If the COVID-19 pandemic has you feeling anxious, helpless, and completely freaked out, you’re not alone. It’s surreal to be self-quarantined at home, surrounded by the comforts of the familiar while realizing that nothing is comforting nor familiar. The new normal is not to feel normal. In an effort to self-soothe – or at the very least distract – from increasingly frightening news, many of us are spending more time on social media than ever before. Call it boredom or a voyeuristic desire to see how other people are ‘handling’ it all, or even a baser need to pull together in a crisis, but social media has been a salve in these trying times. It has also been a curse.
The new normal is not to feel normal.
As we peek into each other’s lives, a feeling of connectedness is offered, but a darker side has emerged. Celebrities – who have millions of followers and high-profile platforms – are seen sprawled out on massive couches in their palatial mansions, recording themselves as they dial up famous friends in an effort to stave off lassitude. Others perform unselfconscious concerts, complete with bits of banter with their spouses. Some dance to TikTok challenges, others host talk shows and address mental health concerns. The entertainment bag is mixed.
But the most noticeable and viral celebrity moments are the misguided ones, the ones better left unsaid and unposted. Evangeline Lilly of Lost and Ant-Man fame earned the wrath of her followers after refusing quarantine for herself and her family. She shuttles her children off to gymnastics camp with clean hands, and then proverbially washes her hands of the crisis. She thinks it’s an overreaction. She’s living with her father who is immunocompromised with stage 4 leukemia, and is immunocompromised herself.
Yet, she sees no urgency in the pandemic, dismissing it as manufactured panic. “Where we are right now feels a lot too close to Marshall Law [sic] for my comfort already, all in the name of a respiratory flu,” she posted. “Some people value their lives over freedom, some people value freedom over their lives. We all make our choices,” Lilly added. A fan rightfully replied, “You know, carriers with no symptoms do exist.”
High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens drew ire when she took to Instagram to complain about how coronavirus was ruining her summer plans. No Coachella. How dreadful. We are terribly sorry for your loss, Vanessa. “I’m sorry, but like, it’s a virus, I get it, like, I respect it, but at the same time I’m like, even if everybody gets it, like yeah, people are going to die, which is terrible but like, inevitable?” How could she be so heartless, fans wondered.
After the ensuing backlash, Hudgens issued the following apology: “Hey guys. I’m so sorry for the way I have offended anyone and everyone who has seen the clip from my Instagram live yesterday. I realize my words were insensitive and not at all appropriate for the situation our country and the world are in right now.” The New York Times reporter Astead Herndon aptly summarized the collective celebrity foot-in-mouth moments on Twitter, saying, “Coronavirus is like a blacklight for celebrity clownship.”
Vanessa Hudgens was doing great when she was just moaning.
Also “it’s a virus, I get it, I respect it” is sending me. pic.twitter.com/R6gILcEdjk
— Salim (@adidasspapurse) March 18, 2020
A less malicious but no less irksome viral moment started with Gal Gadot, who posted a video to her Instagram account in which she and dozens of other celebrity pals – Zoë Kravitz, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Sia – shared the lyrics of John Lennon’s song, “Imagine”. It was meant to be uplifting, unifying. It had the opposite effect.
Surrounded by the trappings of fame, they warbled, “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can”, unaware of how physically cringeworthy it came across. What if they donated some of their wealth to those in need instead of a self-aggrandizing song, viewers mused. Imagine the possibilities. Comedian Josh Gondelman summed it up best when he tweeted, “No politician can unify people in the way that the ‘Imagine’ video seems to have united every single person against it.” Maybe they should take a clue from their more compassionate peers and pony up some cash.
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We are in this together, we will get through it together. Let’s imagine together. Sing with us ❤ All love to you, from me and my dear friends. #WeAreOne ……. #KristenWiig #JamieDornan @labrinth @james_marsden @sarahkatesilverman @eddiebenjamin @jimmyfallon @natalieportman @zoeisabellakravitz @siamusic @reallyndacarter @amyadams @leslieodomjr @pascalispunk @chrisodowd @hotpatooties #WillFerrell @markruffalo @norahjones @ashleybenson @kaiagerber @caradelevingne @anniemumolo @princesstagramslam
Privilege has immunized some stars from understanding the suffering of humans who are sick and dying, but it hasn’t made them immune to stupidity or oblivious takes. Supermodel Doutzen Kroes uploaded a series of posts to her Instagram Stories in which she urged people to appreciate the simple things in life with the bizarre message: “Thank you, coronavirus.” Kroes quickly deleted the tone-deaf posts. But fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni – who has worked tirelessly to raise over four million euros for Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital – was not having it, as evidenced by her response, below.
And finally, there is the behavior of the leader of the free world – although there is much argument to be made that the title no longer applies. US President Donald Trump has approached the pandemic with typical callousness, more worried about the Dow Jones Industrial Average and free-falling economy than the deaths of his citizens.
Although he is famously germaphobic, The Daily Show’s recent supercut shows Trump repeatedly shaking hands with an assembled body of politicians and experts, and touching a shared podium surface while warning about the risk of transmitting the disease. The Daily Show added the wry caption: “White House releases instructional video on how to transmit coronavirus.”
There is an important lesson to be learned in all of this: with great power comes great responsibility. Celebrities are not health professionals and should not be relied upon to lead humanity out of this crisis. But people are watching, listening, repeating. Even if celebrities are placing targets on their own backs, becoming the butt of jokes, or being savaged online for their misguided statements, you don’t know who might be taking their behavior to heart. At this point, if you don’t have anything helpful to say, don’t say anything at all.