Cardi B says ‘shit is gettin’ real’ as coronavirus pandemic reveals cracks in celebrity capitalism

When universities closed in March due to COVID-19, and my celebrity course transitioned online, I was no longer able to share informal chats and insights about celebrity news and gossip with my students. Recently, I’ve noticed a change in celebrity culture. Like capitalism, it has pivoted. The change speaks to how intertwined celebrity culture is to capitalism.

Richard Dyer, the well-known English film studies professor, argued more than 30 years ago that celebrity culture is a kind of “triumphant individualism” ideologically bound up with the condition of capitalism. He said society’s hyper focus on celebrities as transcendent beings who exceed, go beyond and surpass what ordinary people appear able to do, parallels the western culture belief that free-market capitalism enables all individuals to achieve their greatest potential.

As Guardian columnist Arwa Mahdawi recently noted, both capitalism and celebrity rely on the “lie of meritocracy:” that working hard will lead to ultimate success.

The grips of COVID-19, with its fallout of the millions who have lost their jobs and the thousands who have lost their lives, has shined light on the tenuous nature of the meritocracy myth.

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