The phrase “on the beach” originates as naval slang for being between assignments or unemployed and was used as the title for Nevil Shute's bestselling novel of 1957 about the last remaining survivors of a global nuclear conflict as they await their inevitable demise. The novel is about a certain kind of anxious passivity in the face of incomprehensible catastrophe, but it is also a narrative about work and idleness. As such, the idea of being “on the beach” invites consideration of the shore as a liminal space where often conflicting social and existential issues of meaning and purpose are played out. The waves of so-called beach shaming that occurred during the early months of the global coronavirus pandemic have located, yet again, the beach as a key battleground in contemporary cultural politics.

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