In just the past few weeks, the world we once knew has been rendered vulnerable. Societal issues deeply embedded in our reality have risen to the surface, no longer free from scrutiny and reform. Underlying class and wealth disparities have become more visible and difficult to ignore.
But the unveiling of these issues has gone beyond those of universal healthcare, wage inequality, and job security; what has become increasingly apparent over the past month is just how little America values lower economic classes. And conversely, how those in the high upper classes are protected.
It is difficult to deny that the U.S. maintained a uniquely romantic idea of celebrity even prior to the current pandemic. We have several media platforms, such as TMZ or Entertainment Tonight, dedicated solely to the existence of and intrigue with celebrities. A great deal of American marketing relies on celebrity status as a propaganda ploy via brand deals.
And of course, celebrities play an alarmingly large role in modern U.S. politics. So it is no surprise that in times of an unprecedented crisis, the mentality of value directed towards celebrities, and all members of the upper classes for that matter, would extend beyond moral boundaries.
The unequal value judgements presented by COVID-19 are far more severe than glorification of celebrity status. They now, for many, bleed into the ethical territory of life and death. Public figures such as Kris Jenner have sought out COVID-19 tests despite exhibiting no symptoms and in spite of the shortage of available testing kits.
While many, regardless of their symptoms, pre-existing medical issues, or even if they are in critical condition, are forced to wait days or even weeks in order to receive testing and obtain their results, these celebrities are miraculously able to get tested fairly quickly.
This disparity demonstrates that the institutions put in place to protect and serve the lives of the humans who rely on them are only interested in protecting the lives of the wealthy and famous.
When it comes to Justin Bieber’s ignorant comments about wealth or Gal Gadot’s quaint video of her fellow stars singing “Imagine,” it’s all just a symptom of the bizarre and toxic celebrity culture that is inextricably weaved into the American consciousness. As per Bieber’s social media message, celebrities should not feel guilty for flaunting wealth during the current circumstances because they worked to earn what they have.
But this statement only reinforces the distance between celebrity culture and the reality of working-class Americans. Defending one’s ability to brag while many have lost their jobs and are struggling to manage their financial obligations is not only out of touch, but sorely privileged.
It ignores the systematic privileges in place which favorably award certain opportunities to specific individuals, namely those who are born into wealth or those who are born conventionally beautiful.
However, it is not a matter of whether celebrities worked for their wealth or not. It is the absurd egotism which infiltrates the minds of many celebrities and pervades their culture. It is the belief that those who are struggling to get by or afraid for their loved one’s lives can be helped by seeing a video of a few major celebrities singing a melancholy song.
Perhaps had the present circumstances been any less drastic or widespread, that kind of action would be acknowledged as charming and endearing. But what the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed about celebrity culture and the amount of resources dedicated to protecting the wealthy cannot be mended by such a hollow gesture.
Moreover, the ignorance of the gesture itself speaks more to the extent many celebrities are out of touch with the public — perhaps they believe it will make a difference in people’s lives because they do not sense any real threat from the pandemic.
As shown by the medical system’s quickness to attend to celebrities as well as their wealth and access to healthcare, the wealthy are effectively protected from illness. Needless to say, it seems apt for the public to grow tired of the endless stream of celebrity tweets complaining of boredom while enjoying amenities many could only dream of.
While it is difficult to imagine how the world will change by the end of this unusual time, it will hopefully trigger a shift in the celebrity paradigm which pushes us away from the romantic attitudes that elevated them into superhuman status in the first place.