To say that the year of 2020 has exposed countless fractured facets of our previous day-to-day realities is an understatement. Though many people all over the world never have had the luxury of blissful ignorance, this year’s socio-political climate has exposed the sort of deep-running corruption within so many social norms that it’s truly worth considering whether or not we can ever afford to go back. To keep with total NBGA style, we simply have to discuss the fact this year has also exposed–perhaps for the better–the ultimately useless and disappointing nature of current celeb culture. The question of our fascination with certain public figures has catapulted itself into the spotlight.
And why is this happening now? It seems that ever since Gal Gadot employed celeb pals like Sarah Silverman, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, and many others to stare into an iPhone camera and sing a strange out-of-place rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine that audiences began to grow, well, annoyed.
A lot of us felt the same way when we first saw the Imagine video. It was a strange mix of, “Why did they change the only uplifting lyric…” to “are we just supposed to stare at them sing?” to the ultimate realization that, for most celebrities who rose to fame quickly or from a young age, “entertaining” is their most natural and instinctive method of self-expression, and so–yes, we are just supposed to stare at them sing. But in the months where the global pandemic had just started piquing terribly, where people were losing their jobs, lives, social security, and family members, dropping this video felt extremely tone deaf.
And it doesn’t stop there. Since then, various celebrities have still been performing, or, failing to perform convincingly, in front of their iPhone cameras or behind the scenes of their work lives. In regards to the latter, Ellen DeGeneres is now facing multiple accusations of being complicit and also engaging in creating a toxic work environment, and not exactly being very friendly. Vanessa Hudgens, when faced with the seriousness of a worldwide pandemic, made boozy-looking comments on her Instagram Live about Covid-19, such as, “…yeah, people are going to die, which is terrible, but inevitable?
And then as the Black Lives Matter protests and marches surged, the celebs–you guessed it–dropped another video. It had a black and white filter on it this time, and had another array of celebrities uttering the words I take responsibility in somber tones and with furrowed brows.
There comes a time when intention falls flat in the face of inaction, and then when action deflates and even becomes comedic due to its performative essence. Celebrity culture has reached that time.
In the face of celebrity wealth, influence, and resources, audiences are finding less and less time to fawn over certain public figures who do not seem to be making space to use said resources to help their communities.
Celebrity culture’s pedestal seems to be crumbling, and it is a bit shocking that it didn’t happen any sooner. Maybe it took the catastrophic events of this year to expose its weakest points, but the truth of the matter is that this is exactly what happens when public figures are given too much credit without ever truly earning it beyond securing certain roles in TV shows and fashion campaigns. Because then the antics of their theatre stages cross into reality.
The media is guilty in inflating the importance of any public figure’s smallest action. That’s why we get paparazzi pictures of their coffee runs. And because of somewhat empty praise and exaggerated complimentary language, certain celebrities only seem able to produce empty action, especially in times like these.
On a separate but similar note, fashion, movies, and beauty are all deeply enjoyable things and nothing is being taken away from their space in culture, but somehow, very weighty, unrelated titles and spotlights have been thrown around for those who secure great spots and ad campaigns in these arenas, rather than achieve the work that should get them there. For example, I remember when certain outlets used to call Lena Dunham a feminist icon. Lena Dunham.
That’s why some celebrities seem to be falling flat now; they don’t have the foundational necessities to be standing on that pedestal in the first place.
On the other hand, there are also many celebrities and public figures using their influence to take meaningful action in this time, and maybe even just knowing when to be quiet and not make an Instagram video is part of that.
Zendaya very clearly understood this distinction when she told InStyle “I have always hesitated to use the word ‘activist’ for myself. That is a lifestyle. That is a choice every day to be doing the work and devoting your life to a cause. And I don’t feel I am deserving of the title. There are a lot of words that better describe what I do. I’m an actress, but I’m also just a person who has a heart and wants to do the right thing.”
There will always be movie stars, models, public figures, and TV hosts that the world will love and enjoy watching. But that grain of salt is making itself more known in our palates, and maybe this way, the next time someone is called an “icon” or “goals” or a “legend,” we’ll be able to actually pinpoint if the power and progress that allows their name to stand in this light is present, or if it is not.