Note: this was originally all in one article, that I cut in half. See part 1 on the blog.
Celebs happily enlisted to raise awareness for the #StayAtHome challenges, which is great as social distancing is saving lives. Reese Witherspoon and others are reading bedtime stories to the kids stranded at home, Ellen DeGeneres is calling her celeb pals to uplift the spirits of people stuck inside, and Wonder Woman Gal Gadot is coordinating an “Imagine” singing medley. Some though were so out of touch that their calls for help got incredible backlash. Is that really the best we can do in a crisis of this magnitude? If you have a platform and an audience but are not demanding better from the government, what the hell are you doing!?
In America, fame is the only currency that can compete with money. So my roommate had an awesome idea: why not ask those celebrities who you’ve bought something from for a refund or a % of your sale back in order to help fans survive the economic meltdown?
In all seriousness, I think in this celebrity culture we live in, we could really benefit from turning our backs on them. Remember: they need YOU, to like their posts, buy their perfume, watch their ads, consume their content. Not the other way around. Why not instead follow and amplify ordinary workers, citizens, doctors, the ones currently being hailed as heroes who don’t get any of the recognition and economic advantages.
Cardi B, who is always more political than she is given credit for, spoke out on Instagram about the inequality between A-listers who got access to testing, healthcare and could afford to confine themselves in mansions, while the majority of workers can’t even get tested and for whom confinement means being crammed in small apartments. It is no surprise that women of color, who have historically been activists out of necessity, are taking on this responsibility once again. But it’s not right, and all of us should be all hands on deck speaking out about these inequalities.
The fact that Cardi B flawlessly covered the topics of privilege, out of touch celebrity culture, flaws in Trump's response to COVID, and the merits of universal healthcare all in a 4 minute video is truly incredible https://t.co/XfUWvOtpnP
— Angel (@ngelvsworld) March 25, 2020
Ecofascism & social Darwinism
The cherry on the cake was the “thank you coronavirus” video shared on Instagram by actress Jaime King (taken down after a flood of comments). It bears repeating: it’s not okay to let people die and to ignore their suffering as their livelihoods are being destroyed in order to reach an ecological ideal. There are other ways to get there. One way would be political action and activism, but it’s been conveniently ignored. It is much easier to post a video from the comfort of one’s couch.
Like millions of people, I am hoping we will learn the lessons from the crisis to reevaluate our priorities, and our planet. If we could change society overnight to respond to the virus, why couldn’t we do the same to combat the greatest threat our species has ever faced – climate change – and why couldn’t we rethink our priorities and our busy lives? But make no mistakes. The rich, famous and powerful who rejoice over the slow down have no intention of changing their consumerist and capitalist lifestyles and to challenge the social status quo – a status quo that is most definitely playing a huge part in climate change. (For more on this check out the brilliant book “Winners Take All” by Anand Giridharadas, and read this piece about how “Coronavirus Is Speeding Up the Amazonification of the Planet“.) No, they are okay instead with sacrificing our most vulnerable workers and turning a blind eye to their suffering while we “weather the storm” and come back to a transformed world, as if that would magically happen. As one of my favorite writers Aja Barber puts it: “Many remark on what wonders this time will do for the environment which sounds pretty ecofascist-y if we’re not noting that people don’t have to die for these changes (…).”
In another twist of events, Governor Cuomo of New York, hit back at Donald Trump who said “This cure is worse than the problem” as the country’s economy is all but stopped for the quarantine. Here, the ideal is different, but the logic is the same: in order to get to a certain idea of social order, we are okay with sacrificing a few. Why not let some people die, as long as we can get the economy back on the road.
My mother is not expendable. Your mother is not expendable.
We will not put a dollar figure on human life.
We can have a public health strategy that is consistent with an economic one.
No one should be talking about social darwinism for the sake of the stock market.
— Archive: Governor Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 24, 2020
There will be no easy way out of this: if we want a different world, we will have to fight for it, and use all of the democratic and political tools in our arsenal to get there.
“Rethink our social hierarchy”
They were never “unskilled workers.”
They were always essential.
And it’s WAY past time they got the respect they deserve w/ a living wage, paid sick leave, guaranteed healthcare, hazard pay, & more.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 22, 2020
It seems to me that this crisis has forced us to rethink our social hierarchy in radical ways. The people treated as invisible, as doing unimportant work, are now the most essential workers in America. Our life lines are the grocery clerks, food delivery drivers, mail carriers.
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) March 24, 2020
As the French sociologist Camille Peugny writes in Libération: “We can even speak of two labor markets: the first, that of qualified employees, and the second to which are confined all these under or poorly paid and poorly protected employees and salaried workers. With this crisis, many of the “victors” of globalization are staying home, and we leave out those who are partly at their service. It will be a long-term political battle to take this division of labor into account. But one can no longer ignore the total imbalance between the hierarchy of income and social prestige on the one hand and that of social utility on the other.”
Many have been calling for a profound reevaluation of our social order due to this crisis. Was “Parasite” a prophecy or just a fantasy? It’s up to us to decide.