A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 4, 2020

Why This Has Not Been A Good Month For Influencers And Celebrities

Turns out a little self-absorption goes a long, long way.

Sending selfies from their escape mansions in the Hamptons or yachts in Hawaii while urging everyone to stay in side and remember 'we're all in this together' is not going over well.  By highlighting their expensive separation from the rest of the locked-down world, celebrities and social media influencers have inadvertently kindled resentment from their public, whose jobs and lives are at risk. JL

Amanda Hess and Taylor Lorenz report in the New York Times:

Among the social impacts of the coronavirus is its swift dismantling of the cult of celebrity. The famous represent the American pursuit of wealth through talent, charm and hard work. But the dream of class mobility dissipates when society locks down, the economy stalls, the death count mounts and everyone’s future is frozen inside their own crowded apartment or palatial mansion. The difference between the two has never been more obvious. “If you’re going to do something that counters public health messaging, don’t put it on social media.” The #guillotine2020 hashtag is jumping.
America is in crisis, but the celebrities are thriving. They are beaming into our homes, reminding us to stay indoors and “stay positive,” as “we’re all in this together.” When I watch their selfie public service announcements, I find my attention drifting to the edges of the frame: to the understated wall molding visible behind Robert DeNiro’s shoulder; to the Craftsman beams on Priyanka Chopra’s balcony; to the equine wallpaper framing Zoë Kravitz’s crackling fireplace.
“Staying home is my superpower,” the “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot reported from her walk-in closet. Ryan Reynolds urged his fans to “work together to flatten the curve” from within his rustic loft. When Jennifer Lopez posted a video of her family sheltering in the backyard of Alex Rodriguez’s vast Miami compound, the public snapped.
“We all hate you,” was one representative response.
Among the social impacts of the coronavirus is its swift dismantling of the cult of celebrity. The famous are ambassadors of the meritocracy; they represent the American pursuit of wealth through talent, charm and hard work. But the dream of class mobility dissipates when society locks down, the economy stalls, the death count mounts and everyone’s future is frozen inside their own crowded apartment or palatial mansion. The difference between the two has never been more obvious. The #guillotine2020 hashtag is jumping. As grocery aisles turn bare, some have suggested that perhaps they ought to eat the rich.So when Pharrell Williams asked his followers to donate to aid frontline responders, they virtually grabbed him by the pants and shook him upside-down, telling him to empty his own deep pockets. Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard have been “outed” as landlords. As Ellen DeGeneres lounged on her sofa, video-chatting with famous friends, the comedian Kevin T. Porter solicited stories from service workers and Hollywood peons who had experienced run-ins with DeGeneres, whom he called “notoriously one of the meanest people alive.”
The film “Parasite,” in which a poor South Korean family cleverly cons its way into the home of a rich one, has been converted into a well-worn social-media retort whenever celebrities offer glimpses inside their own manses; the reference succeeds partly because so many superrich people have such blandly similar minimalist homes.
It must be a very hard time to be so famous. Celebrities are not among the very wealthiest Americans — Lopez’s reported net worth is a fraction of a percent of Jeff Bezos’s — but they are the ones who are tasked with liaising with the general public, offering vicarious access to their lifestyles. Celebrity culture glorifies them not just for their performances or personas but for their wealth itself — their blowout child birthday parties, car collections, plastic surgeries and property ownership. From “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” to “My Super Sweet Sixteen” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” the ability to watch (or hate-watch) this spectacle of excess has functioned as a bizarre appeasement for inequality.
But this compact rests on the celebrity’s ability to seem to move easily between the elite and the masses, to be aspirational and approachable at once. And under normal circumstances, they are accustomed to receiving accolades for “using their platforms” to “raise awareness” in the service of bland initiatives for the public good.
But our awareness has never been so easy to rouse, and misuse. Celebrities have a captive audience of traumatized people who are glued to the internet, eyes darting toward trending topics for clues to processing the unimaginable horrors looming just outside, and instead are finding Madonna bathing in a rose petal-strewn bath.
Stunts like Gal Gadot’s crowdsourced famous-person cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” are tone-deaf in more ways than one. Most of these people cannot even sing; their contributions suggest that the very appearance of a celebrity is a salve, as if a pandemic could be overcome by star power alone.
