Pandemonium: The Disease of Celebrity

This year was already off to a fast start, beginning with Ricky Gervais’ scathing social commentary at the Golden Globes, preceded by Greta Thunberg’s UN address and the mysterious death of Jeffrey Epstein not to mention the run up to the 2020 election. But all that seems to have been sidelined by the global pandemic/lockdown which itself has been eclipsed by a global economic recession if not depression, if not collapse, and all this only months before the big election push.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but who has the energy to look at it in such a detached way when they are so focused on their own survival?

People say that protests don’t work, but just try protesting in the midst of a worldwide lockdown enforced by the military police. That’s really ineffective. We don’t own newspapers or control search engine algorithms or social media. Protesting is all we know how to do.

But instead of going into the streets, people have been forced to ‘stay home, stay safe’ and watch as it all unfolds on empty streets.

With any luck, this pandemic will provide the much-needed meaning and purpose that seems to have been absent in the last version of civilization 2.0.

It has already cleared the air in China and the water in Venice, restored the natural order in Thailand (see: monkey gangs) and given nature all over the planet room to move and breathe again.

But not everyone is taking time off. There are still a few people going to work, showing how important these ‘everyday people’ are to the economy. The otherwise invisible ones, who work in service-oriented jobs that are now classified not only as essential, but frontline, while the bourgeoise ‘stay home’ and instagram about all the innocuous things they have somehow found time to do. Evangeline Lilly, Gal Gadot ‘n’ friends’ Imagine video, David Geffen’s $500 million-dollar boat, Madonna’s ongoing descent into madness etc. etc.

It has, in short, become the most bourgeoise disaster ever, and there is only a few weeks (or months depending on where you live) to get it together and realize what this disaster is really about and how it can make the world a better place when we are released back into it. I’ll go ahead and tell you because time really is short; it is about community, love vs. fear, humility and purpose.

The upper classes have always tried to make everything about them by denying or hiding the fact that it is the working class that supports the entire economy. At no other time is this more apparent than now. With the economy actually evaporating right before our eyes and all because people haven’t been able to go to work. It’s not that they want to go to work, it’s because they have to. They have no choice. They don’t have the luxury of staying home.

The fact that airlines or cruise ships are going out of business is not a priority. These might be the only positive effects of the pandemic. They will help slow global warming and make the water and air breathable again (to people and fish). And now that meetings and gatherings are being held online, it shows how decadent and unnecessary mass travel is, (barely any travel is essential) and soon we will realize this. You don’t have to go see the pyramids or the Cathedrale Notre-dame, and most working-class people never do anyway.

All that matters is how people will recover from this so they can return to their jobs that they never liked in the first place. Maybe instead of concentrating on ‘getting back to normal’ we can learn from this situation and find a way to change it. How do we benefit from being a citizen if this is the kind of society we live in. What does being a citizen mean? What are we gaining through our citizenship when our taxes go toward funding programs that support businesses rather than workers, landlords rather than tenants who go right back to treating us like serfs and slaves when this is all over.

The only alternative to the political systems currently on offer is anarchy, which for one reason or another is untenable, since everyone’s idea of anarchy tends to be different. Generally, when ‘anarchy’ comes to mind it is in the crudest possible sense of social unrest, whereas in the political sense it is a rather rigorous and logical political structure, however only in a utopia would it be possible or probable that this situation would come about organically.

If the political structure really could change, if we didn’t have to do it this way anymore, that would be fantastic. But it won’t, and it can’t, not with the just in time, a day late and a dollar less system we are currently under, look what has happened already. Those that have been laid off from the service industry, the ones who were already struggling, are the ones suffering most, while the bourgeoise get to sit around making inane videos and posting vapid comments about how privileged they are, without even knowing that they’re doing it.

Nothing about this is new, instead it is very, very old. In his 1957 book Mythologies, Roland Barthes illuminated how contemporary social values create modern myths and how advertising—and all media really—have not only saturated culture, but make up the fabric of culture itself, lionizing the upper class as if they were the only ones who mattered and everything and everyone else as existing simply to serve them, to hold them up in relief as the epitome of societies crowning achievement.

It never ceases to amaze how these people seem to just arrive everywhere they go. What the French call arrivistes, dilletantes, dandies and ingenues; those who receive accolades for being mediocre i.e., the most popular celebrities and musicians.

In our society, mediocrity is celebrated, while extraordinary talent is viewed with skepticism and over-rationality. It is the appeal to popular belief, or in this case an appeal to celebrity; that a million people can’t be wrong. It is the refusal to believe that an ‘ordinary’ person can be as good or as clever as a celebrity, a doctor, or a person in authority. It is their hubris, which has characterized this pandemic and the ensuing economic catastrophe, and which may be the only positive thing that comes out of it, because the gap has finally widened enough for the ‘common’ people to see how far apart they stand from these ‘gods’.

They have been prevented from pushing their way forward, from budging in line, from cutting others off and from making themselves the focus of every social situation, or of every conversation. Instead, they have been forced to distance themselves, step out of the spotlight and broadcast from cheap webcams just like everyone else.

Social distancing and self-isolation has deprived them of that source of social-masturbation, of the selfish, narcissistic look-at-me, I’m-on-display…

They are now the stars in their own boring, play witnessed only by their ‘followers’ and the family that has to hang out with them in these very long weeks to come.

Daniel is a graduate of Vancouver Island University’s Creative Writing and Anthropology programs. He is a reader and contributor to the Tongues of Fire reading series and has appeared in the Crack the Spine, Grey Sparrow, and the Gyroscope Review among others. He lives in Victoria, BC. Read other articles by Daniel.