The Curse of Celebrity Commiserations

“Unless the feel-good messages of celebrities are accompanied by action—and by action, I mean money—they remain nothing but empty displays.”

What do Vanessa Hudgens, Chrissy Teigen, and Gal Gadot have in common?

In the time of COVID-19, people have a pretty rough one all over the world. The global death toll has surpassed 4,600, the infection count 125,000. Cities big and small are in lockdown, and travel restrictions and bans wall everything off everywhere you turn. Necessities and amenities are wiped out within hours. Thousands upon thousands of people’s livelihoods are hanging by a precarious thread, and thousands more risk their health and the health of their loved ones by trudging to work every day as per usual, simply because they can’t afford or aren’t allowed to stop. 

Amid all this coronavirus fuckery, the rich and famous have taken to social media in a markedly different way. These people we’re used to seeing on our TV and theatre screens are now filling up our phones and laptops, their conventionally beautiful faces free of makeup and their gym-toned bodies clad in sweatpants, all of them hopping on Twitter or Instagram to convey some version of the following message: “Hey y’all, look! I’m on lockdown, just like you guys!”

Only they’re not just like us. Indeed, they are nothing like us.

Vanessa Hudgens’s recent outburst on Instagram Live over the announcement of Coachella’s postponement was one of the most controversial coronaviruses/celebrity conniptions yet. It’s common knowledge that aside from the Disney classic and Stan Twitter favourite High School Musical series, arguably Hudgens’s second-largest claim to fame is her annual Coachella appearances. She, like several other young female celebrities, spend copious amounts of time and energy preparing for and attending a giant collective romp in the desert—perhaps just as much or even more time than most A-listers spend getting ready for their glamorous red carpets and glitzy Hollywood events. 

Vanessa Hudgens’s various Coachella appearances over the years. Photo from Harper’s Bazaar Singapore.

Like anyone else, Hudgens is fully entitled to feel upset over the postponement of such a big-ticket calendar event. 

What she is not entitled to is to declare that this one event—this one source of vibrant fodder for her Instagram account—is more important than people’s lives. 

Let’s be very, very clear here. Hudgens is right. Postponement, cancellation, or continuation, Covid-19 will continue to infect and kill people. 

But when Hudgens whined, “Yeah, people are gonna diieee,” she felt safe to do that because she fully understood exactly what people she was referencing. She felt safe to treat that as a trivial inconvenience because she knew that it was highly, highly unlikely that she or any of her fellow rich and famous would be one of those people. 

Case in point: fellow actor Idris Elba’s mind-bogglingly easy access to Covid-19 testing

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In her inflammatory Instagram Live, Hudgens said, “Even if everybody gets it, like yeah, people are going to die which is terrible, but inevitable?”

To make things worse, Hudgens’s follow-up to the outrage caused was not to apologize, but only to accuse everyone of taking her comments “out of context” and emphasize that she was, like everyone else, “at home” and “in lockdown”. Because she, as she articulated in her Instagram Live, “respects” this virus. 

Chrissy Teigen was quick to jump in, defending Hudgens for her comments and accusing her critics of trying to “ruin her life”. In her Twitter rant, she declared, “you are not gonna talk me into not forgiving people’s mistakes. It makes me clear and makes me happy and I’m gonna be happy. You wanna be angry online all fuckin day, go for it.”

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Once again, let’s be clear here: Teigen can fully afford to “forgive” Hudgens’s comments and write them off as “mistakes” because, just like Hudgens, she is not one of the people Hudgens’s inflammatory remarks were referencing. To reduce the entire affair to everyone should be allowed to say insensitive shit, but especially famous people was painfully and outrageously shallow.

People who never have and will never enjoy the same privileges as Teigen and her fellow rich, famous friend Hudgens are allowed to have emotional reactions to their livelihood and mortality trodden on by the luxury of obliviousness. 

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A mere day later, Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot posted an Instagram video compilation of herself and a horde of famous people—including Natalie Portman, Will Ferrell, and Zoë Kravitz, to name a few—singing John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Gadot added a caption to her post that read: “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.”

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Here’s why this is so bewildering.

The intention is clear. Gadot and her privileged pals want to tell us: We’re fellow humans going through the same experience, just like you.

The intention is not bad. But it isn’t helpful, either—simply because we’re not the same.

There is no productive outcome to watching a bunch of rich and famous people, protected by their social status and wealth and safely ensconced in their lavish residences, project messages of togetherness and unity. 

There is no amount of camaraderie their emphasis on shared lockdowns can generate, knowing that they are trapped in comfortably furnished paradises with no lack of food, toiletries, entertainment, or anything else. 

There is no amount of pity or sympathy that can be dredged up for their movies being delayed and their shows ceasing production, knowing that with or without these projects, their bank accounts stay stuffed and padded regardless.

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Unless the feel-good messages of celebrities are accompanied by action—and by action, I mean money—they remain nothing but empty displays. Displays that are bound to make only themselves feel better by having contributed this ultimately meaningless bit of fluff to make a few folks smile (or rather, wince at the awkward off-key acapella of it all). 


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