Culture.

  • Sun, 19, Apr, 2020 - 5:00:AM

#Guillotine2020: is the world turning on the upper class?

Woman shopping / Andrea Paicquadio / Pexels.com

Because of the lockdown, I’ve finally had time to get around to watching Parasite (a cinematic masterpiece, I tell you) and even more time for my brain to marinate in its metaphorical goodness.

And in particular, watching the film’s second half was almost like looking at a reflection of the current global climate. Some families are struggling to keep their heads above water, while the fabulously wealthy shelter in their mansions, sing about idyllic imagined worlds and discover the burdens of 24/7 parenting

Their online accounts — supposed to make them more relatable — aim to highlight what we all have in common, but actually just point to the glaring inequalities between the upper and working class. It’s leaving a bitter taste in some people’s mouths, and leading to a growing resentment in others — as the trending hashtags #Guillotine2020 and #EatTheRich (nods to the French Revolution) can attest to.

Madonna claimed that Covid-19 was ‘the great equaliser’ and the masses revolted, for good reason.

Wealth disparities have never been clearer. Class commentaries have never been more relevant. Money is the difference between being able to feed a family for the remainder of the lockdown, or not. Money, in countries without universal healthcare, is the difference between being able to afford treatment for Covid-19, or not. And post-lockdown, money will certainly affect how well we are able to resume life as normal.

Of course, wealth is not a complete solution for all the different ways that the pandemic is hurting us. Everyone will experience losses and disruptions on a variety of levels — physical, financial, psychological and more — though certain privileges can make support resources available that others will not have access to.

The celebrity responses inciting the most disdain are the ones losing sight of this fact; of their privilege. The responses with little empathy and lots of grandeur are rightly labelled as tone-deaf (though tone-deafness is relative, and arguably one of our lesser worries) but even the worst of them are successful, in a way, in their original intentions of taking our minds off the brutal realities of the pandemic for a moment. Regardless of what we think of them, we are still distracted, entertained and preoccupied by these celebrity antics.

I think that we will never truly tire of celebrities. I also think that our growing resentment towards the upper class stems more from a dissatisfaction with the larger system that sets up such immense inequality, rather than from any individual within the system.

Celebrities themselves are not the worst culprits behind capitalism, infuriatingly self-absorbed as some of them may be. Excluding a few, the wealth of celebrities pales in comparison to that of tech moguls and business magnates. Corporate practises that prioritise profit over the livelihoods and wellbeing of workers do much more damage to the working class than comedians who can’t read the room.

Celebrities do have, however, a unique role within the system. With fair amounts of wealth and incredible amounts of fame, they have the power to influence and direct public opinion. High-profile members of the upper class have long-been a fixture of capitalism. They are used as an example of meritocracy, as a type of incentive for the working class. ‘If you just work hard enough, you will be rewarded like we have,’ the elite class promises.

Except, with many communities essentially paused, and stripped down to their bones, we are seeing the illusion for what it is. Being lifted out of poverty by sheer hard work is a bolstering thought, but it’s not attainable by everyone. Our hardest workers right now are the workers we’ve taken for granted in the past, as evidenced by the transport staff, teachers and nurses’ strikes over the last two years.

Supermarket workers are still enduring verbal abuse and facing health risks way above their pay grade, and nurses report working even while struggling to access protective equipment. While some essential workers are sleeping in tents to avoid infecting their families, celebrities are hunkering down in their pristine mansions. While symptomatic people struggle to get tested, wealthy individuals are fast-passing the Covid-19 testing process.

Lockdowns all over the world are shining a spotlight on capitalist systems (and by extension, the upper class) and the light is not flattering. As a global community, we’re realising that singing videos and tours of mansions are poor substitutes for the fair wages, stable working conditions and adequate healthcare that our current system has failed to deliver. 

We may not be turning on the upper class, but we are definitely turning on the capitalist systems that exploit the working class — who, in this time of crisis, have proven to be the vital lifeblood of our society.

TAGGED IN

  • Celebrities /
  • Wealth /
  • Inequality /
  • Coronavirus /
  • COVID-19 /
  • Workers /
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Aimee
Lew

Regular Contributor All Articles