In the novel “White Noise” by Don DeLillo, a scene outlines what is called “The Most Photographed Barn in America.” Tourists flock to a mundane barn in a meadow, no different from any other. They stand there among the flashing of cameras, unable to even see the barn among the crowd, tucked into a social phenomenon.
If we determine this to be like anything in the real world, those in attendance will soon show off their “important” lives to those somewhere else (texting did not exist in the ’80s). They will perform for their audiences. They are also performing for those in attendance at the event, proving their worthiness to what the culture values.
‘”We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one,’” one of the characters says. ‘”Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.’”
I can’t help but draw a comparison between this scene and ours today. As Americans get vaccinated in record numbers, there seems to be an overwhelming urge from many to demonstrate to others they have received doses. This is especially prevalent among celebrities, who seem to expect a great deal of social credit will rush in upon letting people know of their medical treatments. They seek virtual applause, and they view it as legitimate.
From talk show host Jimmy Kimmel flexing his biceps with the caption “#jaccinated,” to comedian Mindy Kalin declaring she is “Vaxx’d and ready to pay [her] tax,” to actress Kerry Washington sporting a “Pro-Vaxxer” shirt, the elites have evidently located tremendous comfort in providing us proof of their vaccinations. Or, rather, they seem to believe we Americans derive comfort in knowing such things.
Each successive post from the rich and famous getting vaccinated looks more and more like one of those national advertisement campaigns in which Americans are lectured with catchphrases and buzzwords. Think this montage of celebrities ranging from artist Kesha to filmmaker Mark Duplass taking “responsibility” for racism. But in the case of vaccines, the elites are claiming responsibility for our lives. After all, if you do not receive the vaccine, you are apparently responsible for cultural decay. “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah made a point to say this Monday.
“You know honestly, in these divided times, it’s just great to see all Americans coming together — to fail at something so easily achievable,” Noah said, referring to people who have chosen not to get vaccinated.
This is not about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. If people wish to get immunized due to a personal risk calculation, or whatever reason, power to them. The real problem here is fostering a culture reliant on communicating to others that one is particularly adept and intelligent upon getting shots, while everyone else is draped in stupidity. The virtuous arrow is reinforced by Hollywood, but receiving the vaccine is less about virtue than it is about personal choice.
Vaccine virtue-signaling — three words you probably did not know could exist in connection with one another until a pandemic swept the globe — is so very tiresome.
But virtue-signaling does not end with posts. The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit group, created a Morgan Freeman PSA video with Yale University in which the actor instructs people to get vaccinated. The first line is telling, as Freeman notes he is “not a doctor” but is still asking you to receive a novel vaccine regardless of your particular, and unbeknownst to him, health conditions.
“I’m not a doctor, but I trust science. And I’m told that, for some reason, people trust me,” Freeman says. “So here I am to say I trust science and I got the vaccine. If you trust me, you’ll get the vaccine. In math, it’s called the distributive property. In people, it’s called taking care of one another. Get the vaccine. Help make our world a safe place for us to enjoy ourselves again. Please.”
Freeman and other celebrities used for messaging are taking on the role as science enforcers. They are propped up as leaders that Americans will supposedly listen to intently for their daily needs. A widely cited Morning Consult poll from January 2020 seems to dispel with this notion, given that an awfully low 4 percent of respondents said they trust Hollywood. A Gallup poll released in September 2020 found Americans remain highly distrustful of media in general.
While celebrities endlessly circulate images, videos, and captions pertaining to (a) their vaccine experience and (b) why Americans should supposedly follow in their virtuous footsteps, they also display a great, perhaps unintentional, ignorance about whether people care.
I can’t speak on behalf of all Americans. But I certainly find vaccine virtue-signaling highly unbearable and imagine others might feel similarly based on polling of distrust and dissatisfaction with the ruling class. Celebrities not only believe Americans maintain unprecedented trust in their decision-making, but that people care deeply about how they go about their lives. This has been put on full display during the never-ending pandemic.
Perhaps elites think they are receiving plaudits from some portion of the population that is deeply entrenched in pushing the vaccine on every person, regardless of the fact that it is a personal decision dependent on consultation with a medical provider. Or perhaps they genuinely do not realize that people who are not going to receive the vaccine — for reasons that are no one’s business but their own — are not going to have a change of heart upon seeing a movie star get pricked.
Social media is to blame as well, no doubt. We have fostered a culture where you are rewarded for your participation based on likes and retweets and shares: an instant gratification that is simply not representative of how the physical world works. All else is drowned out, and the digital realm becomes a source of hedonism and power. Gone unchecked, unexamined, one would begin to believe based on instant gratification data on social media that Americans solely make decisions based on those who have a domineering role in our culture; that no world exists beyond the famous who dominate our screens.
Like in any social situation, the elites want to guide the discourse. Just as well in the case of vaccines, they have determined that they are the ones to do so, and that you should be the ones to listen and take notes. They want to be rewarded, embraced, so their millions will not falter.