Black Dawn: The Next Pandemic (Or, Bird Flu: The Worst Case)

I recently watched a re-run of the CBC’s Fifth Estate on Bird Flu, which was done in a docu-drama format (whatever that is), entitled, Black Dawn: The Next Pandemic. It originally aired back in January of this year, right at the height of flu season, and is quite an alarmist view of what would happen if the H5N1 strain of Avian Flu were to mutate into a form spreadable from human-to-human.

The unique “docu-drama” format tells the story of what would happen if Avian Flu became a pandemic comparable to the Spanish Flu outbreak, and presents this hypothetical outcome as a sort of reality-based TV show that follows the life of an ER nurse and her family, and news soundbites about the ensuing world-wide chaos and the breakdown of society. This is intermingled with short interviews with experts such as researchers in fields like microbiology and virology about their views on what would and what should be done – often in the context of what’s happening in the hypothetical reality. (For example, a historian quips about how he’s sure nations have secretly planned measures for the use of military assets to control civil disorder – while in the contructed scenario, a news anchor reports widespread rioting in major urban centers due to lack of adequate antiviral medicine stocks.)


I’ll have to admit, when I first saw the ads for this show, I thought it to be overly alarmist. I mean, first of all, the “docu-drama” format doesn’t add to the credibility, in my opinion. I know that the Fifth Estate claims that the scenario is based on facts and the opinions of experts in the field about what could occur, and that extensive research was done – and I believe that. I just think that this scenario is probably the absolute worst-case one. They seemed to point towards the inevitability of a major avian flu pandemic of this scale; that there was no stopping it, and that this would be the eventual outcome. However, ever since flu season has ended, news about avian flu has dwindled, and media has returned to being preoccupied with other matters. In fact, some researchers have discovered why bird flu is not spread so easily from human to human.

Furthermore, the docu-drama format just makes it seem like the Fifth Estate is desperate to produce something sure to capture the public’s attention. Freeing yourself from the bonds of reality is a sure-fire way to make the story more interesting – it’s done all the time. It’s almost like an excuse to make up something sensational. I mean, come on – just cause the pandemic didn’t happen, does that mean you get to pretend that it did, just for the sake of making up fake news about it? That’s almost like being on a diet, and saying “I’ll pass on the pizza if I don’t do a workout”, missing your workout then still having the pizza. I was actually surprised that the Fifth Estate would do something like this, given that they have produced some interesting documentaries before – though others have been somewhat outlandish.

Art imitating life, imitating art

The docu-drama also reminded me of The Stand, which I didn’t read but only saw on TV-movie format, (I think it was on ABC quite a few years ago), and also any general ‘Outbreak’-style movies or shows I may have seen. The warnings of mass-panic, and the ensuing martial law that would be required were nothing short of apocalyptic. Conspiracy-theorists like Alex Jones would have a field day after seeing this docu-drama.

But, in a way, I hope it provokes action on the part of world authorities to prepare for such a disaster. I understand that avian flu isn’t the only thing they have to worry about, but in terms of public perception, it may be. Hopefully, when/if avian flu starts spreading from human to human, things won’t be as bad as portrayed.

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