Don Stoll lives in Southern California. His fiction has appeared recently in PUNK NOIR (tinyurl.com/3ut3m7e7, ROI FAINÉANT, TERROR HOUSE, and A THIN SLICE OF ANXIETY. In 2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org) which continues to bring new schools, clean water, and medical clinics to a cluster of remote Tanzanian villages.
The American Virus
The emergence of an airborne virus that insinuated itself into its victims’ bodies by way of their sexual organs hit the inhabitants of the South Pacific island of Omoo especially hard.
In the great majority of the nations of the world, the virus affected only tiny minorities of the populations: principally, visitors to nudist colonies and clothing-optional beaches. Therefore, much of the world welcomed the new virus. Whether or not it was an instrument of divine punishment, as large numbers of people insisted, the virus seemed likely to force the closure of these disreputable and unnecessary places.
However, Omoo’s circumstances were unusual. Indeed, they were unique. For modern ways of life had radically altered the Omooans’ traditional culture in every respect save one. For example, most Omooan families owned at least two cars. Furthermore, the Internet connections were the fastest and most reliable on the planet. And these connections were not reserved for only a portion of the inhabitants, with the have-nots shut out. On the contrary, every single household on the island enjoyed Internet access.
The chief surviving, and most conspicuous, feature of Omooan traditional culture was universal nudity. While driving their cars and going to their jobs in ultramodern office buildings and shopping in dazzling malls and dining in restaurants that served every imaginable cuisine, the islanders remained as naked as newborns. The Omooans took ferocious pride in this aspect of their culture. They would respond angrily when ignorant outsiders accused them of maintaining the tradition of nudity only because it had made the island an irresistible magnet to tourists.
The Omooans admitted, and celebrated, the benefits that nudity brought to the island’s tourist industry. Yet they argued that these benefits were incidental. They lived in a part of the world whose ideal climate rendered clothing superfluous. They would point to other Pacific islands similarly favored by nature, including Hawaii and Tahiti, and say, with unconcealed scorn for the residents of those other islands, that on Omoo the traditional ways were held sacred.
However, the new virus posed an unprecedented challenge to Omooan nudity. At first, the islanders reacted as people everywhere did. They scoffed at claims about the seriousness of the virus. But the scoffing stopped when Omooans began dying in large numbers. Sadly, efforts to rid the island of the virus were neglected as the people focused instead on placing blame.
Most of the population found it telling that the initial reports about the virus had come from the United States. Omooans were aware of the powerful current of Puritanism running through American history. They also knew that for several decades, evangelical Christianity had dominated much of the American debate about the nation’s cultural identity. Before long, Omooans took it on faith that conservative American scientists had bred the new virus as a means of discrediting nudity, if not eliminating it altogether. On Omoo the new plague became known as the American Virus.
The Omooans had always welcomed American tourists, but no more. Suddenly, any kind of American accent would provoke an attack. Not every victim received a beating, although many did. The common denominator of these attacks was that the victims were stripped naked so that their clothes could be burned in front of their eyes.
The island’s President, Ms. Kausgomoo, worried about the economic impact of the rising tide of anti-Americanism. Three leading American virologists, alarmed by Omoo’s infection rate, the highest in the world by a wide margin, accepted her invitation to visit. They assured Ms. Kausgomoo of their sensitivity to her people’s cultural commitments. They would tell the Omooans that they had a right to prioritize culture over science, if they wished to do so. But they would also say that the islanders deserved to know the scientific facts.
The virologists did not anticipate the furious response to their presence at a public forum arranged by Ms. Kausgomoo. The Omooans rarely mentioned science or culture. Instead, the forum deteriorated into an unproductive debate about personal freedom. The Omooans asserted their freedom to remain naked. When the Americans answered that of course they believed in this value on which their own nation had been founded, the Omooans told the Americans that they had no standing to talk about freedom.
Perplexed, the Americans looked to Ms. Kausgomoo for clarity. She explained that while she accepted their scientific expertise, it seemed that in the eyes of her compatriots they were discredited because they represented a country whose fear of freedom was revealed by the fact that its people had meekly accepted the mandate to wear clothes in front of one another. During a pandemic of some years before her compatriots had taken note as Americans argued with and sometimes perpetrated violence upon one another because of mandates to wear face masks, as if unaware that they had acquiesced in the needless covering of the rest of their bodies.
For a time, it looked as if the American virus might destroy the Omooan people. As more and more Omooans spoke of genocide, the U.S. Department of State warned American citizens that they would put their lives at risk by traveling to the island. As a precaution, the United States Ambassador to Omoo evacuated and took her entire mission back to Washington with her.
In record time, two different American pharmaceutical giants produced vaccines. But the Omooans rejected them. Overruling the unanimous opinion of her Cabinet, President Kausgomoo allowed a ship bearing a massive cargo of the vaccines to dock in Typee Harbor. A mob of angry citizens donned face masks and overpowered the harbor security detail and the ship’s crew. They dumped tens of thousands of doses of the vaccines overboard.
The saga ended less grimly than it might have. Ultimately, the virus effected a drastic reduction of the population of Omoo without annihilating it. The spread of the virus among the islanders was arrested by a vaccine patented by a pharmaceutical company based in France.
From the Editor:
We hope that readers receive In Parentheses as a medium through which the evolution of human thought can be appreciated, nurtured and precipitated. It will present a dynamo of artistic expression, journalism, informal analysis of our daily world, entertainment of ideas considered lofty and criticism of today’s popular culture. The featured content does not follow any specific ideology except for that of intellectual expansion of the masses.
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By In Parentheses in IP Volume 7
32 pages, published 1/15/2022
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