Guardian article on "how Covid-19 paranoia united the wellness industry and rightwing conspiracy theorists" (UK)

This is the seventh in a series of 16 posts offering an analysis of “Covid Codes” from a global perspective. SEMIOVOX has invited consulting semioticians from around the world to augment the Coronavirus-related meaning map whose lineaments we revealed here in a Spring 2020 series. We are grateful to our talented and generous colleagues, who are individually acknowledged in each series post that features their contributions.

The theme we’ll explore in this installment is: FANTASY WANTS.

As with the previous installment, SCI-FI NEEDS, we are now in the realm of this “Covid Relief” space’s Visionary paradigm. This paradigm has two aspects: science fiction (as previously explored) and fantasy. Here we also move away from the space of “needs” and into the space of “wants.” We need a powerful, fast-acting remedy; we want a natural, gentle remedy. We need to get back to our busy family/social/work lives; we want to utterly transform our lives. The next several installments will elaborate on this.

Scientific American illo for essay on persistent Covid-19 myths (USA)

The Fantasy Wants theme can be defined as: Magical, miraculous solutions to our health woes. In this theme, we’ll find far-out speculation about remedies (to Covid-19, or Cough/Cold/Flu, or other ailments) which can be humorous or earnest, impossible or just far-fetched. Underneath it all, there’s a desire for a miraculous-magical solution. Note that the Sci-Fi Needs theme is also about miraculous-magical solutions, but coded as “scientific.”

The Fantasy Wants theme is open-minded to a fault, experimentalist and risk-taking, willing to stick all sorts of things into our bodies via unusual delivery systems. Though “governed” by the visionary paradigm, the Fantasy Wants complex is also associated with the guru paradigm. The guru paradigm asks us to expand our consciousness and seek rich, deep perspectives and insights from beyond western medicine. What skeptics dismiss as “woo-woo,” the guru (and visionary) are willing to entertain as potentially much more far-reaching solutions to our problems. Which aren’t — they persuasively inform us — merely medical/physical in nature.

The subsequent installment in this series, on the theme Ancient Wisdom, will consider religious and traditional/folk remedies.

Our study suggests that the Fantasy Wants thematic space is brought to life by at least two “source codes” (signs): Woo-Woo Remedies and Magic Memes.

Woo-Woo Remedies

The Woo-Woo Remedies source code’s norm (that is to say, its idea, value, higher-order benefit) can be described as follows: New Age, self-actualizing, pseudoscientific approaches to preventing and treating illness.

This is an unfair characterization, and evidence of our own biases and resistance to new and different ideas. We’re aware of that.

New York Times feature

Visual cues of Woo-Woo Remedies include:

  • Pastel colors, soft curves
  • Apothecary-style packaging and design cues
  • Groovy, hippie-ish vibe
  • Trippy, psychedelic imagery

Verbal cues of Woo-Woo Remedies include:

  • Appeals to both science and folk wisdom/traditions, alchemy and biology. “Moon Juice bridges the world of alchemy and biology for functional benefits.”
  • Cool-sounding but probably pseudoscientific terminology:  e.g., “Adaptogenic Beauty & Wellbeing”, “Brain Dust,” “Neuron velocity and vision are fine tuned by toning the brain waves, in particular the alpha waves that connect to creativity.” Amanda Chantal Bacon is an “immunomodulation enthusiast.”
  • Focus on self-actualization, what’s happening inside vs. the real world: “This New Moon offers us a date with destiny. We are being called to birth new versions of ourselves, as the world morphs around us. Let us burn off resistance and dance with the unknown.”
Master Sri Akarshana

Anastasia Kārkliņa (Russia) sends a note suggesting that “the rhetoric of manifestation (and the law of attraction) has significantly marked a subset of digital conversations about coronavirus, the pandemic, and virus prevention.” She points, for example, to a video by “Master Sri Akarshana,” an international manifestation guru with 1.7M followers. “Here, he announces his plans for holding a ‘collaborative manifestation’ — an online group meditation, the goal of which is to ‘form a shield to actually prevent the virus energies to be spreading any further’. The comments in response to this video are further indicative of this logic, with ‘the law of attraction’ proponents sharing various spiritual solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic: ‘This virus situation is in [the] past now. It has no power, it’s dead energy … it’s banished. The planet is filled with light.’ Another user writes, ‘the trick is to eliminate fear. Fear makes you weak. Using the power of affirmations such as ‘I am healthy’ will prevent any type of epidemic to come to you.’ Why is the spread of coronavirus getting worse? ‘Very simple,’ Sri Akarshana adds, ‘because more people are in panic stage, reacting stage. … This [pandemic] is a big universal energy cleanse, so after this cleanse, everything can become beautiful [on the planet].'”

Kārkliņa adds that Google searches for the term “manifesting” skyrocketed after the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. This upward trend is also consistent across Google searches in the UK, in the U.S., in Australia. Same rapid upward trend for related searches like “manifest meaning” and “what is manifesting.”

Magic Memes

The Magic Memes source code’s norm (that is to say, its idea, value, higher-order benefit) can be described as follows: If only our trusted Cough/Cold/Flu products could protect us from (or cure) COVID-19…

Here we find a plethora of humorous memes and social media jokes about how our Cough/Cold/Flu and Immunity products should be helping us during this epidemic. Silly stuff — but again, underneath the lulz, one can discern a deep yearning for a miraculous fix.

Visual cues of Magic Memes include:

  • Repurposed images from pop culture and media
  • Laughing face emojis
  • Cough/Cold/Flu products being used incorrectly

Verbal cues of Magic Memes include:

  • Half-joking (but half-serious) expressions of desire for trusted Cough/Cold/Flu products to rescue us from the epidemic: e.g., “How come Lysol and NyQuil & DayQuil ain’t come out with any products together yet? Just Lazy!!!! Ummm save us.”; “Not today Coronavirus” (with image of Cold-EEZE lined up for snorting); “I know Vicks won’t protect me from this many-named virus, but I’m choosing to slather it on thick anyhow. My therapist calls this a self-soothing behavior. I call it going to my magical menthol island.”
  • Poking fun at people who don’t understand that Cough/Cold/Flu products can’t help. “Wait, so my double shots of Nyquil won’t immunize me from coronavirus?” “Me loading up on Zicam and Cold-EEZE and challenging the Coronavirus to bring it on.”
Vijay Parthasarathy (US/India)

Vijay Parthasarathy (US/India) notes that Whatsapp forwards are incredibly popular in India; so are Indianized hybrid versions of Western songs. “This video, spreading holiday cheer, has been making the rounds. Santa, in Indian garb dancing in the classical Bharatnatyam style, gestures to ask the implied audience why it is crying; the response causes Santa to comically pulverize a sign that reads “2020.” That is swiftly replaced by scientists / doctors in their ‘authority figure’ coats descending (like models in some game show) to bring us all the delight-sparking, bow-tied wrapped gift of the COVID vaccine vial. The scientists / doctors here have evidently replaced the elves as the creators of the gift.”

Image from Amadora (Portugal)

Sónia Marques (Portugal) sends a billboard, used by a city council (Amadora) near Lisbon, in order to promote social distancing. The text says “The comics’ city advises social distance” (Amadora is known for its annual comics festival). Another example of a semi-ironic, semi-wishful expression of a deep-seating yearning for a magical, miraculous solution to Covid-19.


Thank you for reading our Covid Codes series. Next week’s installment will be on this theme: ANCIENT WISDOM.

Tags: Coronavirus, Health & Wellness