A COVID-19 casualty that’s not so bad: Celebrity obsession

by | Feb 21, 2021 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Last week, the most powerful celebrity couple in the world announced they were divorcing.

For once, America didn’t quiver.

Why is that? Two years ago, the news of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian calling it quits would have been water cooler topic No. 1. He’s one of the biggest stars in music. She’s the most powerful force in the history of reality TV. Together, they have hundreds of millions of social media followers. And their every move, post and photograph has been scrutinized worldwide. Remember when Kim’s bare butt photo nearly broke the internet?

Yet these days, we don’t gather around water coolers. And last week’s announcement of KimYe’s split was quickly glossed over for news about Ted Cruz’s jaunt to Cancun or Andrew Cuomo’s hot water situation in New York. Heck, even the Mars landing got bigger billing.

The celebrity business has gone cold in this country. It’s taken a massive hit from COVID-19. And no one should feel sorry about that. On the contrary. You could argue it’s one of the few good things to emerge from The Year of Coronavirus.

Think about it. When was the last time you heard or cared about a movie star dating another movie star, or marrying one, or cheating on one? When was the last time some crazy promotional stunt had the whole country talking about a rapper or an actor?

Gossip feels as stupid as it is. And the lack of new movie buzz, celebrity appearances, concert tours or Coachella-like festivals have robbed spotlight grabbers of their relevance — and therefore of their dominance. People like Dr. Anthony Fauci, an 80-year-old, white-haired, infectious disease specialist, have taken their place.

Talk about tables turning.

Do they feel your pain?

When COVID-19 sent Americans scrambling into their homes a year ago, some thought the celebrity world would boom. After all, with everyone locked in, nothing to do but watch TV or be online, wasn’t that a perfect scenario for the entertainment class to hog the stage? Didn’t movie stars grow larger-than-life during World War II?

That was then. In this war, the entertainers were locked down as well. Who really wanted to watch a late-night host like Jimmy Fallon fawn over an actor through a Zoom screen? It was dull and often cringeworthy. It didn’t seem to matter because it didn’t.

On top of that, celebrities made a string of tone-deaf moves in the early months of COVID-19. Remember Madonna in her luxurious bathtub telling the world the virus was wonderful in that it “made us all equal.” Or Gwyneth Paltrow hawking expensive skirts and sex toys while millions lost their jobs? Ellen DeGeneres compared quarantining in her multimillion dollar home to “jail.” Arnold Schwarzenegger posted warnings from his hot tub.

Perhaps the biggest clunker of all was when Gal Gadot, of “Wonder Woman” fame, organized a celebrity digital sing-along of John Lennon’s “Imagine” to ease everyone’s pain. It was worse than it sounds. And it doesn’t sound good.

These efforts, while liked by some steadfast fans, were overwhelmingly disdained by a public that was in no mood for rich, pampered stars to tell us how we’re all in this together. When media mogul David Geffen posted a beauty shot of his $600 million yacht and wrote “Isolated in the Grenadines, avoiding the virus. I’m hoping everybody is staying safe” well, you could hear the sound of people’s hands slapping their foreheads from here to the Indian Ocean.

Virus is the new star

The cumulative effect was a divorce from our entertainment obsession. And you know what? We did just fine without stars on couches hawking their films, or breathless headlines about weekend box office figures. Nobody missed the bad boy behavior of rock bands on the road. We actually didn’t need Instagram posts from parties that “influencers” were paid to attend.

When everyone is tucked in fear, trying to avoid an enemy outside the door, fame for fame’s sake seems awfully trivial. The message of “we’re all in this together” doesn’t work as an audience builder. All it does is remind people “Hey, that guy’s no better than me.” Or “that woman doesn’t deserve special medical treatment.”

If anything, the virus has leveled the reverence between regular folks and the celebrity class. It’s one thing to pay to see a good-looking person on a silver screen. It’s another to let that person get ahead of you for a vaccine.

You could argue America is better off for having sidelined its obsession with the rich and famous. Not that it’s gone completely. The recent brushups over “The Bachelor” or a Britney Spears documentary prove that.

And once COVID-19 is controlled, and movies, concerts, sporting events and all their attendant glitter returns, it’s likely gushing fans will race back as well.

But for now, why should anyone care about Harry and Meghan? Or who’ll get how much when Kim and Kanye sign their papers?

The old expression goes “if a tree falls in the woods but no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?” The same holds for celebrity during a pandemic. If the audience is preoccupied with saving their house, their job, their lives, who’s hooking up or splitting up doesn’t make — or deserve — a peep.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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