“Stay home is my power,” “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot recalled from her walk-in closet. Ryan Reynolds urged his supporters to “work together to flatten the curve” within his rustic loft. 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,” was one representative response.
Among the social effects of the coronavirus is its rapid dismantling of celebrity cult. The famous are ambassadors of merit; they represent the pursuit of American wealth through talent, charm and hard work. But the dream of class mobility disappears when society shuts down, the economy stalls, the death count increases, and everyone’s future is frozen inside their crowded apartment or palatial mansion themselves. The difference between the two has never been more pronounced. The hashtag # guillotine2020 is jumping. As grocery aisles turn bald, some have suggested that perhaps they should eat the rich.
So when Pharrell Williams asked his followers to donate to assist frontline responders, they nearly grabbed him by the pants and shook him upside down, telling him to empty his own deep pockets. Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard have been “excluded” as landlords. As Ellen DeGeneres lounged on her couch, video chatted with celebrity friends, comedian Kevin T Porter sought out stories from service workers and Hollywood people who had experienced running in with DeGeneres, whom he called “famous in one of the most modest people alive. ”
The film “Parasite,” in which a poor South Korean family cleverly makes its way into the home of a wealthy one, has been transformed into a well-worn social media destination whenever celebrities offering a glimpse inside their own mansions; the reference succeeds in part because so many wealthy people have such miserable minimalist homes.
It must be a very hard time to be so famous. Celebrities aren’t among the wealthiest Americans – Lopez’s net worth is a fraction of a percentage of Jeff Bezos’s – but they are the ones tasked with connecting with the general public, offering them proxy access to their ways of live. Celebrity culture glorifies them not just for their performances or personas but for their own wealth – their blow-out kids birthday parties, car collections, plastic surgeries and property ownership. From “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” to “My Super Sweet Sixteen” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” the ability to watch (or watch hate) this scene of excess has acted as a strange manifestation of inequality .
But this compact depends on the celebrity’s ability to appear to move easily between the elite and the force, to be aspirational and approachable at once. And under normal circumstances, they are accustomed to receiving praise for “using their platforms” to “raise awareness” in serving boring enterprises for the public benefit.
But our consciousness has never been so easily awakened and misused. Celebrities have a captive audience of traumatic people who are glued to the internet, eyes darting towards topics that tend to have clues to process the unimaginable atrocities looming outside, and instead they find Madonna bathing in a rose petal bath.
Stunts like the cover of Gadot’s infamous mass figure of John Lennon’s “Imagine” are tone deaf in more than one way. Most of these people can’t even sing; their contributions suggest that the appearance of a famous person is salty, as if a pandemic could only be overcome by star power.
One of the ironies of this moment is that while we feel less like stars than ever, they seem to feel more like us – or at least, what they think who must feel like us. DeGeneres becomes “stir-crazy” from having to stay inside her huge home; Katy Perry has lost track of the days she has spent inside her huge home.
Madonna has elevated the illusion of fame into a form of performance art. In a series of highly professional Instagram videos suggesting a dangerous concentration of staff members at her home, she can be seen undergoing strange healing in her personal health clinic and bending over a typewriter in a kimono, exaggerating the social effects of the virus.
For Madonna, performing for the public and catching fans in her misery is “another luxury gone, for now,” he said in one video. In its place is the annoying feeling of normality. “The audience in my house is not amused,” he said. Later, of the kind, he concludes that COVID-19 is the “great equalizer.”
And yet the antics of these celebrities, even as they are publicly ridiculed, still grab our attention. I have never thought so much about Gal Gadot in my life. The coronavirus is the strange crisis where doing nothing really helps – staying inside can save lives. And in addition to food and rent money and medical coverage, people need adequate entertainment to survive the closure.
But if I’m going to cover celebrities at a time like this, it’s best that their contribution is charming or strange enough to distract me from the scare of mass suffering and death. Even with the power of pure celebrity tanks, the value of a true entertainer rises. Give me Patti LuPone on the jukebox and Yo-Yo Ma on the cello. Give me Anthony Hopkins playing the piano for his dredging cat. Give me January Jones boiling “human stew” in her bathtub and Wendy Williams showing the 5ft Betty Boop sculpture she spray-painted to appear black. Give me the hand-drawn hearts on a ‘Stevie Nicks’ note reporting that she was incorporated with her assistant and her dogs, self-soothingly with the music of Harry Styles.
Give me Britney Spears, who has emerged from this crisis as the rare celebrity to capitalize on the need for radical social change. Spears recently posted a bright yellow manifesto on Instagram by internet artist Mimi Zhu. “We will feed each other, re-destroy wealth, strike,” it reads. “Communion moves beyond walls.” Spears added three red roses to the caption, an ambiguous symbol reflecting either her support for American Democratic Socialists or perhaps her simple connection to a flower emoji.
Spears is an unexpected figure to guide us through quarantine but apt one: She has been held in custody for 12 years, her movements and finances controlled by her father and overseen by the courts. When she posts about finding a community in social bondage, she knows what she’s talking about.
© 2020 New York Times News Service