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Viral Reactions: The Smugness of Celebrity Self-Isolation

The rush to elevate self-isolation to Olympian heights as a way to combat the spread of COVID-19 has gotten to the celebrities. Sports figures are proudly tweeting and taking pictures from hotel rooms (Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton being a case in point). Comics are doing their shows from home. Thespians are extolling the merits of such isolation and the dangers of the contagion. All speak from the summit of comfort, the podium of pampered wealth: embrace social distancing; embrace self-isolation. Bonds of imagined solidarity are forged. If we can do it, so can you.

The message of warning varies in tones of condescension and encouragement. Taylor Swift prefers to focus on her cat. “For Meredith, self-quarantining is a way of life,” she posted on Instagram. “Be like Meredith.” Meredith, of course, had little choice in the matter. John Legend delivered a concert on Instagram, wife Chrissy Teigen beside towelled and quaffing wine. “Social distancing is important, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. I did a little at-home performance to help lift your spirits.” Then there was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who actually boasted two miniature ponies. “We will get through this together.” So good of him to let us know.

Others, like model Naomi Campbell, can barely hide their revelations, moments of acute self-awakening amidst crisis. “I’m learning what it means to put my busy or complicated life on hold and just to be still for a while, in one place, with hyper awareness of the people and spaces directly around me and the moment to moment actions I am making.” A long dormant, cerebral world, awoken by a virus.

Similarly, singer Lady Gaga has found that within that deodorised, heavily marketed form of celebrity is the heart of a human. “This is reminding me I think a lot of us,” she reflected on Instagram “what it is to both feel like and be like a human being.”

Self-isolation has seen the rich with their entourages making an escape for holiday homes and vast retreats. Then come the eccentric and the slightly ludicrous options: the well-stocked and equipped bunker; the safe room. Such an approach is far more representative of the estrangement between haves and have-nots. “One of the best options is in Middle America,” comes the recommendation from Adam Popescu in Vanity Fair. “If you’re part of the 1%, why wait for sluggish government support when you can burrow 175 feet underground in a refurbished Air Force missile silo in rural Kansas that markets itself as a survival condo?”

The condo in question, the brainchild of developer Larry Hall, sports nine-foot think concrete walls, epoxy-hardened for good measure. Their purpose, ostensibly, is to withstand nuclear blasts. Current interest, however, is over a possible occupancy to ride out the coronavirus pandemic.

Florida entrepreneur Tyler Allen has already reserved his spot. While he has “other fortified locations”, he has a preference for the Kansas condo project. “Some of my hard facilities have a bunker but it doesn’t have protection for biological infection, doesn’t have protection for radiation. The survival condo has layering; it has it all. I’m protected from everything.” His advice is not cloying and congratulatory. It is more of the self-preservation school of thinking. Let the idiots watch the disaster unfold on phones, screens and social media while I go about arming myself for doom.

All this excitement about upright behaviour provides a noisy distraction from those who are simply in no position to isolate themselves. Food from increasingly bare counters must still be put on the table. Doctors and nurses must still perform their dangerous tasks in increasingly overwhelmed health systems. The menial jobs where contact with the public inevitably continue.

Then come those who have been in isolation well before the term came into vogue: the forgotten elderly, the impoverished, the vulnerable. But even here, the celebrities lurk with message and instructions, waiting to pounce. Never let chances to do the good deed, and talk about it, go by. At the very least, it has presented opportunities to tell others to do good works for the poor. For actor Ryan Reynolds, “COVID-19 has brutally impacted older adults and low income families … If you can give, these orgs need your help.”

Reynolds and his wife Blake Lively have donated $1 million to be divided by Feeding America and Food Banks Canada. Lively, for her part, has a lesson. “Though we must be distancing ourselves to protect those who don’t have the opportunity to self-quarantine, we can stay connected,” she suggested in an Instagram post. “Remember the lonely and the isolated. Facetime, Skype, make a video.”

