Coronavirus Pandemic Proves, Once Again, That Celebrities Are Not Just Like Us

Every night in countries around the world, citizens quarantined due to the novel coronavirus have taken a moment to lean out their windows and applaud the health workers putting themselves on the front line. In taking that moment to clap and bang pots and pans, people have found a tangible way to express solidarity with medical workers as well as each other. Videos of the inspiring gesture have spread around the world through social media, inspiring hope and connection at a time when it’s direly needed.

This week Priyanka Chopra, like many of us, felt inspired by these gestures as well—so she posted a video of herself applauding in an effort to support India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Janta Curfew, which aims to curb the spread of COVID-19 in India. “People around the world have shown their appreciation for the doctors, nurses and all first responders by clapping on their balconies,” Chopra wrote. “Although I couldn’t be there in India today to join, I am there in spirit. #jantacurfewIndia.”

But unlike those Spaniards and Italians, Chopra’s applause from afar did not garner praise. Instead, she got roasted for clapping into the air. (Although that did not stop James Bond cast members from posting their own video doing the same on Thursday.)

Chopra is just one of several celebrities whose attempts to express solidarity have yielded unanticipated ridicule. There were, of course, all those celebrities who got together to sing a pitchy, nearly unwatchable a cappella version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” last week. There was Madonna, who proclaimed that “coronavirus is the great equalizer” while marinating herself in a bathtub full of milky water and flower petals. (January Jones also posted a video of herself preparing her own fancy bath—a cocktail including pounds of salt, baking soda, and vinegar.) And Sia posted a treacly graphic in which the word “virus” was scratched out to simply read, “us.” (Twitter user @gayskz responded with a graphic of their own: “Give US your fucking money.”)

Examples of celebs’ bizarre, boredom-induced behavior are endless. But more fascinating than the cringey antics themselves are the rifts they represent. It’s a collision of several trends that have fundamentally changed the nature of celebrity—and some celebrities, it seems, are better at navigating that terrain than others.

The infamous “Imagine” video is, perhaps, our best case study so far. On the surface, a bunch of celebrities singing an earnest, if vague, plea for unity seems benign enough—but reactions ranged from bemusement to unmitigated outrage. Critics pointed out the song’s emphasis on sentimentality rather than actual action and, more importantly, the irony of a bunch of obscenely rich people claiming to fantasize about a world with “no possessions.”

Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, who organized the video, had hoped to express solidarity with everyone quarantined around the globe—but with the camera turned on herself and her famous friends, the finished product seemed, more than anything, like an act of vanity. As Bustle writer Casey Cipriani succinctly put it on Twitter, “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.”

Gadot’s video felt oddly reminiscent of another overly earnest celebrity singalong: The “Fight Song” video Elizabeth Banks and others made for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Both videos assume that the average person will get emotional while watching a bunch of celebrities sing—with varying degrees of proficiency—a tune designed to uplift on extremely vague terms. In a parody video with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show at the time, John Oliver quipped, “No one mentioned this was part of a weirdly earnest a cappella song for Clinton. Awful!… This song is going to irritate people.” And it did! The song itself came to be widely derided, even by reporters who begged for it to be turned off.

Part of the public’s increased impatience for celebrity exhibitionism posing as activism also stems from the political climate. Colbert replacing Jimmy Fallon as the leading voice in late night was more than just backlash for that hair ruffle heard ’round the world; it was also a rejection of the Fallon ethos, which emphasizes giving celebrities airtime to play whatever mindless games they want. Colbert’s rise signified a hunger for substantive conversation—and celebrities willing and able to frankly discuss those topics in addition to the usual late-night puffery.

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Written by pfwid


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