Celebrities – are they just like us? The global pandemic laid bare the blatant gap between the layman and the VIP, leaving us to question the concept of celebrity as a whole. But do today’s social media savvy celebrities assume that those who follow them are idiots? Or, do they even really care? Kate Demolder reports.
The veneer was already thin, but the facade of celebrity didn’t fully crack until November 2020 when singer-songwriter Rita Ora posted a half-hearted apology for offering a West London restaurant £5,000 to host her 30th birthday party sans CCTV during a global pandemic.
"I'm deeply sorry for breaking the rules and in turn understand that this puts people at risk," she wrote. "This was a serious and inexcusable error of judgement for which I deserve to be criticised."
A familiar phrase for the times in which we live – cancel culture by way of alarming access to celebrity – one which runs colder each time it’s posted. It’s true that Hollywood has a special penchant for hypocrisy.
Dua Lipa tweeted 'STAY AT HOME’ while travelling the world, Leonardo Di Caprio picks up environmental awards by private jet and tech giant Apple itself purports to uphold human right standards while actively lobbying against legislation that would hold companies to account for using Uighur forced labour.
PSA - STAY AT HOME 💔 pic.twitter.com/tFlPMfBqov— DUA LIPA (@DUALIPA) April 11, 2020
Much like everything else, the game changes when perspective shifts. This came in the form of a global health scare which, theoretically, should scare everyone – rich or poor. Interestingly, it didn’t. It just widened the gap – one which had grown ever closer in recent years. Now, everyone can be a celebrity. We use the same platforms, covet the same things, travel the same places and boast unlimited access to their lives.
Never before has it been so possible to contact whoever you wish, giving the air of sameness between us and the 1%. But the crucial differences lie in the places we cannot see – the minds, beliefs and delusion that come with celebrity appeasement, and the warped vantage point one has when always at the centre of the universe.
Let’s recap. In March 2020, when Jennifer Lopez posted a video of her family sheltering in the backyard of Alex Rodriguez’s vast Miami compound, the public snapped.
"We all hate you," one representative response posted. Of course, context is everything.
The public decided that JLo/ARod’s flash of tone-deaf wealth was the straw that broke the camel’s back following the now-infamous Imagine video, fronted and crowdsourced by Gal Gadot. Galling and insensitive, perhaps the most stupefying element of everyone involved (Jimmy Fallon, Sarah Silverman and Will Ferrell, etc) is that most of them cannot even sing; suggesting that their mere contribution as a celebrity acts as a soothing balm, and that the pandemic could be overcome by deific gratification.
One of the great ironies of celebrity voyeurism during the pandemic was that the closer our lives looked and felt to those at the top of the ladder, the further away both existences seemed.
Hey celebs, we don't want to be sung to. We want you to use a million or two of your money and order ventilators, masks, and gloves from the manufacturers then donate them to a hospital. Or pay for the salaries of an entire staff at a bar, restaurant, or daycare. #imagine— Casey Cipriani (@CaseyCip) March 19, 2020
Talk show host Ellen Degeneres came under fire for comparing life within her multimillion dollar mansion to jail, billionaire David Geffen shared how he was ‘avoiding the virus’ on his $590m superyacht and Madonna, performing virtually for fans from her luxury home allows a disturbing veil of imbalance to shadow the times we’re in – later concluding, from a rose-petalled bath, that COVID-19 is "the great equaliser."
Perhaps such is the curse of celebrity; that once things elevate to delusion, rationality need not apply. Such is the disconnect. That old cliché of selling one’s soul for profit, only for one’s mind to be gutted in the process.
"I'm sorry, but, like, it's a virus … I get it. I respect it," former High School Musical actress Vanessa Hudgens posted in a now-deleted Instagram Live. "But at the same time, even if everybody gets it, like, yeah, people are gonna die, which is terrible but, like … inevitable?"
But maybe the role of celebrity is one that should always be taken with a pinch of salt, rather than a pitiable panorama. That they, too, are simply human and likely to make errs in judgement – which are far more likely to be broadcast than our private, trivial armchair observances. They are performers after all, for better or for worse, ones whose falls from grace will forever live in public memory.
Historically, disease has always affected the ruling classes differently. Despite the inability to buy health, as it were, the wealthy can and will always employ avoidance strategies the masses can’t, so says Nükhet Varlik, an associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina and a historian of the plagues of the Ottoman Empire in a recent Vox article.
"Whether it’s the Black Death or the current coronavirus, infection rates and subsequent deaths vary along class and racial lines," he says. "There’s always this sense of inequality in disease."
The only difference these days is that, in lieu of Roman country manors, celebrities make haste to the Hamptons – and should they not? Wouldn’t you if you had the means?
Yet, the celebrity credibility narrative has most certainly taken a turn of late – claiming many careers in the process – but, in reality, who are we to judge?
As audience members, we can hold them mildly accountable for creating content we didn’t enjoy. As disproportionately affected fellow members of the world, we’re allowed to be annoyed.
Enter the garden of abstraction, if you’ll be so kind, and allow us to decipher.
Where ordinary people have sought connection, celebrities have sought attention, desperate or otherwise. "I’m like Tinkerbell," the now-problematic Lea Michele once said as Glee’s Rachel Berry. "I need applause to live!"
Like us all, they, too, were confined to home – mansions, or otherwise – yet likely didn’t dare fret over mortgage payments or grocery bills. So maybe that’s the ticket – to never feign relatability when relatability is something you simply don’t possess?
No one is sure how the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent fallout will occur, but a shattering in public confidence following flagrant rule breaking is surely to follow. The potential for substantive change is huge, and not necessarily a bad thing.
It’s easy to dismiss the antics of the jet set — even the most off-putting posts are quickly lost in a mercenary news cycle — but the amassing evidence of the seismic gap between the haves and have-nots could have real-world consequences.
Standby for real life ramifications including: ‘Wait a minute, why can’t we have those things, too?’ Lest we forget, we’re "all in this together".
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.