One of the ironies of this moment is that though we feel less like stars than ever, they seem to feel more like us — or at least, what they think it must feel like to be us. DeGeneres is going “stir-crazy” from having to stay inside her enormous home; Katy Perry has lost track of the days she’s spent inside her enormous home.
Madonna has elevated celebrity delusion to a kind of performance art. In a series of oddly professional Instagram videos suggesting a perhaps dangerous concentration of staff members in her home, she can be seen undergoing a bizarre healing procedure at her personal health clinic and bending over a typewriter in a kimono, pontificating about the social effects of the virus.
For Madonna, performing for the public and holding fans in her thrall is yet “another luxury gone, for now,” she says in one video. In its place is the disturbing sensation of normalcy. “The audience in my house is not amused by me,” she says. Later, from the bath, she concludes that Covid-19 is “the great equalizer.”
And yet the antics of these celebrities, even as they are publicly shamed, still tug on our attention. I have never thought about Gal Gadot so much in my life. The coronavirus is the odd crisis where doing nothing actually does help — staying inside can save lives. And in addition to food and rent money and medical attention, people require sufficient entertainment to weather the lockdown.
But 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. Even as the power of pure celebrity tanks, the value of a true entertainer rises. Give me Patti LuPone on the jukebox and Yo-Yo Ma on the cello. Give me Anthony Hopkins playing the piano for his purring cat. Give me January Jones boiling up a “human stew” in her bathtub and Wendy Williams showing off the 5-foot Betty Boop statue that she spray-painted to appear black. Give me the hand-drawn hearts on Stevie Nicks’s note reporting that she is ensconced with her assistant and dogs, self-soothing with the music of Harry Styles.Give me Britney Spears, who has emerged from this crisis as the rare celebrity to tap into the need for radical social change. Spears recently posted a bright yellow manifesto on Instagram from the internet artist Mimi Zhu. “We will feed each other, re-destribute wealth, strike,” it reads. “Communion moves beyond walls.” Spears added three red roses to the caption, an ambiguous symbol reflecting either her support for the Democratic Socialists of America or perhaps her simple affinity for floral emoji.Spears is an unexpected figure to lead us through quarantine, but a fitting one: She has been held under a conservatorship for 12 years, her movements and finances controlled by her father and overseen by the courts. When she posts about finding community in social captivity, she knows what she’s talking about.
As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the United States, many influencers are using their platforms to educate their followers about symptoms and testing, and to encourage them to stay inside.
The TikTok star Charli D’Amelio, for instance, started a “distance dance challenge to promote social distancing. In an effort to make the diagnostic process more transparent, the YouTuber Joe Vulpis and his girlfriend shared a video about testing positive for Covid-19. The parenting blogger Ilana Wiles, who is currently self-quarantining, posted on Saturday about the need for others who are symptomatic, or have been in contact with a symptomatic person, to do the same. Doctors and nurses on social media have also been working to debunk coronavirus myths and promote public health measures.
According to CreatorIQ, an influencer marketing platform, engagement on influencer posts about the coronavirus has surpassed 2.9 billion impressions. And as the U.S. population has become largely homebound, screen time is way up.
But some of the posts circulating on social media display behavior that defies current guidelines to cease nonessential travel. A few high-profile lifestyle influencers, for example, have posted about fleeing New York City to smaller towns and other states, potentially endangering local communities and inadvertently encouraging their followers to do the same.
On March 26, just eight days after she tested positive for Covid-19, the fashion influencer Arielle Charnas alerted her 1.3 million followers that she would be leaving her Manhattan apartment with her husband and daughters and heading to a house in the Hamptons. The next day she posted a photo of herself and her daughter strolling around the neighborhood. When people got angry, she turned off the comments on her posts.
On Saturday, Naomi Davis, a New York City lifestyle blogger known online as Taza, shared that she and her family were also leaving the city and “heading west” in an RV. “My heart is breaking for what is happening in New York where I live and around the world right now,” she wrote in the post. “And after two full weeks in the apartment, we made the family decision to drive out west so we can have a little more space (namely some outdoor space for the kids) for a little while.”
This week, the food blogger Ali Maffucci also left the New York metropolitan area for Florida with her family. She said that none of them are symptomatic, but she believes that people in her building may be sick.
