I was discussing the new TV series “The Strain” with a friend when the subject of fictional pandemics naturally arose. The point was raised that all these humanity-erasing fictional events are always depicted as terrifying, sad, generally depressing. There’s never a plague that just fills people with joy.
But… what if there was?
It was quickly concluded that, as far as the survival of the species was concerned, that would be just as bad. A virus that didn’t make you a bloodthirsty monster, but instead filled you with joy and contentment, would very likely result in a species that was happy to just sit down and starve to death. Sort of a viral version of G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate, or one long Ecstasy party, a planet-sized opium den.
So I started pondering such an epidemic. If the progress of the disease was that you slowly got happier, without the usual physical manifestations of a pandemic such as boils, sores, bleeding, bits falling off, violent outbursts and the like, the disease would likely spread far faster than otherwise. Because if you see someone with “negative” symptoms, you’re going to try to maintain distance. But someone a bit more chipper than usual? This might draw you in. Hell, until it became general knowledge what was going on, this sort of thing would certainly infect the scumbags faster: many a man, seeing a happy, possibly inert woman, would move in to “take liberties.” Thus spreading the disease.
So, most such pandemic stories involve some small group of survivors coming together to get along in the immediate aftermath of the initial outbreak. Fighting their way through zombies, trying to avoid catching the disease, finding a cure, etc. But with the Joy Plague, who would be most likely to be an early survivor? Two types: those who can survive the virus, and those who can avoid it. So who could survive the virus? On one hand, there’d be those whose immune systems are simply adequate to the task. That’s realistic… but boring. But how about those whose personalities are such that they can deal with the symptoms well enough, long enough, to survive until they are well? Two types spring to mind:
1) The naturally happy. One could argue that they’re already happy, so the virus doesn’t do much new for ‘em. Of course conversely they might become Super Ultra Mega Happy, and die faster.
2) The naturally unhappy. The chronically depressed. The angry. The generally stoic or emotionless. Curmudgeons. Here the virus might not have any effect, especially if the person is naturally emotionless… psychopaths, say. They get the virus and it gives them feelings they cannot feel. Their symptoms might be nothing more than a nonchalant shrug every now and then. The depressed and the angry might get mellowed out by the virus. Or they go seriously bipolar, which might not be so good.
And then there are those who *avoid* the plague. Here I suspect the survivors would be … well, me. Even before the CDC issues “oh, crap, we’re all gonna die” warnings, the antisocials, the curmudgeons, the loners, the Aspies, the introverts, the undatables… you know, assholes, will not only be somewhat apart from society, many of them will be *annoyed* at the newfound cheerfulness they might see growing around them. This will cause them to withdraw even further. And given their previous near-invisibility, they are unlikely to be “targeted” by the cheerflicted, since the plague-riddled probably won’t remember that the antisocials actually exist.
One of these will survive. Who will it be???
And the standard post-apocalyptic trope of a few survivors coming together would be squashed: a world with nobody left but loner, unfriendly assholes is unlikely to come together in hippie communes. And even if some form of society did exist, what sort of society would it be? With the standard plague, the survivors would be justly paranoid about perfectly harmless symptoms from lesser diseases… a sneeze, the sniffles, a headache could cause a panic. But after the Joy Plague, the sound of laughter or a hint of a smile could cause everyone to freak out. Yeah, that’d be a fun place to live.
A Joy Plague seems like one of the more effective plagues for causing complete species extinction, thus making it Yet Another Depressing Story Idea. Yet I can’t get past the notion that an entertaining story could be woven around one guy – perhaps a cliche-riddled Grumpy Old Man – working his way through the outbreak, unaware of the nature of the plague but seriously annoyed by all the irrational happiness that all the idiots around him are increasingly displaying. Bah!