As with other forms of life, combating disease comes with its hierarchies. Luxuries and miseries are unevenly distributed. The allocation of resources is skewed. But valiant efforts are made to suggest that the well moneyed celebrity shares the lot with the proles and the hoi polloi. An Esquire contribution does just that, though the effort is risibly unconvincing. “Celebrities, they’re just like us!” it cheekily proclaims. “Self-isolating in their cavernous houses, dancing up their marble stairs, pouring themselves a crystal tumbler of citrus-scented tequila and sauntering into the home-cinema to wait for all this to blow over.”


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  1. Keitha Granville

    Basic income for all, no exceptions.
    No big bank exec salaries, no sports star salaries, nothing extra for anyone.
    Those who have it all now can just get on with it, and maybe spare a million or two to help those around them who need it. Put money into food banks, provide assistance to all the minions who have worked for them to enable them to be the super wealthy.

    Eventually they might all have to work out how to use the vacuum cleaner, or clean the toilet all by themselves.

  2. Kathryn

    WOW, self-isolation in a $20 Million dollar mansion complete with a luxurious self-contained movie theatre, thousands of dollars worth of wine and upmarket spirits at your finger tips, the services of a chef, a couple of maids and a limousine-driving chauffeur at your beck and call !!! If THAT’S self-isolation (Los Angeles style), no wonder Howard Hughes preferred comfortable isolation to socialisation! My God, cry me a bloody river!

    Mind you, these type of smug, supercilious celebrities are getting so boring, so self-promoting and so detached from reality, it is beyond belief! Have they ever given ONE THOUGHT to the forced self-isolation of a vulnerable aged pensioner living in a tiny, dark, lonely little apartment (or squalid little house) too scared to venture outside on their own thanks to the ramped-up fear-mongering of self-serving politicians? Do these millionaire hermits even know of the existence of thousands of elderly people out there who don’t even have the comfort of family or friends around them or the convenience of wealth to cushion their isolation – an isolation that, in all probability, has been their no-choice lifestyle for decades past and decades to come? Get down from your marble towers, STOP preaching and GET REAL – you’re not fooling anyone!

  3. Ill fares the land

    Unhappily, COVID-19 is a grim reminder of just how awful the global “we” have become. We can argue that the start of the virus spread in Wuhan, seemingly as a result of illegal trafficking in various animals is really just a metaphor for how the acts of a few can infect the world. The world’s superpowers and “wannabe” superpowers have spread contagion for decades, if not centuries. Not contagion in the form of plagues necessarily, but spreading their self-justified views about how the world should work. In fairness, I did like one US talk-show host who said that because of his being at home, he discovered that he has two children and that, incredulously, it was possible to actually make your own coffee at home!

    But the indulged celebrities and the selection of a range of other people posting their nothing lives in social media show how much we revere celebrities and how much meaningless prattle we are willing to absorb (a lot). What they are doing is not entirely without merit either and we can argue that staying “connected” serves a purpose. But the rampant, selfish and aggressive hoarding of foodstuffs shows only that we have in fact lost our connections to each other. In fact, since the evil Thatcher and Reagan extolled us all to forget about a society and focus on individualism (which was already the American way to a large degree), governments and marketers have all relied very heavily on setting up societies where out tribalism becomes the dominant force and we are encouraged to be suspicious of an hateful towards each other. Consumerism depends on competition and selfishness – how else could we be enticed to buy gas-guzzling SUV’s, dual-cabs and now “a truck that eats utes for breakfast” and mostly because the marketers tell us we will truly affirm who we are and/or, others will give us the attention we so desperately seek and deserve. Just like Morrison, Trump, Johnson et alia, the marketers treat us as gullible schmucks – and we oblige by being exactly what they think we are.

    In truth, surely, the abhorrent behaviours some are showing surprise us, but perhaps that is not because people have not displayed those behaviours before (as a “global species” we surely are abjectly awful – selfish, self-centred, wasteful and prone to outrage at the merest hint of any view that dares oppose our own “based totally on opinion” views). What makes it worse is seeing so much awful behaviour on such a large scale all at the one time.

  4. Pingback: Viral Reactions: The Smugness of Celebrity Self-Isolation #newsoz.org #auspol – News Oz

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