As quarantine, shelter-in-place, lockdown, whatever you want to call it, continues through April and deeper into spring, the massive chasm between those who can sit out the coronavirus at home and those who must venture out into an insecure world becomes more apparent. The benefits and risks of certain vocations and even the outlandish luxury of celebrity culture are more obvious now than they were before.
Many of my friends and colleagues are working from home, juggling their children's home-based education, but there are those in my neighborhood who are still going to a job site every day. To facilitate work and income, they have to place their young children in daycare or hand them off to close relatives, both of which pose risks for contagion.
For my part, I have limited shopping trips to once a week to decrease the risk of exposure for me and my family. People who work in certain industries—technology, law, communications, finance, business, media, among others—have been able to adjust their lives so they can work from home. As the death toll in the United States has climbed to 10,000, what was once an annoyance now almost feels like a luxurious cocoon of safety.
People working in other industries, those deemed more essential—retail, food, automobiles, waste, and of course most notably, healthcare—must go outside their homes, risking the possibility every minute of every hour of every day to the mysterious and sometimes deadly virus circulating the globe with vengeance. To make matters worse, with the exception of healthcare, many of these jobs offer low hourly wages, so people are in effect, placing themselves at higher risk, in order to quite simply put food on the table for their families and little more.
Notice according to this graph in this piece in The New York Times about expenditures, the only spending that’s increased greatly is groceries, meaning anyone in the food supply chain, from farmers and truckers to stockers and cashiers, are at elevated risk as the demand for food has increased.
The nature of COVID-19 and the unusual, temporary method of slowing the spread of the disease has widened the already-present gap in the American workforce: higher-paying, “white collar,” indoor jobs one can often do remotely with some comfort and ease and hourly-wage, “blue collar,” outdoor jobs one can do with higher risk of exposure. While this divide has always been present, it’s particularly and painfully obvious now. At the least, society owes a debt of gratitude to those people who are working so that others may stay home during this unprecedented time of crisis.
Unlike white-collar jobs in finance, law, or business, celebrity culture has always been a toxic mix of wealth, fame, and a particularly laissez-faire attitude toward the rest of the world’s misfortunes.
While of course many celebrities posted prayers, thoughts, enormous amounts of charity, live concerts, and even full shows on their social media—Jon Kraskinksi’s “Some Good News” is especially charming and uplifting—it’s clear many of them have no idea what the average person is going through during this time of quarantine.
Joanna Gaines of Magnolia Table-fame (and whom I like!) has been posting all the incredible recipes she’s made in quarantine. (Her chili and French Silk Pie look amazing.) My kids and I have been doing our share of cooking and I certainly find it relaxing and comforting, as many do, but she hasn’t stopped there.
Some days she’s got water colors out and the kids are calmly, happily, creating real art. When they aren’t doing that, they’re happily out in the family garden, which she says is the “biggest thing that’s helped her” during quarantine. I enjoy all these things myself, as well as the Magnolia brand, but for parents working full time from home or in any of the “outside jobs,” there’s just no way her representation of picture-perfect home life is a reality. In fact, it may just be be frustrating to observe right now.
Kim Kardashian touted this time during quarantine as one to play, try out new makeup and hairstyles and the like. To the 7 million who lost their jobs in the last month, the notion that you’d be fooling around with makeup right now is asinine and so far from reality. It’s easy to see why Kardashian deleted the tweet.
Even Ivanka Trump encouraged parents during quarantine to build forts with their children using just, good, old-fashioned sheets and blankets around the house (as one does). Sure, my kids built forts too this last week, but to paint quarantine as a time of relaxation when families are either fighting the COVID-19 sickness, mourning someone they lost, hoping not to lose their jobs, or actively looking for new employment in a beleaguered economy, sends a message that isn’t just depressing, but patronizing, foolish, and out of touch.
At least one celebrity has acknowledged this irony. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lady Gaga said, “I’ve been really focusing a lot of my energy on figuring out how I can help. Because we all want this to end, but being in this all together — that’s a tricky statement because... I want to honor that that woman is not in the same fight that I’m in, and I want to help her fight that fight.”
Celeb culture, and the culture of the entitled classes who can operate almost as well from home as they can from out in the world, have been what we've looked to as a way to understand our world. There's no more obvious way to see that than our current crisis. We can break free of the model of looking to celebs for our cultural purview. It's those who are not basking in their gardens and able to self-isolate without consequence to whom we should offer the utmost gratitude, protection, and aid, to those in industries that remain most at risk from this awful disease.