The continuing COVID-19 epidemic is an egalitarian crisis, affecting the famous and non-famous alike. As Americans self-isolate and practice social distancing, the internet has filled with funny, informative and occasionally head-scratching posts.
Among the deluge of content, celebrities have been using their platforms to entertain and, sometimes, confound fans.
Many actors, singers, and comedians have been turning to social media to educate their followers on useful hand-washing and isolation procedures. Some have been successfully distracting their fans with fun content, while still others have incurred broad mockery with their attempts.
In the middle of a pandemic where factual information can save lives, many celebrities have used social media platforms for public service announcements (PSAs).
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo enlisted three New York City-based actors — Ben Stiller, Robert DeNiro, and Danny DeVito — to create videos, which he then shared via Twitter. The videos featured the actors explaining the importance of self-isolating, with the 75-year-old DeVito warning that if young people didn’t work to prevent the spread to the elderly, “I’m out of here.”
Many celebrities have used their platforms to share informative videos on proper hand-washing techniques for children. Those have included Kristen Bell, star of “The Good Place” and Disney’s “Frozen,” and R&B pop star Mariah Carey.
Former R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe took to Twitter on March 17 to briefly sing his band’s world famous song, “It’s the end of the world as we know It (and I feel fine).”
Stipe followed the song with a message of hope, encouraging his followers to stay at home, wash their hands, stay six feet away from others and “be careful where you get your information from.”
Acknowledging the irony, Stipe advised people to go to CDC.gov to get proper information and not rely on social media for facts.
As Stipe stated, social media is a place where misinformation can spread easily, particularly about COVID-19. It’s also a place where celebrities can earn the ire of users for sending a bad message to fans.
On March 17, “Lost”–actress Evangeline Lilly faced a backlash after posting on Instagram that she had taken her kids to a gymnastics camp, despite calls for isolation. Responding to commentators who took issue with her post that included the hashtag #businessasusual, the actress dismissed concerns about COVID-19, calling it merely a “respiratory flu.”
Lilly also said she would not be self-isolating, despite living with her father who had stage 4 leukemia. “Some people value their lives over freedom,” Lilly said, “some people value freedom over their lives. We all make our choices.”
Actress Vanessa Hudgens also received a swift backlash after a video of her talking about the coronavirus spread across social media. In an Instagram Live video, the actress downplayed the severity of the virus. Many took issue with her saying, “Even if everybody gets it, like, yeah, people are gonna die, which is terrible but, like, inevitable?”
A day after she posted the video to Instagram, she responded with an apology post on Twitter, saying, “I realize my words were insensitive and not at all appropriate for the situation our country and the world are in right now.”
Probably the one of the most ridiculed of COVID-19 celebrity responses was posted by “Wonder Woman” actress Gal Gadot.
On Thursday, March 19, Gadot posted a video to her Instagram in which she says days of quarantine have gotten her “feeling a bit philosophical.” After discussing her thoughts, she launches into an a cappella version of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
The clip then cuts away to dozens of other isolated celebrities, each singing a line or two of the song. Among the famous faces are Jimmy Fallon, host of “The Tonight Show,” Oscar-winning actress Amy Adams, “Game of Thrones” actor Pedro Pascal and jazz singer Norah Jones.
The well-intentioned video immediately generated mockery, including parody videos, humorous remixes and the general consensus that the singalong was “cringy.”
Celebrities and PSAs go back generations well before the rise of social media, with the famous frequently uniting to talk, or sing, about various causes.
Their efforts, however, have not always been well received.
One of the most famous instances occurred in the 1980s. Dozens of world-famous singers, including Bono, George Michael, Paul McCartney and David Bowie, sang on the charity single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to raise money for victims of famine in Ethiopia. The successful venture raised US$14 million for famine relief.
Still, many have called the song and its lyrical content terrible, including one of its co-creators, Bob Geldof.
Celebrity PSAs and parodies of such videos have become so ubiquitous that many causes have started parodying PSAs in their own celebrity-filled videos.
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