Opinion - The Ebola City Rises

If we want to be Gotham, we have to trust Batman

To be fair, the majority of social and mainstream media coverage hasn’t exactly done a damn thing to mitigate Ebola panic. But to be even more fair, anyone who wasn’t born yesterday understands by now that sensationalism, ill-informed conclusion-jumping, and shameless fear-baiting largely define the kind of “news” coming from those sources.

If Atlantans are panicking about Ebola, it’s mostly because they’ve been told to. We’ve been pounded with the idea that Ebola is a big, ugly monster that is definitely coming to infect us, kill us, draw a penis on our faces after we pass out at the sleepover, and send us screen shots of it sexting with our exes whom we aren’t over yet. Basically, Ebola is the worst kind of horseshit to plague the planet. And it’s in Atlanta now.

Last week, Dr. Kent Brantly, a physician from Texas, and Nancy Writebol, a missionary from North Carolina, were flown from Liberia to be treated at Emory University Hospital in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Predictably, that decision was met with a considerable amount of fearful questioning from within and outside the city as to whether we were compromising our collective safety.

As of August 11, according to the World Health Organization, 1,013 have died in the current Ebola outbreak, none in the United States.. By comparison, the flu kills tens of thousands of people every year. But since the flu is about as basic and unsexy as a virus can be, and since it’s an ever-present danger, it doesn’t get nearly as much press as Ebola.

If Atlantans could stop panicking about the idea of having such a scary disease in our city — in a crazy controlled, extra bubble-wrapped, tightly locked box guarded by highly equipped badasses — we could see that, in not wanting Ebola patients here, we’re denying one of the things that makes Atlanta truly exceptional.

You know how we always try to convince the rest of the world that we actually matter? That we are, in fact, a distinctly amazing city that is unfairly subjected to being a Boring Mid-Level City? This Ebola situation effectively makes that argument for us. That is cool. We can stop convincing people in New York and San Francisco that we are legit, and get back to the important business of fighting about transportation. We should be super into treating these Ebola patients.

Regardless, we have little cause for worry. These doctors live for this. They’re disease-obsessed nerds, and thank God they are because someone needs to be. Treating these patients is the exact thing that infectious-disease experts prepare for. Those videos of the patients being escorted into the hospital? Infectious-disease experts have been practicing that dance regularly since 2002. Is it risky? Of course. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t elect to trust them to do it.

Let’s examine this situation the same way we do all important issues: as a Batman metaphor.

I doubt many residents of Gotham City complain that Batman shouldn’t be doing such reckless stunts in the Batmobile. He’s their hero — what he does might appear impossibly dangerous to everyone but him, but they trust that he alone is capable of doing it. They know that through his death-defying maneuvering, he is protecting all of them in a way that no one else can.

Gotham’s residents understand that the benefits of that protection come from giving Batman the faith and space to do his job without entirely understanding how he’s doing it, or what he’s even doing. They let him do his thing. They know that their world is full of some pretty unholy shit that could do them in. But the risk involved with having the Batmobile careening through their streets is a lot safer than not having anyone out there fighting the bad guys at all.

Batman, it turns out, is not only the thing that keeps Gotham City from falling prey to any number of villains — he is the thing that makes the city as great as it is.

The CDC and Emory are Atlanta’s Batman and Alfred, respectively. And they’re not just caring for these two courageous awesomelings. They are using them and the experience of treating them as an opportunity to learn more about this disease, obtaining knowledge that stands to potentially help all of us.

Don’t act like you know what happens in the Batcave. You do not. But you do know that it’s kept you alive thus far, so maybe we should let them do their thing.

Ebola is less likely to kill us than some other viral evildoer. This Ebola outbreak, like all the others, will eventually subside, but its severity and our heightened attention to it could end up serving a useful function in terms of illuminating weak spots in our global infection disease preparedness. If any city should feel especially fortified in that area, wouldn’t it be the place where all the geniuses who come up with solutions lay their kids down to sleep every night?

That doesn’t mean we don’t get to be scared. Ebola is scary. So are vigilante heroes who drive awfully fast. But if we start letting our fear drive our decisions — in this specific situation, or in our personal lives, or as a city in general — it won’t make us any safer. It won’t make the bad guys retreat and go away. It will make us too cowardly to put up a good fight against them and extinguish everything that is special and mighty about our city. If we let the CDC be Batman, we get to be the incomparable Gotham City — and isn’t that what we’ve been wanting?

Jessica Blankenship is a writer living in Atlanta, where she is happily ruining her pretty face and disposition with men, cigarettes, and adventures.

Correction 8-13-14: An earlier version of this column said approximately 729 people have died from the current Ebola outbreak. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, 1,013 people have died as of Aug. 11, 2014.