It feels like a movie: COVID-19 is the Titanic and we are stuck on the ship. We have all been asked to do our part in the fight against COVID-19, from social distancing and self-isolation to shutting down businesses for many.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for all of us, but it seems some celebrities are having a particularly difficult time as they come to the realization they aren’t quite as important as they once believed. They are being upstaged by a headline-hogging global pandemic. Suddenly, what they’re wearing, who they’re dating and even what they’re saying matters less.
READ MORE: Celebrities spark annoyance with coronavirus ‘Imagine’ singalong
The new coronavirus has disrupted the cult of celebrity. Ironically, while we are feeling less like stars than ever before, they seem to feel more like us — or, at least, what they imagine it must feel like to be “in this together.”
Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, said those very words before launching into a star-studded performance of John Lennon’s Imagine on Instagram. But her tone-deaf rendition featuring her celebrity friends was difficult to digest.
As we see who gets the proverbial life-jackets and lifeboats as the ship sinks, the public response to the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” has been met with a newfound contempt.
Vanessa Hudgens‘ dismissive remarks in an Instagram Live stream, bemoaning “lockdown” after just a few days of social distancing, did not sit well with her followers. Celebrities seeking to connect or simply seeking attention are hitting rough waters with usually fond followers. We’ve endured endless updates from Ellen Degeneres lounging on her sofa, going “stir-crazy” in her mansion with nothing to do, calling on her celebrity friends to keep her sane from the boredom.
“Do your part” PSAs from the likes of Pharrell Williams have taken heat from some critics.
And billionaire David Geffen, self-isolating on his $590-million superyacht, is sending us well wishes — “hope everyone is staying safe.” Geffen has since deleted Instagram after the angry response.
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Then there is Madonna, in a league of her own with the most outlandish antics. The 61-year-old has been preaching about the pandemic in a series of oddly orchestrated Instagram posts. She shared her latest message from her rose-petal-filled bathtub. The songstress explained that COVID-19 “doesn’t care about how rich you are,” claiming “it’s the great equalizer.”
She continued: “What’s terrible about it is it’s made us all equal in many ways, and what’s wonderful about it is it’s made us all equal in many ways.”
READ MORE: Madonna goes on bizarre coronavirus bathtub rant
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, comedian Whitney Cummings said: “Restraint is important right now. I’m seeing a lot of celebrities tell people to stay in their homes from their mansions. Let’s not further alienate our fans in this moment by being super out of touch.” Well said.
Not surprisingly, in the era of COVID-19, we are seeing the rise of a new influencer. Celebrities are taking a back seat as we put more focus on our health-care leaders.
In fact, right now the World Health Organization (WHO) may just be the most important social media influencer. It wasn’t some teen living in a TikTok house that launched the #SafeHandsChallenge on March 13, it was the WHO. Within 48 hours, the hashtag had been used nearly half a billion times on the platform.
A little over a month ago, the WHO didn’t even have a TikTok account. As of April 3, the account had 1.2 million followers. Its first TikTok was posted Feb. 28. By April 3, the WHO had posted 16 more videos, with views ranging from one million to nearly 35 million per video.
To provide some perspective, mega influencer Kylie Jenner, who has 3.9 million TikTok followers, has garnered an average of 2.1 million views on her videos posted between Feb. 27 and April 3. Members of the WHO may not have celebrity allure, but you better believe we’re tuned in. The WHO is also widely active on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, reaching various demographics.
READ MORE: TikTok joins forces with WHO to promote coronavirus facts amid pandemic
In Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam has become a household name and face. We hear from the chief public health officer of Canada in near-daily news briefings, on radio and television commercials as well on social media — and her professional opinion matters to us. She’s even appeared in a line of T-shirts produced by Calgary-based business Madame Premier in collaboration with Sophie Grace. Other shirts feature Alberta’s chief health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and B.C.’s chief health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The Wall Street Journal wrote a piece on Dr. Anthony Fauci titled “Dr. Fauci Was a Basketball Captain. Now He’s America’s Point Guard.” The 79-year-old infectious disease specialist has become a source of trust for millions of Americans and others around the globe.
Ryan Reynolds said it well in a Twitter post on March 24 that jokingly call out the irrelevancy of celebrities — including himself — in the midst of a life-threatening global pandemic.
“In times of crisis, I think we all know that it’s the celebrities that we count on most,” Reynolds said.
“They’re the ones that are going to get us through this… right after health-care workers, of course, first responders, people who work in essential services, ping pong players, mannequins, childhood imaginary friends … [and] like 400 other types of people.”
Ryan Reynolds pokes fun at celebrities in COVID-19 awareness video
That said, I do think there is a role for celebrities in this crisis, and that’s to do their job as entertainers, musicians and comedians. It is not easy in times like this, but neither is working long-haul shifts at the hospital, risking your own health and that of your children for the sake of your community, but our front-line workers are doing it.
So, yes please, give me DJ D-Nice spinning a #ClubQuarantine set from his living room. Give me some low-res Jimmy Fallon providing comedic relief every night. Give me Neil Diamond with that new rendition of Sweet Caroline. Heck, even give me Anthony Hopkins playing the piano for his purring kitty.
Just don’t give me false pretences. Don’t tell me “we’re all in this together” when it’s quite obvious that we’re not, at least not in the same way.
It’s the delivery truck drivers, supermarket shelf stockers and janitors who are keeping the world running right now while the rest of us stay hunkered down in the safety of our homes.
These are the heroes of COVID-19
When we come out of this, I hope all those celebrities who speak passionately about social imbalances and who desire change will actually do something to be part of that change. When all those Oscars and Golden Globes are handed out for the slew of COVID-19-inspired films, I hope the actors and directors will remember the real-life heroes and donate sizeable sums of their profits to the organizations that supported the front line.
In her bathtub musings, Madonna said: “Like I used to say every night, ‘We’re all in the same boat and if the ship goes down, we’re all going down together.’” But we know what happened to the Titanic. Everyone didn’t go down together.
So let’s pray this ship stays afloat.
Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.