Opinion: What role do celebrities play in a pandemic?

As we face a global pandemic, celebrities are trying to connect with their followers in more ways than one. But are these attempts helpful, or do they simply miss the mark? (Image Source: Junkee)

By Meika Bottrill | @meikabottrill

As millions of people worldwide are at risk of losing their jobs, being exposed to COVID-19, or are unable to see their loved ones, celebrities have turned to social media in an attempt to encourage and inspire their followers.

Viral handwashing videos and hashtags that urge people to stay home are filling up our newsfeeds as celebrities share important messages about the virus to their audiences.

But other posts have simply highlighted the disparity between celebrities and those of us not as fortunate.

For example, when Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot orchestrated a cover of John Lennon’s song Imagine featuring celebrities such as Natalie Portman, Will Ferrell and John Mayor, it left the audience feeling a little more than confused.

Gal Gadot
Gal Gadot’s video montage of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ (Image Source: Insider)

As celebrities sang off-key in an attempt to lift our spirits, a question began to arise. In times of a global pandemic, why are we supposed to value the simple appearance of a celebrity?

The sentiment behind this question was only intensified as more celebrities used their platforms to urge people to stay at home, support local businesses and donate to charities.

For celebrities staying at home (in kitchens bigger than some people’s entire house) or supporting local businesses and charities may be easy.

But for essential workers forced to expose themselves to the virus, or those of us suddenly left without an income, such pleas from celebrities are rendered unhelpful.

Madonna – in a bathtub filled with rose petals – took to Instagram and Twitter in a since-deleted video, explaining how she believes that COVID-19 is “the great equalizer.”

“It [the virus] doesn’t care about how rich you are, how famous you are… where you live [or] how old you are,” she said with a piano playing softly in the background.

“It has made us all equal.”

Except it hasn’t.

Like so many other diseases or complex problems in our society, the rich and famous are prioritised and suffer the least.

The COVID-19 pandemic has done anything but equalize our society. Instead, it has highlighted the economic inequality between celebrity and the ‘average’ person.

In March, thousands of people lined up outside of Centrelink offices as one million Australians were expected to be at risk of losing their jobs and income during this pandemic.

In some countries, even those presenting symptoms are being turned away from being tested for COVID-19, while the rich or famous have no difficulty obtaining these tests.

COVID-19 has not created inequality, it has only exposed what we already knew about the imbalance between ‘us’ and ‘them’. But some celebrities seem unable to grasp the level of privilege that they have.

However, not every celebrity has gotten it wrong. Famous people such as Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Oprah have donated millions towards charities supporting those suffering from the pandemic.

In several cases, celebrities have proven to be a successful distraction from the reality of the global pandemic we are currently experiencing.

Musicians recording live ‘concerts’ on Instagram, or celebrities curating recommendations  to entertain us in isolation remind us why we follow them in the first place.

And perhaps the reaction from the public will show celebrities that they are the ones that benefit the most in desperate times and encourage them to use their wealth and power to help those less fortunate.

 

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