"Celebrity culture is burning," claimed the New York Times in March 2020. With the response to the "Imagine" video as an immediate example, the then-nascent pandemic had already "disrupted relations among the masses, the elites, and the celebrities who liaise between them."
Amid that still cringe-inducing clip, the performative black squares and "I Take Responsibility" campaign in June, and the gauche, privileged decisions that peaked with Kim Kardashian's private island birthday celebration in October (to infamously "pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time"), optimistic thinkpieces forecasted the end of celebrity culture all year. From BBC: "Is the age of the celebrity over?" From Input: "COVID-19 killed celebrity culture as we knew it." From The Ringer: "The Celebrities Are Not All Right." More recently, the Globe and Mail published "In 2021, let’s take a step back from our obsession with celebrity culture."
Jezebel provided a rebuttal to these ideas in December: "Not Even Coronavirus Can Stop the Cult of Celebrity." As writer Rich Juzwiak explained, "We’re still breathing (minus the 300,000+ American lives that coronavirus claimed), and as long as we have extra time and attention, it will be trained to society’s fortunate." In the wake of the insurrection at the Capitol, it's clear that the machinery of celebrity culture grinds on, no matter what chaos is taking place.
Gossip sites pushed for relevance amid the overwhelming political news. At TooFab: "Karlie Kloss Says She's 'Tried' to Tell In-Laws Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump 'Inciting Violence Is Anti-American.'" From Perez Hilton: "'A Sad Day For America': Celebs React To Storming Of The Capitol." Perhaps the oddest attempt came from E! News, whose shareable Instagram image cards of the mob at the Capitol included celebrity commentary at the bottom, and were popularized on Twitter by writer Carey O'Donnell.
"What in gods name. How in gods name. - Jane Lynch," read one slide (emphasis theirs) beneath a photo of the shirtless QAnon supporter in a horned helmet. You had to laugh at the grasping-at-straws approach, combined with the assumption that the opinions of the day that mattered came from people like P!nk and Sarah Jessica Parker.
This is how it keeps working, though. Celebrities weigh in, however pointless, misguided, or unsolicited their commentary may be, and of course, their silence would also be interpreted as something to weigh in on. ("So many people enabled this," wrote Chris Evans. Evans, as many Twitter users pointed out, has been photographed autographing a missile; posing with Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, and police officers; and starred in the movie whose logo inspired the "MAGA Civil War" merch.)
Gossip rags then amplify celebrity statements like horses with blinders. Twitter users go viral as they make digs at celebrities' half-assed statements. The naysayers, like this blog, attempt to parse what it all means. The cult of celebrity is problematic, sure, but hating celebrity culture still relies on consuming it constantly. Thus, the cycle continues until the next Bad Celebrity Thing.
"To truly change our social structure, we’re gonna need a bigger cataclysm," Juzwiak wrote. Not that anyone is asking for that—but to consume celebrity culture and to vocally espouse it both rely on a level of freedom about what can needlessly take up space in our brains. As Juzwiak smartly concluded: "Be afraid of that which finally breaks our gaze."