Was 2020 the Year Celebrities Lost Their Luster

Few pundits would’ve likely made the prediction that 2020 would be the year many mostly stopped caring what “celebrities” think about important issues. The year started off with a sympatric spotlight on celebrities. An outpouring of grief gripped the world following the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash on January 26th. Parts of America went into mourning – as did other places around the planet, in scenes reminiscent of the 2011 passing of Steve Jobs. News outlets touted Kobe’s global influence, noted his charitable works, as well as the controversies and scandals that were part of his life story. In January, you have been forgiven for thinking it would be a banner year for stars of all stripes. But life is famously unpredictable. 

By April, geopolitical realities made the famous – and the infamous – largely irrelevant. It was around then the New York Times asked the question we really all should have been asking a while ago, “When Did We Start Taking Celebrities Seriously?” –Seriously. When and why? Insert-famous-pop-star-name-here may be a superb pop-star, but how are they experts on…well…anything other than music and perhaps fashion? 

This year taught a good number of us that famous people’s opinions, in general, don’t often matter that much. What’s more, some of these luminaries aren’t very awesome or smart. And some aren’t even very nice human beings. Certain individuals especially stood out as dandy bad examples. The kindness and generosity of Ellen DeGeneres was mostly shown to be a façade and charade, offering a needed kick in the brain reminder that what you see on TV is literally, made for TV. How many other “philanthropists” or do-gooders are also privately less-than-roll models? –Probably quite a few! 

Nearly everyone agreed with Kanye West’s self-proclaimed genius when he was releasing albums such as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and other classics. Antics such as running for president, however, clearly demonstrated that he’s only a musical genius. (That said, Kanye took ninth place in the 2020 election with 60K votes, which is about 59,550 more than he deserved, based on his political skillset.) And Johnny Depp was determined by a court to have been abusive to his ex; news that came after several years of articles describing how this “sincere and serious” beloved actor is an immature, shallow egotist. Depp may not have been doing much acting when playing the character Jack Sparrow. Vice Magazine added a few more examples, citing “Virgil Abloh donating US$50 to a Black Lives Matters protesters’ bail fund, despite a net worth of US$20 million, and Kim Kardashian posting about “humbly being reminded of how privileged her life is” at her 40th, from a secret location on a private island.” 

In fact, perhaps the only segment of the entertainment industry that retained some of its power was comedy. People like Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais and others were never “nice” and never pretended to want to heal the world. Today, for some they are close to modern-day prophets; wise ones who don’t do BS and are rewarded for it with trust and affection. 

This isn’t to say celebrities can’t have ideas, thoughts, causes or crusades – they can and they do, but now when we hear someone like J.K Rowling pontificate on transexuals, the fact that she’s Harry Potter’s mommy doesn’t factor into how we react. And it never should have. You could well know as much or more about transexuals as J.K. Rowling. You likely know as much about vaccines as Jessica Biel, and any parent knows as much about parenting as Jenny McCarthy. You probably don’t, however, know as much about drumming as Ringo Star, don’t understand character acting in the way Christian Bale does, and you almost certainly don’t and shouldn’t have the same intense knowledge of pyrotechnics that movie director Michael Bay does. And of course, if American restauranter, author, television personality and 2020 “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” winner David Chang has an opinion on food or becoming a millionaire…it’s probably best to listen to pretty much anything he has to say. 

In short, as former U.S. president Barak Obama might have phrased it, 2020 was a “teaching moment.” Things have gotten out of hand over the last 20 years or so. Fame does not automatically equal knowledge and image does not equate with truth. Celebrates of all kinds are obviously entitled to an opinion about anything and everything. As are you. But unless you’ve done extensive homework in the mold of writer and columnist Tom Friedman or spent serious time in the field in the way CNN’s Christiane Amanpour has, your feelings come with major “grains of salt.” George Clooney or Angelia Jolie very likely have more informed opinions about refugee camps than the average bloke; as they visit them with some frequency. But if Mr. Clooney or Ms. Jolie have an opinion on, say, enlarging the Supreme Court, we should and must simply nod and absorb their views, without tacking on any additional heft owing to the fact that they are gorgeous and their names are often in lights.