HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: COVID-19 reveals irrelevance of celebrities & influencers
Will COVID-19 leave anything behind in the way of art? So far, the virus lives on social media with its infinite ability to reach and engage people through expression and impulse, but if you scratch just below the surface of entertaining cat videos, exercise challenges and celebrity meltdowns, you will find the most viral videos are devoid of the thing that most thrives in times of global outbreak, and that is art.
Pre-coronavirus we all found ourselves in the trap of this notion that anyone who had enough clout to keep the immune system of the internet running with viral content should be an aspiration. These individuals were deserving of celebrity status, compensation and even imitation, but the pandemic we’re faced with has rendered these influences inconsequential and humanity is faced with the task of facing the real cultural challenge of this pandemic: to create entertainment, in its many forms, that is fuelled with meaning.
The short-term purpose of the arts is to consume it in order to survive; its long-term purpose is to carve beauty out of something petrifying. Wealth, capitalism, Keeping up with the Kardashians and choosing sides in the feud between AKA and Cassper Nyovest will not suffice and its irrelevance is proven in the empty spaces this false sense of celebrity once occupied.
Pandemics are the great leveller. They stitch together the seams of economic divide. Sponsorships will not help us now, but what does help, in a time of anxiety and terror, is the preparedness of humanity to come together in a way that ignores status and realise that this one thing that affects someone somewhere, affects anyone and everyone.
And if we aren’t sitting back and using this time to ask difficult questions that interrogate the relevance of our influencers, then we’re simply doing things wrong. We’re meant to be touched profoundly by this event and creating and consuming art is one of the ways we can do this.
Museums are shut, galleries might close forever, there are no arguments to be made about the meaning of art over expensive glasses of wine, the physical world of entertainment is a ghost town and the reality of this is that coronavirus is endangering the lives of many writes, film-makers, actors and visual artists who create to pay the rent.
There is a shortage of physical space, but no shortage of digital platforms and so we are starting to see Instagram, for example, being transformed from a place of selfies to a place of substance.
The pandemics throughout history have been ones of creation and cultural change. In fact, the disease that inspired more music, art, books and plays than any other in the last few centuries has been HIV/Aids.
The influencer has gone. Now is the perfect opportunity to stop being influenced, and start being inspired.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.