Pan­demic-era celebri­ties strug­gle to strike ap­pro­pri­ate tone

Kuwait Times - - Lifestyle | Features -

As the coro­n­avirus pan­demic has forced pop­u­la­tions world­wide in­doors, many celebri­ties have har­nessed their star power to try and raise spir­its on­line, dub­bing the ill­ness a great uni­fier. But ex­pres­sions of sol­i­dar­ity have rung hol­low for some so­cial me­dia users fa­tigued by con­tent that’s per­haps well-in­ten­tioned but back­dropped by hot tubs, crack­ling fire­places, or back­yard pools. The most re­cent eye rolls came af­ter the an­nounce­ment that some 200 celebri­ties and politi­cians — in­clud­ing bil­lion­aire Oprah, su­per­star ac­tress Ju­lia Roberts and for­mer US pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush — would par­tic­i­pate in a 24-hour long “Call to Unite” livestream event start­ing this Fri­day to en­cour­age do­nat­ing to COVID-19 re­lief ef­forts. “If only they knew ppl with money,” tweeted jour­nal­ist Astead Hern­don of the an­nounce­ment.

And yet, we watch: more than 270 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide tuned in to a re­cent star-stud­ded marathon spe­cial in­tended to cel­e­brate es­sen­tial work­ers that fea­tured head­lin­ers The Rolling Stones and Tay­lor Swift per­form­ing from their homes. Even for those loving to hate, the streamed sing-alongs and In­sta­gram live so­lil­o­quys keep the in­ter­net rapt, per­haps tem­po­rar­ily al­le­vi­at­ing the boredom of life in­doors. Whether mes­sages of the rich and fa­mous fas­ci­nate or leave a bad taste, that at­ten­tion re­mains “says more about our cul­ture than these ac­tual celebri­ties,” ac­cord­ing to pro­fes­sor Ch­eryl Thomp­son of Toronto’s Ry­er­son Univer­sity. “We might not want to ad­mit it to our­selves,” Thomp­son told AFP, but “we look to them, in some ways, to be our gauge for what we should think and feel.”

‘Out of touch’

The scholar of cre­ative in­dus­tries pointed to Tom Hanks’ an­nounce­ment in mid-March that he had con­tracted coro­n­avirus, say­ing that news con­vinced many peo­ple the in­fec­tion was se­ri­ous. In­deed, Jenna An­der­son said the re­al­i­ties of coro­n­avirus first hit her once Hanks — whom she called a “na­tional-trea­sure type” — went pub­lic with his ill­ness. The 30-year-old pre­vi­ously liv­ing in Aus­tralia, where Hanks quar­an­tined, is now iso­lat­ing with her fam­ily in Hous­ton. But An­der­son said while some con­tent has been use­ful — stars’ de­scrip­tions of symp­toms, for ex­am­ple — “most of what sticks in my mind are neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences where celebri­ties do seem a bit out of touch.”

The in­ter­net slammed talk­show per­son­al­ity Ellen DeGeneres when she joked self-quar­an­tine in her glassy Cal­i­for­nia man­sion was like “be­ing in jail.” Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger cit­i­zen spring-break­ers from his jacuzzi, cigar in hand, while a co­terie of stars led by Gal Gadot be­came a laugh­ing­stock af­ter drop­ping an awk­ward cover of John Len­non’s “Imag­ine,” in­clud­ing

Zoe Kravitz perched by her fire­place while oth­ers ap­peared to be me­an­der­ing across their es­tates. Many stars “seem to re­ally try to keep in the fore­front of peo­ple’s minds in a way that seems un­nec­es­sary to me, based on what I as­sume about how much money they have and how suc­cess­ful they are,” An­der­son said.

Still, Thomp­son said “we’ve al­ways had this sense that celebri­ties come and take us away from the hard times.” Dur­ing World War II, for ex­am­ple, the US gov­ern­ment called Hol­ly­wood stars to visit troops or pro­mote war bond sales. Many celebri­ties today have de­ployed their wealth, in­clud­ing en­ter­tain­ment mogul Ri­hanna’s do­na­tion of med­i­cal equip­ment to New York state and $5 mil­lion to sev­eral re­lief or­ga­ni­za­tions, or Bey­once’s $6 mil­lion do­na­tion to non­prof­its. Coun­try icon Dolly Par­ton mean­while is fi­nanc­ing Van­der­bilt Univer­sity re­search ef­forts for a vac­cine. Beyond the cash, en­ter­tain­ment can soothe — and Thomp­son pre­dicted the trauma of the cur­rent mo­ment could fuel more in­trigu­ing art in years to come. “The strug­gle has al­ways brought with it amaz­ing cre­ative out­puts,” she said.

Un­til then there is plenty of celebrity con­tent re­ly­ing less on plat­i­tudes, and more on en­ter­tain­ing the masses by lean­ing into the ab­surd. Brit­ney Spears has been of­fer­ing eye­brow-rais­ing comic re­lief in­clud­ing an abrupt tale of the time she “burned down her gym” — no one was harmed — while “Mad Men” star Jan­uary Jones has taken on the role of quar­an­tine ec­cen­tric, of­fer­ing a recipe for a “hu­man stew” detox bath. And “Juras­sic Park” ac­tor Sam Neill has been post­ing play­ful al­beit slightly un­hinged videos — in­clud­ing a bit where he voices a gar­den gnome who schools lis­ten­ers on self-iso­la­tion.—AFP

View of Brazil­ian mu­ral artist Ed­uardo Ko­bra’s re­cent work “Coex­is­tence” -which shows chil­dren wear­ing face masks due to the new coro­n­avirus, COVID-19, bear­ing sym­bols of dif­fer­ent re­li­gions (from left to right) Is­lam, Bud­dhism, Chris­tian­ity, Ju­daism and Hin­duis­min Itu, some 100 km from Sao Paulo, Brazil.—AFP pho­tos

Brazil­ian mu­ral artist Ed­uardo Ko­bra poses next to his re­cent work “Coex­is­tence”.

In this file photo US singer Brit­ney Spears ar­rives for the pre­miere of Sony Pic­tures’ “Once Upon a Time... in Hol­ly­wood” at the TCL Chi­nese The­atre in Hol­ly­wood, Cal­i­for­nia.

In this file photo co­me­dian Ellen DeGeneres in­tro­duces Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus dur­ing the 62nd An­nual Grammy Awards in Los An­ge­les.

In this file photo US ac­tor Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson ar­rive for the 77th an­nual Golden Globe Awards at The Bev­erly Hilton ho­tel in Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia.

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