The pandemic is exposing the weaknesses of celebrity activism

Celebrities need to prioritize meaningful action over social media slacktivism

Image by: Shelby Talbot
Celebrities can't substitute social media messages for meaningful activism.

Celebrities are just like the rest of us—if you discount their privilege and ability to create meaningful change with enviable ease.

Some are making meaningful donations during the COVID-19 crisis or raising thousands of dollars through charity initiatives, while others are singing covers of “Imagine.” Like it or not, celebrities have a significant amount of influence, and this influence manifests in a variety of ways during difficult times—current pandemic included. 

Unsettling close-ups and questionable vocals aside, the Gal Gadot-organized dilution of John Lennon’s “Imagine” is illustrative of one of the cornerstones of unproductive celebrity culture: slacktivism. 

Slacktivism hasn’t always had the overt negative connotation it has today. The term was originally coined to describe the positive impact even small online actions can have thanks to the global platform created by social media.

The majority of criticism for slacktivism stems from the unfortunate reality that too many of us are replacing traditional activism with likes and retweets. It can feel easier, or even safer, to repost a viral video about front-line healthcare workers to your Instagram story than volunteering for a non-profit working to supply them with personal protective equipment (PPE). 

While spreading awareness is always valuable, engaging in social causes from behind a screen can devolve into regurgitating platitudes that don’t get enough done.

Like us ordinary folks, A-list celebrities can fall into the comforting lull of online social and political activism. It’s probably easy to think that a post aimed at comforting people during difficult times constitutes meaningful action because it’s going to reach millions of followers.

While Gadot’s video was clearly well-intentioned, watching a disheveled-looking Will Ferrell croon, “No need for greed and hunger” isn’t what people need right now—or, really, ever.

People need jobs. They need mental health resources. They need those with time and money to spare to give even a little to help out.

If you have the means and opportunity to do some good during a global crisis, it begs the question: is there not something better you can do for others than record a five-second clip of yourself ‘singing’ on your front-facing camera?

There are plenty of celebrities using their platform and privilege to do important work right now. Actor Misha Collins’ non-profit has done incredible work in the last two months, from raising money to address coronavirus-confounded food insecurity to helping first responders source PPE; Guy Fieri has helped to raise over $20 million for out-of-work restaurant workers.

Several of the celebrities in the viral “Imagine” video have engaged in some sort of charitable action for COVID-19 relief themselves. That doesn’t quite erase the tone-deaf sentiment behind the video, but it’s a step in the right direction in terms of meaningful action.

Social media should be regarded as a powerful tool to aid activism, not a substitute for it. This sentiment extends to celebrities, too. Boosting morale and fostering a sense of community is important in times like these.

But for people with the resources and privilege of most celebrities, that can’t be the only action they’re taking.


Activism, celebrities

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