Sarah Hagi is a writer based in Toronto.
It was an Instagram caption so ridiculous, it instantly became a meme. In late October Kim Kardashian West turned 40, and to celebrate she took her inner circle of what looked to be 100 people to a private island. The getaway was a place they could all “pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time,” she explained. She also went on to acknowledge that she was humbly reminded of her privilege because taking all one’s friends to a private island for a birthday was, “for most people [...] something that is so far out of reach right now.”
This behaviour was not shocking for anyone familiar with the Kardashian/Jenner family, and it especially wasn’t a surprise to anyone familiar with the concept of celebrity. Since the pandemic began in March, famous people have been acting in increasingly horrifying ways.
Those first weeks, which we have now seen grow into 10 months, proved to be a difficult adjustment period; we witnessed even the most emotionally stable of people at their most raw and annoying. But for all the incessant bread baking and workout challenges that plagued our Instagram feeds, no group was as ill-equipped to deal with our “new normal” worse than celebrities.
It began just a week or so into lockdown. Coming from what I call the poorest (most relatable) corners of their homes, several stars took part in what I believe marked the beginning of the end for celebrity relatability. Corralled by Wonder Woman Gal Gadot herself, the likes of comedian Sarah Silverman, actor Zoe Kravitz, talk-show host Jimmy Fallon, singer Sia and many more sang a cover of John Lennon’s Imagine. The message, of course, being that we were all in this together.
Over subsequent months, the obvious proved itself to be true. We are not in this together, and never have been. And Ms. Kardashian West was just one on an extremely long list of the rich and famous to be so openly out of touch. While most of us struggled financially and found ourselves precariously employed, celebrities quickly left their homes for private islands and resorts in places such as Mykonos and the Bahamas. Looking at the feed of any celebrity right now, you’d never know there was a pandemic beyond posts that say “wear a damn mask!” as though the spread of the virus had everything to do with not wearing a mask and nothing to do with staggering inequality that made the world’s most vulnerable people its greatest victims. It’s been close to or more than a year since many have been able to hug their parents, but read any gossip website and you’ll see how many stars spent their holidays travelling abroad to the Caribbean.
Of course, wealth inequality outside of the sphere of the ultrarich has been impossible to ignore. The only reason why many are able to work from home, and have any need met through same day delivery, is because of those who have no choice but to work outside of their homes and risk getting infected. An October report by BDO revealed that two-thirds of Canadians are worse off financially since the pandemic began, with those who are in that group being nearly four times as likely to say feeding their families is challenging.
I consider myself fortunate when it comes to how this pandemic has affected my life so far. But as someone who’s always held socialist values toward money, the disgust I feel toward celebrities who have been so egregious in their displays of wealth has hit an unanticipated high. Not that I ever looked to the famous for guidance or relatability, but I believe there is value in observing celebrity culture and how it affects our lives and society at large. It was easy before the pandemic to understand my interest in their inner lives – they were entertaining and seemed so foreign. But going on social media or reading entertainment blogs during the pandemic, the two different realities we live in have never been more stark.
It is perhaps unfair and admittedly naive of me to expect more from celebrities. But since social media became what it is today, many of us tricked ourselves into thinking our favourite artists, movie stars and influencers lived in our reality or a type of elevated version of the world we share. Instagram accounts such as CommentsByCelebs and Deuxmoi are dedicated to displaying the most mundane celeb interactions, with many eating it up because it makes it feel like we’re closer to them somehow. But if the past 10 months have taught us anything, it’s that this veneer of relatability can no longer remain intact.
As 2020 ended, Hilaria Baldwin, the wife of actor Alec Baldwin, was accused of faking a Spanish accent for the past seven years. I spent an embarrassing amount of time tweeting about it, speaking to my friends about her, reading articles dissecting her alleged grift – astounding considering I had never thought about her in my life up until then. I’d like to pretend that my New Year’s resolution is to ignore the likes of Ms. Baldwin for good, but I know I won’t be able to divest from celebrity culture completely – it’s too difficult when you’re in as deep as I am. But I’ll try to see them for who they really are, and who they always have been. It is the only way I’ll be able to remain sane enough to read a magazine.
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