The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Celebrities are out of touch. Gen Z is catching on.

Andrew Slowman

I am so tired of celebrity apology videos.

Last night I rewatched Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’ formulaic and insincere apology. I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes.

Kutcher and Kunis are in hot water after a letter written on behalf of Danny Masterson, who was recently convicted of raping two women, was released to the public, according to a Sept. 15 article from The Guardian. Quickly after the letter’s leak, Kutcher and Kunis posted their video. 

The recipe for an apology video is repetitive and bland. You can picture it: little or no make-up—or maybe smudged mascara—a plain t-shirt and a background that makes the accused look as humble as possible. If you’re Colleen Ballinger, add a ukulele.

Coinciding with Oprah claiming to be a victim of the Maui wildfires and Drew Barrymore continuing her talk show’s production despite the SAG strike, these scandals have opened Gen-Z’s eyes. The curtains are pulled back and the tragic reality is revealed: these celebs are clueless.

It seems like the volume of “cancel-able” occurrences is on the rise. I would be hard pressed to think of a celebrity completely clean of a shred of public scrutiny. The cause of this escalation can be traced to one thing: social media.

Out of 128 notable public “scandals” between 1988 and 2016, over half fell between 2010 and 2016, according to a June 2019 Harvard Business Review study. This acceleration of incidents follows the surge of social media.

Pre-social media, the day-to-day lives of celebrities were a mystery. We saw glimpses into the lives of stars through MTV Cribs and the occasional tabloid. Now, we can follow Kylie Jenner and Timothée Chalamet’s relationship arc through hundreds of thousands of posts, tweets and snaps.

Because celebrities now have constant, direct access to their fans, they have greater control over their image. This gives celebrities the ability to show their audience their authentic selves, according to an April 16 article in Flux Magazine.

It’s true. In the past few years, we have certainly seen our favorite VIPs’ true colors.

I think it really kicked off during COVID.

I remember scrolling through a feed full of celebrities preaching that “we’re all in this together.” It was kind of cute watching them try to relate to their fans—who were nearly all struggling in some way or another—from their multi-million dollar mansions or private planes. 

It was only a few weeks into lockdown when Vanessa Hudgens went live and dropped her infamous line: “…like, it’s a virus…But at the same time, like, even if everyone gets it, like yeah, people are gonna die, which is terrible, but like, inevitable?” according to a March 2020 BBC article.

Jaw-dropping. Poetry.

Later, Ellen DeGeneres said being in quarantine “is like being in jail,” according to a 2020 CNN article

Scrolling through the comment section, you can peruse a chorus of astonished and dismayed fans leaving a variety of hate comments.

Gen-Z has been through the ringer: a melting planet, a political system more polarized than ever, a pandemic that shook up our most formative years and more. Through it all, we’ve been on every social media platform known to man.

We grew up with YouTube, and Snapchat. We were here for the birth of Instagram and the death of Vine. For our whole lives, we’ve been connected. We know these apps like the back of our hands.

Celebrities, however, are just playing catch-up. They are trying to reach us, their most impressionable and judgmental audience. When we love, we love hard—think Beyoncé and Tom Hanks. But we hate even harder—think 6ix9ine and Shane Dawson.

So, when we see Bill Gates guess a bag of Totino’s Pizza Rolls is $22 or watch Kim Kardashian tell us to “Get off [our] asses and work,” we are quick to call it out. We don’t really forgive and we definitely don’t forget.

As the mistakes of celebrities become more shocking and frequent, more and more of our generation will keep tabs on the stars, and maybe try to knock them from their pedestal.

This is where “cancel culture” bares its fangs.

It’s hard to say whether cancel culture is effective. Most times, it’s not. But sometimes, celebrities go beyond their heart-wrenching apology videos or statements screen-shotted from their Notes app. 

Honestly, the list of celebrities backing up their apologies is short. 

Post-scandal, celebs really only have three paths. 

First, they can put their money where their mouth is, and make the change their fans are hoping for.

For example, after Drew Barrymore resumed production on her show, the backlash was deafening. Just days later, she reversed her decision, pausing her show’s production until the strike ended, according to a Sept. 17 article from the New York Times.

Once Beyoncé was called out for using an ableist slur in her song “Heated,” she promptly changed the lyric, according to a 2022 Buzzfeed article.

Alternatively, they can release a quick statement, fade into the background and hope it blows over.

Kutcher and Kunis, for instance, have taken no action post-apology video, apart from resigning from Thorn, their non-profit created to fight sex-trafficking, according to a Sept. 17 CNBC article. Who knows when we’ll hear from them again.

After saying “fuck teachers” on her podcast, Meghan Trainor released an apology video promising to make schools a better place, according to an Apr. 24 Page Six article; I have yet to see any evidence she intends back up that promise.

The final option is to double, sometimes triple, down. 

Like when Colleen Ballinger responds to grooming allegations with the weirdest original song we’ve ever heard, according to a July 6 CBS article.

Or, when Elon Musk, whose list of cancel-able moments includes rumored affairs, transphobic tweets and bullying celebrities off of X, formerly Twitter, responds to criticism with outdated memes according to an April 20 Us Weekly article.

In these cases, it feels like celebrities feel invincible. It seems like they think they can do whatever they want. It seems like it’s up to us—their fans, their audience and their haters—to keep them in line. 

Maybe it’s the unthinkable amount of wealth. Maybe it’s the pressure of having such a large platform. Maybe it’s a horrible PR team. Whatever it is, it’s becoming clear that celebrities truly have no idea what it’s like for the rest of us.

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