The changing expectations of celebrity
Updated: Aug 28
As the world continues to face increasing economic and social instability, the way we evaluate our celebrity 'idols' and want them to behave markedly shifts.
Source: Twitter @niazahraa
The role of celebrity and influencer, untouchable and 'just like us' has become confused over the last ten to twenty years. Many regular people were left destitute for years following the global financial crisis and at around the same time social media exploded. This combination of factors led to a lot of reality TV celebrities, influencers, and A-list celebrities communicating in more relatable ways. As one article puts it "aspiration surpassed admiration as the nature of popular entertainment turned its attention from impossible fantasy to the banal realities of those left unscathed by the crash".
But with a severe erosion of trust in traditional institutions, and Presidents that, themselves come from reality TV, people have, rightly or wrongly been leaning more on celebrities to act as leaders. "This false sense of intimacy has led to an over-reliance on them to embody our values, opinions and visions of integrity".
In a pre-2020 world, this task seemed difficult but not impossible, but as COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement both continue to highlight the increasingly vast gap between rich celebrity and everybody else, fans are starting to turn. When Gal Gadot rounded up her rich celebrity friends to sing "imagine no possessions" one post after a selfie taken in her house-sized walk in robe, people were not happy. Images from Oscar winner 'Parasite' were used as a meme to respond to tone-deaf posts from celebrities like JLo who continued to post their mansions whilst hundreds of thousands died and many more lost their livelihoods.
Most recently The Black Lives Matter movement is continuing to highlight how easily celebrities can miss the mark, and conversely, win over even more fans. Again the uber famous came together to create a video, again, for many it fell flat. The tone of the #ITakeResponsibility video was seen by many as a little cringey, the words as a little shallow, the term 'performative ally" was thrown around for not the first or last time. When Ashton Kutcher posted a long video about why you shouldn't say 'all lives matter' many pointed out the fact that this was rambling and self-centred. An article from the Cut summed it up simply "stars have been falling all over themselves to demonstrate “allyship.”This comes at a critical juncture, when the internet’s tolerance for unspecific, image-obsessed platitudes from the rich and famous is at an all-time low.
There are of course, celebrities getting it right, across different issues in the media globally. During the pandemic, those celebrities that used their platforms and adapted in a low key style to entertain their fans were widely praised. Sophie Ellis Bextor created a kitchen disco for followers every Friday, (Sir) Anthony Hopkins entertained fans with his piano and his cat as well as various Tik Tok videos. As one New York Times article put it "if I’m going to pay attention to celebrities at a time like this, their contribution better be charming or deranged enough to distract me from the specter of mass suffering and death."
In the Black Lives Matter movement many are praising those who have chosen to simply "hand over the mic", instead of commenting on matters themselves. Celebrities like Selena Gomez (who has one of the biggest platforms in the world) had a page takeover, to let the experts say it themselves. This action also took place in Australia in sharethemicnowaustralia.
Some celebrities have taken it a step further, involving themselves in political reform. One of the more impressive acts of celebrity came in the form of British soccer player Marcus Rashford who penned an open letter asking for the continued delivery of meals to children for struggling UK families. This succeeded and saw parliament agreeing to the £120m Summer extension. A change.org petition has kicked off demanding Jon Stewart begin his Presidential campaign, having won over the hearts of many Americans and fans globally with his demands to Congress for 9/11 first responders who have yet to receive health care benefits.
As the world rages on we will inevitably see celebrities continue to both impress and outrage, but it begs the question: what should we expect from this completely diverse group of people? Some say "find your role models in real life and let celebrities do what they're supposed to do best: entertain us and be beautiful." You don't need to look as far as Trump, Schwarzenegger or Ronald Reagan to see that there is great power in fame though. Our very own Celeste Barber broke Facebook fundraising records for the bushfires earlier this year. When the courts ruled however, that the money could only go to the NSW RFS the comedian herself stated “turns out that studying acting at university does not make me a lawmaker”. Nonetheless as so many continue to listen to celebrity it does seem that we should demand that our famous role models act with with information and integrity, especially as we see what the rest of 2020 has to throw at us.