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Is Social Consciousness Killing Celebrity Culture?

This article is about the shifting tides of public opinion in relation to celebrity culture and wealthy people.

Photo Credit: Instagram/@hayleyybaylee

On May 6th, one of the world’s most exclusive celebrity events took place, drawing eyes from all over the nation to its opulence. Public reactions are typically excited and approving. However, this year’s Met Gala media coverage was met with disdain, anger, and relentless criticism all over social media.

Criticisms of the Met Gala

Screenshot from influencer TikTok demonstrating an opulent outfit.
Photo Credit: Instagram/@haleyybaylee

Criticisms of the event include jarring comparisons to a “Capitol party,” a reference from the Suzanne Collins dystopian novel series The Hunger Games. Users flooded comment sections with the phrase “watching from district 12.” The Hunger Games is a dark satire highlighting strict class systems, as well as the social and political fallout of war. District Twelve is the last and poorest district in the books, indicating that the copy-pasta is a clear call-out of the disparity between the elite and the working class.

Many people have also flocked to the internet to condemn the influencer Haley Kalil (@haleyybaylee on TikTok) for an insensitive video showcasing her Met Gala outfit. In the video, she is standing in the street on the way to the event in an extravagant floral gown, lip-syncing to an audio from the 2006 Sofia Coppola film, Marie Antoinette. She used an audio with the infamous phrase, “Let them eat cake.” This sparked outrage due to its politically inflammatory nature. Haley’s response video did absolutely nothing to quell the public’s disapproval.

Response to Criticism

In her response video, Haley claims that she did not use the audio with the intention of insinuating a blasé attitude toward the wealth disparity. She asserts that she in fact did not even think about the larger implication of pairing the quote with a display of extreme wealth. According to Haley, “the sound choice truly had no deeper meaning” — it is simply trending currently. She added that she is “not elite enough to be invited to the Met Gala because I am not elite. I’m a normal person.”

People responded by digging up an old video of hers where she mentions paying $17,000 for rent every month. Haley deleted the original post from her TikTok page. However the apology is still up, buried by new content.

Social Media’s Influence

Person holding phone
Photo Credit: Pexels.com/cottonbro studio

According to PR agent Jordan McAuley of Contact Any Celebrity, the public attitude shift towards celebrities would not be occurring without the rise of social media usage and the existence of influencers like Haley Baylee.

“…Social media has democratized public discourse, allowing people from all walks of life to voice their opinions and criticisms,” said McAuley. “Because of this, there is a growing awareness and sensitivity towards social inequality and privilege. Events that flaunt wealth and exclusivity can appear tone-deaf… against social problems like economic disparity and social justice movements.”

Despite the focus on her, Haley Kalil is not the only famous person who was caught up in the backlash of the Met Gala coverage. There are long lists of celebrities circulating the internet called “The Blockout” and the “digital guillotine,” a phrase coined by TikTok user @ladyfromtheoutside. There is not an “official” list, but a few stand out with their push to block the individuals they deem unfit to hold a platform.

Digital Guillotine

The “block list” is comprised of rich and famous people who refuse to speak up on the current situation in Palestine, those who have publicly declared themselves Zionists (in support of the occupation of the land Israel currently resides on), and those who have otherwise done harm with their large platform. Some celebrities included in the list are Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Lizzo, Amy Schumer, and Noah Schnapp.

Several of the aforementioned celebrities have made statements that then led the public to call for a mass blocking or unfollowing. After 7 months of the Israel-Hamas war, Lizzo recently took to her social media to post some videos on global issues, including a few GoFundMe links for countries experiencing famine and genocide. She mentions Palestine, the Congo, and Sudan. Her fans were less than thrilled with the amount of time she took to respond to these issues. Commenters also criticized Lizzo for encouraging fans with far less money than her to donate.

“Just fill up his whole goal [for the GoFundMe]. You won’t even notice it but you’re out here asking us? We can’t afford milk, Lizzo. I’m eating PB&J crusts. That’s lunch. I feed the kids and EAT THEIR CRUSTS.”

User @sarah.bee42 on TikTok

Lizzo’s comment section is full of others who share similar sentiments, including user @foreverbangtan95, who said, “Girl bffr [be fucking for real] … you are a millionaire???? Leave us alone; we don’t even have enough for groceries.”

Kim K

Kim Kardashian was also criticized for her response to global conflicts. While at an event in Germany in early May, a pro-Palestinian liberation protester called out, “Free Palestine!”

Kim responded by saying, “Free everybody. I sympathize with the people of Israel and with those in Palestine. I sympathize with everybody. All we want is for everybody to feel safe and free.” Fans have since been attacking and blocking Kim because of her refusal to take a solid stance in the ongoing conflict.

This is not Kim’s first time dealing with rampant backlash from a tone-deaf comment she made. Back in a 2022 interview, Kim told Variety Magazine that her advice to women in business is to “…get your fucking ass up and work. It seems like nobody want to work these days.” Her sisters, who were sitting behind her, chimed in with enthusiastic agreement. Viewers received this interview very poorly, questioning whether the Kardashians are even aware of their privilege.

They had some choice words for the Kardashians:

“Says the little rich girls that got everything handed to them.”

User @lumberlean on TikTok

“Guarantee you a retail/fast food worker has worked harder in one day than she ever has in her entire life.”

User @xbbysatanx on TikTok

Celebrity Abuse of Power

Photo Credit: Youtube/@Variety

This view of the Kardashians has been popular for quite some time now, and it has spread to other public figures as well, implying that the tension between working class citizens and celebrities will most likely continue to snowball. The rise of terms such as “nepo baby” (nepotism baby) — a disdainful phrase used to describe many current Hollywood stars — is another example. Additionally, the #MeToo movement, which gained popularity in 2017 by calling out abuse of power and rape culture in Hollywood, serves to exemplify these dynamics.

Many of these big names are not only being criticized in relation to Gaza, but also their own personal habits and mindsets. People have been uncovering old tweets, lyrics, videos, allegations, court cases, etc. from celebrities that showcase concerning, inappropriate behaviors and out-of-touch attitudes.

This is encapsulated by the public denouncement of Taylor Swift, which has ensued multiple times over the past few years due to her excessive private jet usage. Information about the flight paths recently made its way to the public in the form of an animated map created by information from the Ground Control website. The Kardashians have been under public scrutiny for similar actions.

Drake is another celebrity losing fans. He is facing pedophilia allegations, which surfaced during a recent rap battle with Kendrick Lamar. We have also witnessed the exposure of Dan Schneider of Nickelodeon for fostering an abusive workplace environment in an HBO documentary called Quiet On Set. The list goes on.

Overall Cultural Impact

Jordan McAuley pointed out that “in times of global crises such as economic downturns, wars, and pandemics… there will most likely be a shift towards more authentic and grounded representations in media and a push for celebrities to use their platforms for advocacy and positive change.”

While the metaphorical snowballing came to a head with this year’s Met Gala, which highlighted the stark contrast between elite American wealth and war-torn countries, this is far from the end of the issue.

“We are already seeing this with the rise of ‘micro-influencers’ being more influential than celebrities because they are seen as ‘regular people’ and not paid endorsers… Overall, the allure of celebrity culture could decline as people seek more meaningful connections and experiences that resonate with their values and the realities of everyday life.”

Jordan McAuley, Contact Any Celebrity

As the micro-influencer becomes more popular and the celebrity fades out, it will be interesting to see how micro-influencers attempt to maintain their more niche status, rather than branching out and gaining a large-scale level of recognition. Will the celebrity ever become completely obsolete, or will up-and-coming micro-influencers take over the vacuum left behind by the current celebrities?

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