How the Pandemic Wounded the Cult of Celebrity

365 days ago, a group of actors learned that money and fame didn’t mean as much as they’d thought

David Dennis, Jr.
LEVEL
Published in
5 min readMar 18, 2021

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Gal Gadot speaks at the 26th Annual Critics Choice Awards on March 7, 2021. Photo: Getty Images for the Critics Choice Association/Getty Images

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A year ago, we were scared. The world had shut down, and nobody really knew how dangerous Covid-19 was going to prove to be. We were wiping down groceries, thinking that being anywhere near anyone else was a death sentence. Jobs were vaporizing; entire industries seemed to be shutting down. And we had a president we knew was constitutionally incapable of saving anyone’s life.

On this morning a year ago, Gal Gadot saw this dire state of the world and decided to do something. So she gathered as many millionaire celebrities as she could — Will Ferrell, Zoë Kravitz, Jimmy Fallon, Mark Ruffalo and more — to do something transformative.

They recorded themselves singing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

The video went viral, though not for the reasons Gadot originally wanted; it was widely mocked as the empty gesture it was. Could there really have been any other outcome? The montage was grossly inadequate in a time when the world was looking for tangible, real help. While the idea might have gone over well in years past, Gadot and her friends had the misfortune of pulling it off just as society had started to realize a crucial lesson: Celebrities, for the most part, are useless.

Sure, the famous and wealthy can go above and beyond their bare minimum offerings to be truly transformational for communities. Guy Fieri raised upwards of $20 million for restaurants. Stephen and Ayesha Curry kept Oakland families fed throughout the entire pandemic. Beyoncé funneled money to Black businesses. All of that is true. And it was all appreciated.

But anything celebrities did for the greater good happened against the backdrop of a larger understanding of the societal inequities that create celebrities and allow them to flourish. Dread’s thumping descent last March only highlighted the fact that celebrities were going to be able to live comfortably in isolation, take private jets from house to house, hoard rapid tests so they could host parties with…

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David Dennis, Jr.
LEVEL

Level Sr. Writer covering Race, Culture, Politics, TV, Music. Previously: The Undefeated, The Atlantic, Washington Post. Forthcoming book: The Movement Made Us