Much recent buzz surrounds a bevy of celebrities and the social commentary they issue on social media. One would normally dismiss trite words that pander to typical activist advocacies like “love for country” and “helping the poor” fielded by these entertainers as mere brain farts if not for the “fandom” they command. Indeed, even their employers and bankrollers recognise the power of politicised celebrity in bringing across otherwise nonsensical soundbites passed off as “biting social commentary” in the way embattled media giant ABS-CBN set its top talent — the likes of Coco Martin, Kim Chiu, and Nadine Lustre among others — to the task of mobilising their massive cult followings to “trend” certain hashtags prescribed by the corporate public relations machine.
Celebrity employed to propagate social commentary, however, is a double-edged sword. Performers who reckon they could make their social views resonate with an audience who follow them more for their entertainment value and hardly for their political views get mixed results. Recently, Filipino international singer Lea Salonga became the centre of a media circus following a rant she reportedly posted on Facebook expressing how difficult it is to love her country.
“Dear Pilipinas, p***** ina, ang hirap mong mahalin,” Salonga said on her Facebook account Monday, which earned 10,000 likes and reactions.
(Dear Philippines, f*ck it’s so hard to love you.)
With an enormous following on social media, it is hardly surprising nor particularly newsworthy that hundreds of thousands would, of course, rally behind Salonga and her opinion on issues of national consequence. Inquirer showbiz “reporter” Katrina Hallare nonetheless couldn’t help but highlight the eventual popular backing a top celeb like Salonga would get following her quaint rants citing how “Netizens soon rallied behind her, making ‘I Stand with Lea Salonga’ a trending topic on Twitter as well.” But of course, right?
To be fair, us peasants are enjoined to empathise with these mega-stars considering the devastation wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic on their once lucrative industry. Salonga, it seems, is feeling the pain taking to Twitter to chuck a tantric lament on a dismal year…
Performing arts professionals have had it the roughest this year with many events and product releases impacted by the lockdown and fears of health risks. Salonga, for her part, had a performance at the Esplanade in Singapore scheduled for mid-March this year cancelled “due to the evolving COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) situation”. She has also had to postpone to October a tour of North America that would have started in April.
One could understand how distressing it is, specially for extroverted performers like Salonga who thrive in being the centre of attention of an audience to be cooped up for months on end with much of the social interaction they had come to be accustomed to curtailed. Even more stressful, perhaps, is the lack of work and the uncertainties of a future where large gatherings of people may no longer be possible. Indeed, Salonga did open up on the mental anguish of her quarantine experience…
For me, personally, I find that being able to sing for an audience of one, or a hundred, or a thousand, it’s somehow integral to my mental health,” she explained.
Nonetheless, the pandemic highlighted many things that in normal times would be highly-valued but, in the midst of a crunch, come to be regarded as non-essential. It is likely that celebrity performers like Salonga, perhaps with such a reality as the bumping down of their craft in people’s hierarchy of priorities creeping up on them as the months drag on, begin to suffer crises of relevance themselves. Erstwhile adored actress Gal Gadot, of Wonder Woman fame, for example, found her efforts at finding an audience singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” along with Natalie Portman, Mark Ruffalo, Amy Adams, and others being met with scorn…
Hey celebs, we don't want to be sung to. We want you to use a million or two of your money and order ventilators, masks, and gloves from the manufacturers then donate them to a hospital. Or pay for the salaries of an entire staff at a bar, restaurant, or daycare. #imagine
— Casey Cipriani (@CaseyCip) March 19, 2020
To her credit, beyond the quaint laments and rants on Facebook and Twitter, Lea Salonga had so far not engaged in any such stunts. However, a sampling of the snarky reception a chi chi star like her could attract waxing victimised from her ivory tower perhaps should give her and other celebs aspiring to reinvent themselves in a time of pandemic a prompt to engage in a bit of introspection, one would hope.
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