In the midst of mass chaos, misinformation and confusion, audiences tend to look for a type of healing salve that can soothe some of the looming anxieties that surround them. On March 18, 2020, in the throes of a global pandemic, “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot thought that she had found the perfect remedy.
Armed with a maroon turtleneck and a fresh-faced, sunlit glow, Gadot posted a video to her Instagram account that begins with her somberly talking directly to camera about how the mandated quarantine had been making her feel a bit “philosophical” lately. The starlet goes on to encourage her 37 million followers, in the same earnest vein as the “High School Musical” franchise, that “we’re all in this together.”
Then, in what is now known as the grand fromage of all IGTV videos ever posted, she begins to awkwardly sing the classic 1971 song “Imagine” by John Lennon. The video then switches to a cacophony of celebrities semi-crooning a bar or two of the track, including household names like Kristen Wiig, Amy Adams, Mark Ruffalo and a humble, maskless Sia.
The backgrounds of these cameos were the most telling, as most of them chose to film in oh-so-despairing settings that ranged from mid-century, modern living rooms to well-kept lawns at swanky summer homes. Usually, the hot new artists of the 1990s sing classic songs to encourage listeners to make a charitable donation toward a cause, but this time, it’s without the whole donation part.
The general demeanor of all celebrities involved with the video seemed to be that posting their off-key, upper echelon performances for the masses to see was charity enough. Naturally, the video was swiftly met with a response not quite as enthusiastic as its creators desired. Fans went to Twitter in droves to obliterate any of the positive connotations this video was attempting to uphold, quick to criticize their favorite film stars’ participation in this whole mess. Someone even photoshopped Gadot’s face onto that of one of the leading actresses of the hit 2019 film “Parasite,” whose character helped portray the aptly brutal and comic depiction of class divide.
While on the surface this could seem like just a laughable moment for cancel culture to bury alive and never be thought of again, this whole debacle cements itself as a strong example of the growing public resentment toward rich celebrities who largely engage in performative activism rather than using their wealth to enact any substantial change.
The sheer amount of damage that this health crisis will cause — and is currently causing — for the entertainment industry is undeniable. Movie theaters are closed across the country with some major chains questioning if they’ll even be able to bounce back, film production has come to a halt and both live concerts and Broadway shows have been canceled until further notice. The large platforms that most celebrities possess on social media — mostly utilized to promote their latest upcoming projects — now have a nullified purpose as traditional entertainment production and daily life skids to a halt.
Celebrities, like most of us, don’t have much to do — or rather, sell — right now. Some stars are now just simply choosing to operate as a familiar figure that can create a charismatic distraction, a la Chrissy Teigen, who dealt with people overbuying groceries by begging for romaine lettuce on Twitter. However, fuzzy feelings of false comfort aside, celebrities’ earnest attempts at relatability at this time only seem to highlight the faintly-disguised rift between the unaffected entertainment aristocracy and the rest of the population, which makes little stunts like the “Imagine” video a tone-deaf gut punch to those greatly suffering from the pandemic.
Even as power structures and facades begin to crack, celebrities’ platforms, status and immense privilege remain the same because, again, they really are not just like us. Though during this time, there is that added pesky scrutiny and valid social critique, it is not a signal for celebrities to just sit idly by atop their lavish mansions and say nothing. There is actually plenty of opportunity to help!
What they can do instead of breaking out the karaoke mic is actually use their influence to help spread the word on safety practices to their enormous audience. They could donate a few of their massive Marvel residual checks to get that sweet, positive press and actually help medical professionals cap the spread of this disease — power couple Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively donated over a million dollars last week.
There are also relief packages and various fundraisers that have been set up recently to help the now-struggling movie theater industry, which could surely use a huge tip from the people who both gain from and are intrinsically linked to it. There are dozens of other ways to create instrumental change with a person’s inherent privilege, such as donating to the organizations of medical professionals operating under dire circumstances or to programs directly attempting to curb the pandemic, like the CDC. These financial acts are actually what these celebrities should be doing if they have the means to.
It’s truly a confusing time, especially in context of the typically dynamic, experiential entertainment industry. We’re now in a position where so much content is being injected on both streaming services and social media, and every minute there seems to be a new factor popping up that will play into how drastic the effects this pandemic will have on the whole. No one really has a clear solution yet to the abrupt hits that the media industry has been taking and will continue to take throughout this entire experience. It’s also a slippery slope talking about how to keep film, music — hell, even Instagram culture — alive without seeming vapid. But it shouldn’t be that hard for celebrities to understand that posting superficial videos and repping their status during a global crisis isn’t helping, especially when they have the financial means to do so much more. It’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 30, 2020 e-print edition. Email Isabella Armus at [email protected]