Big Smile, No Teeth: If you think 2020 was bad, wait till you see 2021

‘Scène de la peste de 1720 à la Tourette (Marseille)’ by Michel Serre (Scene of the plague of 1720 at La Tourette) depicts victims of the bubonic plague in the French city. — Public domain

Everyone keeps saying 2020 is the worst year ever.

Unless you’ve been in a coma, it’s pretty obvious why. You know what I’m talking about. The Covid-19 pandemic. The inability of right wing governments to recognise science and fight the virus. The continuing degradation of our planet as we move from climate change to climate breakdown.

The only good news is 32 of the world’s largest companies “stand to see their profits jump by US$109bil (RM453.2bil) in 2020” according to Britain-based international nonprofit Oxfam. That’s good, right? Except, as the Pope recently said, trickle down policies – ie, giving money to the wealthy and corporations so that it can drip down to the most impoverished and thus enrich them – doesn’t work.

So all that wealth that was created on the back of a pandemic economy doesn’t even give a percentage back, it’s just functionally gone for the rest of us.

Indeed, looking at stock markets over the past six months has shown what a disconnect they have with reality. The same Oxfam report states the “top 100 stock market winners have added more than US$3tril (RM12.470tril) to their market value”.

Oxfam International executive director Chema Vera sums it all up nicely saying: “Covid-19 has been tragic for the many but good for a privileged few. The economic crisis we are suffering because of the pandemic has been fuelled by a rigged economic model. The world’s largest corporations are making billions at the expense of low wage workers and funnelling profits to shareholders and billionaires – a small group of largely white men in rich nations.

“It is sickening that, in the middle of a pandemic, some corporations are paying out massive dividends to wealthy shareholders, having received government bailouts meant to protect jobs. Scarce resources are being handed to the already super wealthy at a time when hundreds of millions of people are suffering the consequences of this pandemic. Women, racial and ethnic minorities or migrants are being significantly impacted.”

It’s not the best time to have a rigged economic model.

Fact is, the pandemic has hurt people financially and the full effect of this – defaulting on mortgages, more jobs lost as companies prepare their plans for the coming year – will only truly be known in the coming years.

Also, look at Vera’s statement above and replace “pandemic” with “climate breakdown” (because that’s what it is, it’s no longer "climate change", the climate is actively breaking down) and you’ve got another apt truth for the future of the planet. Climate breakdown is already happening and we are doing nothing to make it better. So expect the fires, the storms, the flooding, to get worse from here on out.

Then think about Covid-19. Everyone is waiting on a vaccine, better testing, to put this pandemic into our rearview mirror so we can move on. We’re bored of this pandemic crap! Can’t wait until next year when the vaccine is out and we’re back to normal. Except that hasn’t been how it’s worked for any of the pandemics in the past.

In a revealing look at past pandemics, the BBC noted that the bubonic plague has been around for 2,000 years (yes, it’s still around), and its worst outbreak lasted eight years, from 1346 to 1353.

Smallpox killed millions of people over decades until a vaccine for it was created in the 1700s. Or how about cholera – a major outbreak in 1817 killed millions. Or the 1918 influenza pandemic, which is often cited because it’s the last pandemic the world has seen. That one lasted two years and killed 50 million to 100 million people, and it didn’t go away, it just morphed into a less harmful version of itself that is still around today. Any time you get the flu, you’ve got a version of the same influenza that caused the 1918 pandemic.

All these viruses still exist. Except for smallpox, which was eradicated with the vaccine, the rest are still around but with science we’ve been able to curb their transmission.

So while we can hope a vaccine is produced so we can put Covid-19 in the grave with smallpox, the more likely scenario is that we end up living with the coronavirus.

So, we have Covid-19 continuing, financial difficulties that will grow next year from the seeds planted this year, and ever increasing climate breakdown as we dawdle instead of make any real changes. You know what, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that in 2021 we’ll be pining for the simpler times of 2020.

Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at and check out his stuff at The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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Jason Godfrey , Covid-19 , climate crisis , 2021


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