The Role of the Celebrity in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Cartoon by Emma Hines

$591 million. It’s an estimate, but that is roughly the combined total net worth of all the celebrities featured in Gal Gadot’s coronavirus tribute set to John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

“We are in this together,” read the post’s caption when it was originally shared by Gadot on March 18. “We will get through it together.” True togetherness is achieved when a group of people are fighting the same fight on an even playing field; with the same obstacles, hardships and struggles. It’s the challenges that average people across the world are all currently facing that lead to a sense of togetherness — even though some are certainly more affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than others, we all share a level of empathy at present. 

Now more than ever, it is painfully evident that celebrities float above this. “We are in this together,” wrote Gadot from her multi-million dollar home. “It isn’t hard to do,” croaked Jimmy Fallon on a walk through his gated community. “This virus has affected the entire world,” Gadot said before kicking off a round of Lennon karaoke. “It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re from.” This message wasn’t meant for the middle-class citizen watching from home to be kind to thy neighbor. Rather, it exists as a thinly veiled disclaimer for what you’re about to see — it is to say, “Look, we know we’re rich, but c’mon, this affects us, too!” 

And in their defense, it’s partly true. The current pandemic is affecting every living human on earth – even if you turn off your TV, throw out your phone and burn the newspaper when it arrives on your doorstep, it’s impossible to escape a rapid-spreading, highly contagious virus. In that regard, yes, we are all experiencing the COVID-19 outbreak together — together, but not equal. 

A single working mother whose child is now home all hours of the day, seven days a week — requiring meals, care and stimulation — is not experiencing the pandemic in the same way Natalie Portman is, and Sarah Silverman making a goofy expression while delivering her assigned line of “Imagine” sure as hell won’t help. Similarly, the last thing a young adult recently laid-off from their job with no safety net needs is Will Ferrel singing, “No need for greed, or hunger.” 

Of course, the virus doesn’t care about race, religion, financial status or social standing — it’s a virus. A celebrity very well can contract the virus, as many have. The key difference, though, is the resources available in mass to those with a high status in society. When Idris Elba announced early on that his COVID-19 test came back positive, he followed up the news with a piece of shocking information: “I didn’t have any symptoms.” 

While the comment was brushed over by Elba, it’s the reality for many celebrities. With the United States struggling with a severely limited supply of testing kits, the average citizen must present a laundry list of symptoms and jump through hoops to gain access to one. Celebrities however, like Idris Elba, can take these tests on a whim. Elba only chose to disclose his results because they came back positive — how many celebrities, with no symptoms and no known exposure, have gotten tested behind closed doors?

On the topic of exposure to the virus, prolonged quarantine and self-isolation is much easier for the celebrity than it is the average citizen. “Stay home, save lives,” they tell us from their Calabasas mansions, equipped with personal chefs, cleaning crews and unlimited access to food and supplies. The statement is true — it is our current civic duty to stay home as much as possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

But the average citizen must go grocery shopping when necessary, potentially exposing them to the virtus. And while essential workers like medical staff are receiving their just praise across the world, we often forget just how many occupations are deemed “essential” — government workers, veterinarians, fast food workers … just to name a few. These are all people forced to potentially expose themselves to the virus daily; something a celebrity will never have to worry about. 

The truth is, celebrities are lost. Think of the concept of a celebrity: in it’s purest form, they not only thrive, but survive on attention. If they lose hold of our attention, they simply cease to exist. One can go from adored celebrity to virtual nobody in an instant; so despite the fact that they seem to hold all the power, it’s actually us — the average citizen — who decide their fate. 

Which means in times like these, celebrities panic. We aren’t running to theaters to see their films, or spending our hard earned money to fill arenas for their performances. We couldn’t care less about their late night variety shows, or the products they’re endorsing, or the posts they’re posting — the celebrity has become virtually powerless. 

So what does the celebrity do? They try to relate to us. They share their experiences getting diagnosed with COVID-19, and casually mention that they were tested despite not exhibiting a single symptom, too far removed from reality to realize how hurtful this is to the millions of people with limited or no access to testing. They host fundraisers, asking working class Americans to donate funds to relief efforts on the brink of an economic recession. In exchange for your donation, you’re treated to Camila Cabello desperately trying to find the note during a performance, or a t-shirt from Harry Styles. “I’ve donated as well,” they write, as if the multi-millionaire sparing some loose change should convince the person struggling to make ends meet. 

In a convoluted way, it is almost fun to watch people who exist to be idolized attempt to relate to the average person. There’s a reason why the “Imagine” video went so viral, and it’s not because it had the desired effect of making us all feel warm and fuzzy inside. Rather, it provided us with a moment of laughter. Recreations and parodies popped up all over the internet, like comedian George Civeris’ recruitment of his own friends to pay tribute, swapping out “Imagine” for Selena Gomez’s “Love You Like a Love Song.” Shortly after posting the video, Gadot invited fans to share their renditions of the song, and infamously fell for one user who posed as a young Millie Bobby Brown, posting the clip on her Instagram story. 

For providing the base for some humorous material in dark times, we must thank our celebrities. Going forward, however, it may be best for them to step off their soap box and let the people who will truly be impacted by the virus be the voices at the forefront. Each and every person is facing their own personal battle right now, and no matter how many times a celebrity tells us it’s all going to be okay, those battles will still have to be fought.