By Will Brown
A now eight-year-old tweet reads “It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that the celebs are at it again”. It is a tweet that, recently, I’ve seen reposted more often that I’d like.
Fresh off the back of voicing their opinions on the pandemic, celebrities are now turning their gazes towards the invasion of Ukraine – providing all of us with a fresh opportunity to remind ourselves just how divorced they can become from the ‘real world’.
Social media is a strange environment. There is a prevailing notion that if you’re silent about something, then you don’t care. Cue the inevitable barrage of thoughts and prayers from celebrities and influencers after every crisis. Some seem genuinely compassionate and offer help, some feel superficial and forced, and others are in shockingly poor taste.
This is not to say that celebrities can’t respond to situations like Ukraine’s invasion. Miley Cyrus’ statement, drawing on her time in Kyiv to film her music video, is evidently sincere. Neil Gaiman shared a thread of organisations that his followers could donate to. Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed his concern and admiration for the Klitschko brothers – former boxers and friends of his. I don’t doubt that these responses would have emerged regardless of any expectation put upon them.
But there are plenty of responses that come across as insincere. On viewing yet another Instagram story containing little more than broken heart emojis and flags, I can’t help but wonder if they are issued out of a sense of obligation, rather than because they genuine concern.
There is undoubtedly pressure on celebrities. I’ve seen plenty of people complaining that celebrities aren’t making enough of a statement about Ukraine in comparison to previous crises. Whilst this might be a valid criticism in situations like #MeToo, such should not apply to complex geo-political events such as that in Ukraine. They aren’t anymore informed about the crisis than we are, and they shouldn’t feel obliged to make statements about it. There are plenty of situations in which being a bystander is problematic – social media is not one of them.
However, I don’t think it was pressure to respond that prompted some of the more tone-deaf takes on the Ukraine crisis. Insincerity is one thing, but there are several celebrity responses that are in very poor taste. Attempting to merge the still-relevant Wordle to the invasion, Andy Cohen chose the word ‘peace’ as a first guess and shared it on Instagram. Fresh off the back of Season 1 of Peacemaker, John Cena wished he could “summon the powers of a real life #Peacemaker” (the sponsored hashtag was a nice touch).
The beacon of poor celebrity takes, however was AnnaLynne McCord’s poetry. Two minutes and twenty seconds of impassioned tone-deaf verse that suggests that if she had been able to exact her motherly abilities on Vladimir Putin then the invasion of Ukraine would never have occurred. It’s been derided and unfavourably compared to Gal Gadot’s infamous, early pandemic, rendition of Imagine, which was as lacking in taste as it was in musicality.
Is there too much pressure for celebrities to respond to crises? I think so. But there’s something deeper at the heart of these responses to the invasion, and that’s the way our culture treats celebrities with an aura of superiority. It becomes a whole lot easier to think that your poetry will be received sincerely if everything else in your life gives you the impression that you’re above the regular public. I think there’s an argument to be made that many celebrities might have avoided the somewhat insincere calls of solidarity if there was no pressure. However, I don’t think it was the expectation to respond that motivated McCord or Cena to promote his television show, because nobody was expecting such blatantly problematic offerings.
It’s why I was impressed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, arguably a more informed figure due to his stint as the Governor of California, refusing requests for an interview and reminding people that he was not a foreign policy expert and had no place speaking on the situation in Ukraine. It’s a model that celebrities ought to take on board. This is a time to be listening to those in Ukraine, not those tweeting from Californian mansions. Sometimes, it’s okay to just step back.
Image: Juan Di Nella via unsplash.