I am always amused when celebrities refer to “celebrities” in the third person, as though they’re not it. Obviously, I am currently/perpetually doing post-doctoral work in the various strata of stars (who are we kidding) but usually when famous people refer to “celebrities” like they’re not a part of that category, I’m annoyed. 

It feels disingenuous – especially now, when all celebs are making their own content from their own homes and we get more evidence than usual that They Do Not Live Like Us.  

But Cardi B’s rant about the inequality in the way coronavirus is currently being treated, and the dangers of celebrities creating a false sense of calm, is absolutely perfect: 

My observations, in order: 

1.    I squinted at her mask so you don’t have to – it says “Ninety Nine Percent Is”.  Not sure if the idea is that you could write your own message/interpretation underneath? 

2.    My favourite point in the video is when she’s paraphrasing something “Number 45” said. At 41 seconds in, she says “because we do not have enough testies to test everyone”.  I suppose it could be a turn of phrase for no reason, or maybe that thing that happens when you mis-speak and try to turn it into a word anyway….

…but I would like to believe she’s making a pun on ‘testes’. As in, “we don’t have the balls to test everyone because then we’d know how bad and widespread this really is” and/or “we don’t have the balls to admit just how bereft of tests we really are.” 

3.    She is absolutely right, and how come she’s the only one saying all this? 

Lainey and I mused, on the last episode of Show Your Work, about which stars might be asked to use their platforms to speak to the public, since they do have such enormous influence. Often when something like a devastating natural disaster happens, and there are benefits or celebrities urging everyone to donate to the Red Cross, it’s obvious they’re spouting the party line, but that’s fine and appropriate. “Here’s where to donate, I will, hope you will too.” In addition to hopefully appealing to people’s better selves, it gives people something to do when they feel hopeless and devastated, especially when the ‘problem’ is far away. 

But Cardi B highlights two very clear issues with the usual “celeb response to disaster” modus operandi: 

First of all, the messaging is hopelessly muddled. Many of the famous people who have confirmed their COVID-19 status as positive say they’ve had few or no symptoms, so they’re getting tested because… well, because money = extreme healthcare privilege, of course – but also likely because they were in direct contact with someone else who tested positive. As a precautionary measure that turns out to have been prudent. 

That’s not feasible for the vast majority of people who aren’t uber-wealthy (I also giggled when she used every possible term non-rich people might choose to identify themselves: “The general public, people that work regular jobs, people that get regular paychecks, the middle class, the … you know, poor, whatever the crap”), so what’s the point in them telling us? What benefit does it have? 

I suppose the answer is showing that the virus doesn’t discriminate, and modeling good social distancing and other best practices. But the problem is that everything else about the way it’s being treated, particularly in the US, does discriminate:  staying home is a different thing when you’re in an apartment with three other people, where self-isolating from them may be almost impossible. How’s a single parent supposed to do that? We recently had an order in our city that all public recreation spaces – parks, playgrounds, etc – would be closed, which is both frustrating and absolutely necessary. But again, it’s a lot easier for a star to say “stay home, ride it out” when they have massive yards, pools, or in the case of a recent Insta video from Jennifer Lopez, individual hoverboards. 

I love Cardi so much for speaking this truth. I think it’s going to be the new standard for celebrities, in an age when we crave authenticity. By contrast, celebrities playing by the old ‘unite for a disaster’ playbook, like Pharrell did earlier this week, will find their stock dropping dramatically – in situations like this, there’s a marked difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and pretending it doesn’t exist is the quickest way to seem almost as out of touch as… well, you know who.