A Critique of Celebrity Culture in the Time of a Global Tragedy
Is coronavirus really “the great equalizer?”
In this week’s edition of frustrating headlines, Kevin Spacey, the disgraced actor after sexual assault allegations spanning decades, took to a virtual business conference to lament his unemployment. “I, too, have lost work, ” he shares. He goes on to compare his loss—due to said accusations, mind you—to the emotional struggles of the common folk. One Facebook user writes, “Cry me a freakin river, his net worth is over 100 million and I’m sure he’s not hurting to pay his mortgage.”
According to recent reports, unemployment in the US is the worst it’s been since the Great Depression in the 1930s. In April alone, 20.5M jobs were devastatingly lost due to COVID-19. The alarming unemployment rate still doesn’t reflect the millions who have work but suffered a pay cut or have reverted to part-time work.
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In early April, host Ellen DeGeneres likened social distancing inside her 5-bedroom $27M California mansion to being in jail, and I quote, “One thing that I’ve learned from being in quarantine is that people—this is like being in jail, is what it is.” She adds, “It’s mostly because I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 10 days and everyone in here is gay.”
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Social distancing in prisons is near to impossible with overcrowded spaces. In Manila, nearly 10,000 inmates were recently freed from some of the world’s most congested prison facilities. This is less than a month after a public official declared that jails were the “safest place” amid the pandemic. At Cebu City Jail, 125 prisoners were confirmed to contract the virus during the first week of May; there are now 332 people infected.
In a now-deleted video, singer-songwriter and humanitarian Madonna shared her controversial thoughts on the virus. She declares, “That’s the thing about COVID-19, it doesn’t care about how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny you are, how smart you are, where you live, how old you are, what amazing stories you can tell.” She adds, “It’s the great equalizer and what’s terrible about it is what’s great about it.” She has since pledged funding, along with world leaders and others, for coronavirus vaccine research.
According to World Food Programme reports, the global crisis will cause widespread famine of biblical proportions if governments don’t act fast. WFP Executive Director David Beasley shared with The Guardian, “We are not talking about people going to bed hungry. We are talking about extreme conditions, emergency status—people literally marching to the brink of starvation. If we don’t get food to people, people will die.”
Most of these headlines are old news and have been dissected by every news outlet around. I don’t claim to have control over people’s way of grieving their lost sense of normalcy—regardless if I feel frustrated by their (very) public grievances. It just doesn’t take a genius to comprehend that some of these statements are tone-deaf and insensitive when millions are suffering all over the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that these celebrities have responsibly done their part in donating financial aid to organizations in need. But this global tragedy really makes visible humanity’s “great divide,” no matter how many (well-intended but still callous) Instagram video medleys of iconic songs in the future we have to watch. This just ain’t it, chief.
Art Alexandra Lara