Is Celebrities Singing ‘Imagine’ The Coronavirus Era’s ‘Let Them Eat Cake’?

Photo credits: Gal Gadot (Instagram), Marie Antoinette (Louis Marie Sicard/Public Domain), CDC

Recently, a gaggle of celebrities decided it’d be great for world morale to jointly sing John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The celebrities included Gal Gadot, Kristen Wiig, Jamie Dornan, James Marsden, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Fallon, and many more stuffed within a cringeworthy three-minute video.

While there are those who have watched it who love it, there’s also a large number of people who hate this video, including Star Trek: Discovery star Anson Mount, who didn’t mince words when it came to his disgust with the video.

“What. In the actual. Fuck? I need celebs singing John Lennon in unison like I need a colonoscopy right now,” he wrote on Twitter. “Can we all please give the constancy of our self-congratulation a break for a freaking SECOND?”

Mount’s irritation with the video has been echoed by others on Twitter as well.

The last tweet encapsulates the feeling of all of the tweets the best, I feel. Everyone, in their own way, is saying that Gadot and her buddies singing “Imagine” is as bad as when Marie Antoinette reportedly said, regarding her subjects suffering from starvation in France, “Let them eat cake.”

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Miniature of Marie Antoinette (Louis Marie Sicard, 1787/Public Domain)

According to history, Marie Antoinette didn’t actually say something as callous about the poor French who were suffering and dying. However, she was part of the reason they were suffering—the French monarchy was bleeding money because of their involvement in the American Revolution, leading the country to near ruin. But instead of allocating remaining funds toward helping the needy and supplementing the economy, they continued to spend money on frivolities to support their lavish way of life. While Antoinette might have not actually said that the poor should eat her scraps, her expensive dresses and hairdos made the point without her saying a word.

In fact, according to Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, a great book by Caroline Weber, Marie Antoinette’s hair powder was partly made of flour, a food resource that was being wasted by Marie Antoinette as a cosmetic instead of being put to use as sustenance for her subjects. When the Flour Wars–riots over bread and flour shortages and price increase on both foodstuffs–broke out, Marie Antoinette is said to have worn a pouf hairstyle with ornamentation representing the riots, reportedly complete with bakers’ shops being ransacked.

There can be two schools of thought about why Marie Antoinette thought this hairstyle would have been appropriate. She could have been callous enough to use the riots for her own amusement and decided the news of the day would be great inspiration for a new hairdo. Or, perhaps she was so out of touch with the common person—especially since, as an Austrian archduchess, she never was a commoner—that she assumed her commemoration of the riots was, in fact, her being in touch with the everyday person.

“Ridiculous Tastes or The Ladies Absurdity” (Sayer & Bennett, 1776/Public Domain via monarchyofstyle.blogspot.com)

If we go by what Queen of Fashion suggests, perhaps this was the case; she had used fashion to her advantage earlier in her career as a queen trying to curry favor with her public, particularly because she was a queen who wasn’t able to honor her duties and give birth to heirs throughout the larger part of her marriage. She was able to become adored by her subjects and excite their imagination with her fashion, but this adoration was only afforded her while France was still in the black financially. When the rubber met the road, however, the citizens of France weren’t going to be impressed by Marie Antoinette fashion innovations if it meant she was ignoring the needs of her people.  

With this history to look back on, let’s ask ourselves if Gal Gadot and friends’ version of “Imagine” is truly on the level of Marie Antoinette wearing an insensitive hairstyle. First of all, Gadot and the rest of the celebrities aren’t dignitaries or monarchs; they don’t govern any of us, so there’s only so much anger we can have towards them.

However, the anger people are feeling comes from the financial power celebrities like them have. As many of the people on social media have already said, the celebrity class have beaucoup money, a resource that could be shared to help combat the various impacts the virus is having on families. As the lower class, we aren’t privy to how much of that money these celebrities give to charity. From the outside looking in, many might feel like celebrities simply hoard money and don’t give back to their audience, the people who allow them to have those millions in the first place. Seeing how we’ve only seen a couple of celebrities come out and reveal what they’re doing to help needy families during the coronavirus pandemic, such as couples Ayesha and Steph Curry and Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, it stands to reason that a lot of people wouldn’t be happy to see a bunch of rich people singing about everyone getting along and sharing the wealth when there are not a lot of news stories about rich people actually helping those less fortunate.

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To be fair, it could be true that a good portion of the celebrities in this video actually have given to charity and do give to charity on a regular basis. Mark Ruffalo, for example, is a celeb featured in the video who is highly civic minded, politically savvy and is always doing things to help others. I’m sure there are some celebrities in the video who might see the public outrage and might want to defend themselves and their record of social good. All they wanted to do was send some uplifting vibes, they might say.

However, I would hope that some celebs who might feel offended might consider how the other half feels about seeing people with bank accounts worth millions of dollars simply singing about world peace instead of using some of their wealth to help facilitate world peace. For instance, the group could have announced they were joining forces to give several million dollars to several charities around the world. Even if they were joining forces to make a video about tips on how to stay safe during this crisis, I think that would have been better received since it would have spread actionable information to their followers.

Let’s also not forget to state that celebrities singing “Imagine” during rough times, an act that has happened too many times to count, is probably the most cliché thing to do. The song is overrated and oversung at this point in time. I wish the celebs in this video had used their platforms to support some actionable change regarding this crisis, but if they just had to sing something, I wish they had at least chosen a different song.

But even if they did choose a different song, making a video that is, indeed, self-congratulatory and self-righteous in the face of hardship, isn’t going to help people who aren’t cushioned by lush bank accounts and mansions feel better or comforted during this time when everything seems uncertain. The only thing the video does is aggravate an already aggravating situation, similar to how Marie Antoinette made a bad situation with her subjects worse by making light of their starvation and destitution. Instead of recognizing their situation and giving them relief via flour and money, she simply did the 18th century version of making an insensitive video on social media–wearing an offensive hairstyle.

If you’d like to help kids in need during the coronavirus, here are some ways you can help via No Kid Hungry:

1.     Spread the word about our emergency grants. We’re offering emergency grants to support local school districts and community in their efforts to ensure kids get the nutritious food they need. Share on social, or send directly to your local school and/or community groups!

2.     Start a fundraiser. Every dollar helps us offer more emergency grants to communities in need. Your support will also help us make sure families know how to find meals while schools are closed, and continue our work to ensure every kid gets three meals a day. Get started at https://www.facebook.com/fundraisers/nokidhungry.

3.     Stay updated through our website. Stay tuned to NoKidHungry.org/Coronavirus for the latest on our response and ways you can help.

(source: No Kid Hungry newsletter)