On Thursday March 11, Muffin and Jamie Bernstein will take an important step forward.
At 9 p.m. that night, the couple will create a racket, pots and pans with wooden spoons to mark the conclusion of their 15-minute do-it-yourself coronavirus nighttime show. Just as they did, without fail, the 365 previous evenings.
The couple will be wearing goofy outfits and exchanging words as they share information about the war on COVID-19 and other issues, as they always do. They will grimly update the death toll from the disease, and they will reassure their audiences that no matter what, we love you and we miss you.
Somewhere along the line, they can recall a bit of the seemingly endless project that has dominated their lives since the early days of the COVID crisis.
Can you believe it’s been a year, Jamie said in amazement, as he discussed the history of the project.
On March 12, 2020, when the Bernsteins began broadcasting, the coronavirus was still primarily an abstraction in New Orleans. It would take another two days before the first death from the disease and most residents were in a state of unconsciousness or denial.
But, as Jamie explained, Muffin has a cousin who lives in China, and they have a mutual friend who lives in Spain, so they were warned of the pandemic that had already deeply affected those parts of the globe.
Like two Paul Reveres, the Bernseins saw their social media shows, called Every Night at 8:45 Muffin and Jamie Go Facebook Live, as a way to signal the approach of an unseen enemy.
Muffin sums up the motivation behind their project: the sky is falling and you need to hear from us.
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While on vacation in Spain, the couple saw people on balconies banging on pots in plea for independence for the Catalonia region. They adapted the noise to the cause of COVID awareness.
The Bernsteins, who are in their 40s, have been married for 12 years. They are an arty couple. He’s a musician, actor and bartender at Maple Leaf Bar, who moved to New Orleans from West Virginia. She is a photographer and art professor at Dillard University who grew up in Lakeview. They are the mainstays of the Krewe of OAK Carnival walking group.
The nighttime shows they’ve produced over the past year have an odd tone that blends absolute seriousness with ironic absurdity, lubricated with adult drinks.
Each day had a different theme: Silly Mask Sunday, Covid Sucks Monday, Traumatic Tuesday, Wild Wild Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday, Funky Friday, and Psychedelic Saturday. The couple wore disco dance outfits on some shows, or knitted Peruvian masks, or bizarre x-ray t-shirts that appeared to reveal their bodily organs in vivid detail.
They donned Day of the Dead sugar skull masks to mark the times when an additional 50,000 people died from the virus.
According to Jamies, the subject of the show was still a global emergency, but he and Muffin responded to it in a way distinct from New Orleans.
We dress in suits, drink and yell about it, he laughs.
As the couple shared updates over the past 12 months, they have made no effort to cover up their contempt for the Trump administration and any politician who appeared to be preventing the removal of the virus.
On a good night’s sleep, the show was a lot of fun, Muffin said. On a rare, bad night, her frustrations would outweigh her.
I am very, very, very upset, she said. I scream at the camera, I cry, I don’t want to be in front of the camera; when you can just see the rage.
Termites have invaded the entire back porch, and huge flying palmetto insects. Passing helicopters cut off the broadcasts and the family dog toppled over light supports.
In conventional media terms, Every Night at 8:45 Muffin and Jamie Go Facebook Live has not been a big success. Jamie estimates that there are around 50 to 60 subscribers every night, with 200 occasional viewers. So the call was never what you’d call, uh, viral.
And Jamie said lately, thanks to pandemic fatigue, there has been less interest than usual.
Jamie also said the show has received its fair share of criticism. People say, the show is stupid; you say the same thing every night, he said.
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But success depends on your expectations. Every night at 8:45 am Muffin and Jamie Go Facebook Live wasn’t just a coronavirus awareness show on social media, it was a performance art duo, with whispers of “Waiting for Godot.”
Jamie and Muffin have taken all the anxiety, exasperation, claustrophobia and confusion that everyone has felt over the past 12 months and distilled it into a tireless series of 15-minute cathartic rants, featured in the dominant medium of the moment.
Like everyone else, they had no control over anything, outside or inside, but they wouldn’t give in without a fight, or at least an argument. The best art is like a mirror, and Muffin and Jamies’ self-proclaimed talk show mirrored the last 365 days of stupid, repetitive, existential life.
So, at 9:01 am Thursday, can the Bernsteins finally stop?
The problem is, says Jamie, every time we talk about quitting, someone tells us: Don’t quit, you are our lifeline.
Muffin and Jamie don’t quit, but after episode 365, they plan to mix things up a bit. They have been given the vaccine and, while there is still room for concern, a glimmer of optimism shines. Maybe it’s time to take the weekend off. They can vary the format of the shows with occasional cooking or exercise demonstrations or something like that. Who knows?
As life became more lively, they might be able to broadcast concerts or other social activities. Maybe one day it will all be over.
The Louisiana Department of Health reported an additional 404 confirmed coronavirus cases and six other confirmed deaths in its noon Tuesday update.
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