Rare Silent Film Shows How They Tried to Educate the Public About the Spanish Flu a Century Ago (1919)

“Pics or it didn’t happen,” says the Internet, a phrase typically “used in jest,” writes Erin Ratelle at Space and Culture, as “a counter to an outrageous claim of events. However, its root is predicated on the notion that media is integral to being or existence," that we must record everything. Such implicit understanding was only in its infancy in 1918, when the influenza outbreak known as the Spanish Flu began, which perhaps goes some way toward explaining why a viral pandemic that killed millions around the world—far more than World War I—is so underrepresented in the historical record.

These days if a Utah county commission meeting about masks for children gets thronged by unmasked protesters, we get almost-instant video at The Washington Post. Images filter out through Twitter and Facebook, or move in the other direction, and millions see them within hours. During the 1918 flu pandemic, unmasked protesters against mask laws also abounded, but coverage of their stunts took months to move from local papers to national outlets, who eventually covered the San Francisco Anti-Mask League's strident refusals. The devastating epidemic, however, estimated to have infected one third of the world, was almost entirely absent from silent film at the time.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Dr. Wise on Influenza: Rare Silent Film Shows How They Tried to Educate the Public About... is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

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