In an Instagram post that has since been deleted, Ms. Maffucci wrote of living in “a high-rise building with hundreds of people” and fearing that every time she and her family leave to run errands, “we’re at risk of contracting Covid-19.” They can’t breathe fresh air without “worrying,” she wrote in the post, and “after I saw a woman collapse in our lobby, I couldn’t stay there anymore.”All three women stressed that, upon reaching their destinations, they would take precautions to avoid the spread of disease. Ms. Charnas said in a statement through her publicist that she is following “doctor’s recommendations to a tee” and taking “every precaution to ensure we did not and will not come into contact, six feet apart or otherwise, with any other individual for the foreseeable future.”Ms. Maffucci said her family would quarantine for two weeks upon their arrival in Florida. She also packed food for the road to eliminate unnecessary stops. Ms. Davis posted that she decided to rent an RV in order to avoid hotels and also packed meals so as to limit outside human interaction.
Followers and medical experts, however, were not satisfied with these measures.
“I think it’s really dangerous and personally idiotic,” said Dr. Darien Sutton, an emergency room physician who has been using social media to educate the public about the coronavirus. “When I see these influencers travel around, I think they’re setting a really poor example of how to appropriately act during a pandemic. You have to hold yourself accountable for the possibility of transmitting this virus to people who are more vulnerable, and there’s no way to be 100 percent sure you don’t have the virus.”
Followers of all three influencers were outraged. “I can’t understand Arielle Charnas testing positive, sharing it with everybody, then neglecting self-isolation,” the podcast host and influencer Kate Kennedy said Monday in an Instagram Story. “If I was watching her experience and that was my depiction of Coronavirus what would I think? That it’s unserious.” She criticized Ms. Charnas for “perceiving C.D.C. guidelines as optional.”“You are literally an influencer, and this will influence people to make similar (irresponsible and selfish) choices,” a commenter wrote on Ms. Maffucci’s post. Ms. Davis did not respond to a request for comment.
“We all make mistakes,” Ms. Charnas said in an email statement, “including me, especially when a crisis such as this is developing so quickly. My family and I apologize to those we have offended for not appearing to be taking this crisis seriously, but I am absolutely committed to making informed, responsible decisions for my family and community.”
Ms. Maffucci said that the decision to leave her apartment was not one that she took lightly. She was prepared for the backlash, but she ultimately felt that her family would be safer in Florida.
“When people say, ‘Why do you think you can go and just spread it around?’ I don’t think they understand that if I stay home in Jersey City I risk interacting with and infecting more people than staying in a private home in Florida where I’m self-quarantining for 14 days and able to see nobody but my family,” she said.
“I think that the public health officials, of course, say shelter in place, but what they’re not taking into consideration are all those situations like mine,” she added. “I think we do have a responsibility as influencers to go along with what public health officials are saying. But also, we’re scared. This is the decision we made and we tried to make it safely.”
Mordechai Sacks, a physician assistant and primary care provider at Larchmont Family Medicine, said that the idea that any of these people are safer in smaller communities or other states is a flawed one. Many vacation towns have fewer medical resources to deal with a sudden onslaught of sick and contagious out-of-towners, and Florida is full of older citizens, who are at higher risk of becoming critically ill with the virus, he said. “New York City is by far better equipped to deal with this,” Mr. Sacks said. “We have a bunch of top hospitals, we have leadership who are doing the right thing, and top clinicians.”
“The Hamptons is an example of a community that’s not used to having this volume,” said Dara Kass, associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “The townships are very nervous, because their local hospitals and facilities are not built for people living there full time, they’re not staffed up right now. A lot of these vacation communities people flee to are at capacity.” Traveling also endangers at-risk people these influencers or their families may come into contact with on the way.
The primary issue many medical experts take issue with, however, is not the influencers’ decision to leave the city against public health guidelines, but that they’re promoting this message to potentially millions of people.
“Some of these social media influencers would be a lot better off using their platform to amplify public health officials,” Dr. Kass said, but at minimum, they should “acknowledge what public health officials are telling people.”
“If you’re going to do something that counters public health messaging,” she added, “don’t put it on social media.”


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