That was compounded by celebrities telling us how to deal with the pandemic from the comfort of their mansions, hot tubs, meditation retreats, and their prime seats on airplanes. When a group of overwhelmed white actors declared in June – after the assassination of George Floyd – that they would take responsibility for turning a blind eye to racial injustice, the public welcomed it by rolling theirs together. Hell, by the end of 2020, even Ellen DeGeneres – formerly one of America’s most popular television presenters – was a persona non grata after allegations about her toxic workplace surfaced.
In my role as a pop culture journalist this year, the change was palpable. By the end of spring, it was clear that KQED Arts & Culture readers were suddenly more interested in hearing about puzzles and escaped goats than they were from Harry and Meghan. (I knew I was really in trouble after a story about Dolly Parton failed.) My job turned almost overnight around self-care and self-contained pastimes that were firmly outside the realms of the rich and famous. The upper crust appeared to have become largely irrelevant almost overnight.
The public’s relationship with celebrities was further disrupted after the entertainment industry nearly stalled. Concert tours have been postponed indefinitely, a shocking number of film releases have been postponed until 2021, and TV shows either stalled or had to devise complicated production solutions. (Oddly enough, in some cases this actually benefited viewers. For one, the quarantined attendees of the Great British Baking Show were closer than ever. And instead of filming Season 2, HBO’s Euphoria aired a two-hour special for two in December should be remembered as one of the most thoughtful hours on television … well, ever.)
Another factor that influenced our interest in famous people was a sudden drop in commute times across the country. According to Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford University, almost twice as many employees have been working from home as at work since March. Non-commuters now make up 42% of the American workforce. With no worldly travel to fill with distractions, workers need less frivolous tidbits from celebrities.