Celebrities & Coronavirus: The Struggle For Relatability on Social Media

The concept of celebrity as a form of spectacle has been around for centuries – in recent years, a large part of their charm is how much we can – or cannot- relate to them when they’re off screen.

In the age of coronavirus, it is safe to say the world is changing, affecting everyone’s day-to-day routines, and celebrities are no exception. Just like us, they use social media as an outlet to express their concerns about the state of the world, and yet, their attempts to connect to us are currently not working. In a time of global crisis, why can we not empathise with them? The answer lies in the social impacts of the virus itself.

Image Credit: TooFab

Recently, Gal Gadot posted an Instagram video of her and other celebrities singing ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon, in attempts to lift spirits and spread messages of unity and positivity. The video, which included cameos of Kristen Wiig, Natalie Portman, Norah Jones, Will Ferrell and Mark Ruffalo to name a few, became viral for all the wrong reasons: many saw the video as tone-deaf (literally and figuratively) and inconsiderate. The video quickly became Twitter’s meme of the day, with many users pointing out how wealthy celebrities could have been donating money to those who are at the frontlines, rather than trying to be the uniting spirit of the pandemic.

Some celebrities have recognised this and are using their platforms to urge people to maintain social distancing, or making considerable donations to relevant charities and organisations. However, when celebrities post surface-level messages about being in this together they seem to piss Internet audiences off. Take a recent tweet by Sia, in which she emphasises that there’s an ‘us’ in ‘virus.’ Undoubtedly posted with good intentions, the Internet sarcastically retaliated by thanking Sia for her tweet’s contribution in curing the virus.

A hopeful message or superficial slogan? Photo Credit: SIA’s Twitter

In times of crisis, people are not looking to celebrities to inspire them, or even to relate to. As one viral tweet perfectly frames it:

“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. #imagine” – @CaseyCip on Twitter

These responses come after several celebrities have managed to get tested for coronavirus, despite a global shortage of testing kits. In Australia and many other countries, testing for coronavirus is only for those who fit certain criteria: whether or not they’ve been around a confirmed case, have returned from a high-risk country of if they’re displaying major symptoms. However, certain celebrities, including Heidi Klum and Kris Jenner, have managed to get tested for the virus after suspecting they had it, despite getting negative test results. Klum’s announcement of her test result came after she made remarks on social media about how difficult it was to get tested, leading people to question whether it was her platform that allowed her to access testing in the first place.

Such was the case when social media influencer Arielle Charnas, who has 1.3 million followers on Instagram, got tested for the virus because she was friends with a founder of an urgent care facility. While some praised the blogger for her extensive documentation of her experience testing positive for coronavirus, many called out the advantage that she had over other ordinary but equally needy Americans who were struggling to get tested.

Charnas documents her coronavirus experience. Photo Credit: New York Post

These sentiments are rooted in the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is also one of increasing inequality – self-isolation and social distancing comes easily if you can afford it and you have access to resources. Attempts by these celebrities to frame this as a social solidarity issue neglects that a lot of these celebrities come from positions of privilege, while the people they are trying to appeal to do not. In fact it reveals the treacherously widening gap that’s forming between the haves and the have nots, words and deeds, as many people’s livelihoods, health and even homes are at risk.

This is not to say that messages of motivation can’t be expressed, but as the Internet has made clear: actions are more important than words.

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