man Chun Chan, Thomas Shiu Hong Chik, Daphne Pui Ling Lau, Chris Yau Chung Choi, Alicia Wing Tung Lau, and Owen Tak Yin Tsang. “Presumed COVID-19 Index Case on Diamond Princess Cruise Ship and Evacuees to Hong Kong.” Journal of Travel Medicine, May 13, 2020.

Jeremy Page and Natasha Khan, “On the Ground in Wuhan, Signs of China Stalling Probe of Coronavirus Origins,” Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2020.

Additional Links
  • Brown, Stephen, Pauline Maclaren, and Lorna Stevens. “Marcadia Postponed: Marketing, Utopia and the Millennium.” Journal of Marketing Management 12, no. 7 (October 1, 1996): 671–83.
  • Kucirka, Lauren M., Stephen A. Lauer, Oliver Laeyendecker, Denali Boon, and Justin Lessler. “Variation in False-Negative Rate of Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction–Based SARS-CoV-2 Tests by Time Since Exposure.” Annals of Internal Medicine, May 13, 2020.
  • Schoenbohm, Susan M. “The Function and Questionable Purpose of Utopian Thought.” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 91, no. 1/2 (2008): 21–32.

* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.