As Americans, collectively, we have a dubious, worldwide reputation for enjoying a long-lived, starry-eyes-in-rose-colored-glasses love affair with celebrities. Earlier this year, a quick survey of traditional news, social media and digital content headlines would have provided undeniable proof of an unhealthy obsession with the Kardashians, Will/Kate/Meghan/Harry, the Real Housewives of (fill in the blank) and dozens of others clambering for the limelight.
Since the onslaught of COVID-19, we’re seeing the tide turning.
A report from Marie Stafford and Wunderman + Thompson titled “The New Influencers” released over the weekend calls attention to that shift in sentiment. Celebrities and models who typically grace the covers of major publications like Glamour or business and community leaders on the covers of Time Magazine are being displaced by ordinary people. Stafford states, “In a time of crisis, the easy gloss of celebrity is taking a backseat as we witness the rise of the everyday hero.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was the harbinger with his years of experience, calm demeanor and earnest concern for others on whom the spotlight began shining. Then came the millions of “essential workers” – nurses, doctors, delivery drivers, grocery store clerks and transit workers – who have been seen as putting themselves at risk daily in order to ensure that the necessities were accessible. It’s for these individuals we cheer. It’s the school cafeteria staff preparing meals for their schools’ disadvantaged families to pick up that we honor.
Some celebrities pivoted – with purpose and heart – and leveraged their name recognition and fan base for good, like actor John Krasinski and his web series, Some Good News. Described as a news show dedicated entirely to good news, until this past weekend Krasinski produced the show inside his home while following shelter-in-place orders. Other celebrities experienced some serious missteps, like Ellen DeGeneres, who now famously compared being quarantined to “being in jail” as she broadcasted from her multi-million-dollar mansion.
In contrast, healthcare workers are applauded in New York City every evening, a San Francisco-based pediatric nurse has become a TikTok star and street artist Bansky’s newest piece shifts perceptive on the term superhero. Even toy manufacturer Mattel has embraced the shift and launched action figures dedicated to essential workers. However, Mattel’s move smacks of opportunism; only time will tell.
In a society that idolizes celebrities to the point of absurdity, we should consider this shift to honoring the people, skills and talent that are arguably truly worthwhile as a welcome change. As we all begin to adjust to our individual new norm, the hope is that we’ll carry this new perspective with us and the “new influencers” will retain their rightful place among the exalted.