Article by Natalie Reilly /
The Sydney Morning Herald /
April 6, 2020 /
Click here to view original /
Gwyneth Paltrow. Promoter of vagina steaming. Lover of soup cleanses. Mother to a daughter named Apple. Creator of “conscious uncoupling”. And yet, right now, she is nailing social media.
Paltrow has managed, amid a global pandemic of which her country is the new epicentre, to communicate in practical and inoffensive ways on her Instagram.
In recent weeks, the Oscar winner turned lifestyle mogul has been busy promoting charities and showing her 6.9 million followers the intricacies of her own social distancing methods. Last week, donning a face mask and disposable gloves, Paltrow detailed simply the measures she was taking to self-isolate and urged others to do the same. “My heart goes out to everyone directly affected or simply in fear. We will get through and I bet you our humanity will shine like never before,” she wrote.
Her ability to not be elitist at this difficult moment is commendable. But considering her track record (c’mon, who could forget the jade eggs?) it’s also a little unnerving.
Even when promoting content on her multi million-dollar website, Goop, she’s managing to make it somehow… not the worst. On Wednesday she and her new husband, film producer Brad Falchuck, did a Zoom Q&A with Paltrow’s marriage counsellor, where they talked about how to put up with your partner in quarantine – an issue couples around the world are now grappling with.
It’s a tricky time to be famous. People normally look to celebrities for cues on how to live their best life, not shelter in place. So what happens when these icons of aspiration try to engage with an audience that is suffering? How do these humans we follow online because they are beautiful and rich communicate without coming off as tone-deaf?
It’s something Madonna perhaps should have have reflected on before labelling the coronavirus crisis a great equaliser – while wearing thousands of dollars’ worth of jewellery in a bathtub fit for Marie Antoinette.
“This isn’t the time to take a milk bath while wearing full-make-up and jewellery” says Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a pop culture expert at the University of Melbourne. “Though I suspect Madonna thought she was being philosophical and contributing something. She wasn’t.” The popstar has since taken the video down.
Even all-star singalongs are now dangerous territory, as Gal Gadot infamously learnt last month.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, actress Gal Gadot assembled celebrities to sing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ on social media.
The Wonder Woman actor shared a video of herself singing John Lennon’s Imagine to her camera, along with big names including Mark Ruffalo and Natalie Portman. Let’s just say hearing lyrics about there “being no heaven” wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered.
When the USA, the highest populated celebrity country on earth, becomes the new epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis, celebrity singalongs, workouts, and news about the latest body shaping underwear suddenly seem trite. Or more trite.
Even the group effort put in by the likes of David Beckham and model Ashley Graham, holding up signs saying who they stay home for, was poorly received, with many followers commenting that lower income and frontline workers simply do not have that luxury.
Ultimately, celebrities have to find a way to stay relevant and likeable while the rest of the world is trudging through hell. Something Rosewarne believes is not impossible.
“Celebrities have big platforms. They can use them for good – providing health information and fundraising [like Paltrow], or for what they are good at: being entertaining,” she says, adding that in a time of unprecedented fear and suffering, a little bit of humility and self-awareness go a long way. So now is probably not the time for Elle Macpherson to promote her “wellness” powders, for example, even if, as she claims, they boost immunity.
“Doing the same kinds of things we’re all doing – cooking and eating at home, watching Netflix while wearing a sheet mask – is what makes celebrities seem likeable,” Rosewarne says. Just look at Jennifer Garner, who has, like many of us, had a crack at baking, making memes, exercising at home and promoting charities.
“They’ll probably never be genuinely relatable to most of us, but watching them bake cakes, wrangling pets and kids, all makes them seem like real people who are in a situation that, in some ways at least, is like our own.”
And for those who never pretended to be like us, there is still a way forward. Take Rihanna, who used her platform to promote her British Vogue cover, in which she appears with writing on her face. But this was after she donated $US5 million in aid to countries affected by coronavirus through her Clara Lionel Foundation.
It’s a stark contrast to Justin Bieber, leaping from one piece of furniture to the other in his luxury apartment, or Kim Kardashian West, telling us her hair is going to be “so healthy after this quarantined time.”
“Not being mean,” wrote one commenter “but thousands are dying! And you’re talking about your hair?” Hundreds echoed this.
Perhaps some celebrities can offer us a different purpose at this moment: a place to vent. And then for those who get it right, like Paltrow, there’s a well-earned uptick in followers, but also a chance to spread hope.