But then the material realities rush back in. The images of those plush Cloud Couches and sleek fireplaces and swimming pools return, and the annoyance over celebrity quarantine content resurges. And it gets rolled up with the larger socioeconomic struggle of the present—one accelerated, but no means created, by the current president and his plundering cohort. Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig aren’t looting American coffers and robbing people of any hope for future solvency and stability. But they are nonetheless part of a privileged class that will survive that ruinous administration, and would be wise to recognize that.
All of which is to say that I’m not quite sure we really need celebrities waving hi from social media right now—or maybe ever again. It’s always struck me as strange that rich and famous people are on, say, Twitter, a service that in its idealized (and very far-from-realized) form is meant to boost voices who need boosting, not amplify those who are plenty heard and seen already. Not all celebrity tweets are bad, but very few of them have been good, especially in the past few months—stymied as their authors are by a fundamental disconnect between sender and receiver.
Plenty of social media outlets, Instagram especially, are regularly used as aspiration bait. People flaunt their lovely, gold-accented, fig-leaf-tree-adorned apartments, or their swank hotel rooms, their impossibly chic (and expensive) outfits. But very few traditional celebrities could ever get away with striking that kind of gauche pose. Flexing is a niche right, one not really afforded to anyone in the “Imagine” video. So instead, in order to exist online with everyone else, a strenuous humility has been required—an insistence of normality that borders on manic.
In calmer times, that quality is irksome, but not quite appalling. If Anna Kendrick, Oscar-nominated movie star, wants to call herself a “scrappy little nobody” and self-deprecate on Twitter along with all the Gen Z’ers buried in loans and trying to find steady work, well, okay. But during a crisis like this one—when celebrities seem to have far better access to COVID-19 testing, and certainly enjoy vastly more access to food, shelter, medical care, etc. than their average congregant—that breezy, “Hello, fellow peers” energy strikes entirely the wrong chord. They are people firmly on one side of a class divide who insist that they are on the other one, yet another falsehood in the storm of prevarication and misinformation that led us to this point. By getting in touch, all the Madonnas singing inanely about fried fish in their gilded bathrooms seemed wholly out of it.
It will be interesting to see how things resettle once this pandemic has ended. More than likely, the old cycle of worship and the happy acceptance of that ardor will churn back into mostly regular motion. But I do wonder if there will be a new, and healthy, suspicion underlying all of it, on the part of the masses who have now really seen and felt the immense differences between themselves and their idols. And also on the part of the idolized. Perhaps that suspicion will take the form of a crucial self-awareness, one that makes them retreat a bit further into their rarefied air like the celebrities of old, shrouded safely in mystique rather than stuck in the dumb prison of fake relatability.
After the “Imagine” video dropped and flopped, the sentiment from fan to fanned seemed to be, “Stop talking and donate money instead.” Some celebrities did just that, the most effective thing they could do to help in the fight. So maybe that’s the way the system will work going forward, an acknowledgment that we consumers like the shows and movies and songs these people make—and that make them rich. Sometimes, we even like their silly social media stuff. But we should also expect some kind of reciprocal investment from them when the time comes. Whatever social contract we signed with celebrity decades ago never anticipated social media’s warping, falsely flattening effect. We have the opportunity to amend that now, after being startled into the realization that, when things collapse, some people are standing on far sturdier ground, their feet firmly planted there, in fabulous shoes, just outside the frame.
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Originally posted 2020-04-01 13:21:54.