It’s ironic that the age of social media has come at the same time of the rise of the “self-help” book. A quick browse online will offer up a plethora of titles informing you how you too can care while also not caring but also managing caring quite a bit. This is not a dig against this genre of non-fiction (I own three of them). But through social media morally conscious celebrities are making the cause for these books’ redundancy. Why pen a bestseller when you can broadcast your thoughts on an issue in real time to a global audience?
This has allowed platforms to become a breeding ground for virtue signalling. Described as the act of appearing virtuous by simply expressing disgust or favour with a certain political idea or event, the term has become a slur to imply moral grandstanding, the ethical equivalent of do as I say, not as I do.
On occasion, the preaching seeped into everyday life. “Girl bosses” Molly-Mae Hague and Kim Kardashian gave budding youngsters trying to make their way in the world their words of wisdom: “we all have the same 24 hours in a day” offers the former so “get your f**king ass up and work” says the latter. All of this advice and the Thatcherites neglect to mention that those who work for them aren’t paid a fair wage or are being forced to work overtime.
One month into the invasion of Ukraine, and the world has not been spared further tone deaf comments and empty gestures.
The 90210 actor AnnaLyne McCord posted a poem on Twitter that was met with bafflement. It begins with “Dear president Vladimir Putin” and claims that if she was his mother he would have been “so loved” and the world would “never know this story’s plight”. It has since been shared over 23 million times, claiming little achievement other than testing the expression “there is no such thing as bad publicity” to its limits.
John Cena used his creative juices in a different way and seized the opportunity to plug his latest HBO series, Peacemaker. Taking to Twitter at 5am Thursday morning (after the invasion began at 10pm the night before), he said: “If I could somehow summon the powers of a real life #Peacemaker, I think this would be a great time to do so.” President Volodymyr Zelensky defiantly said at the beginning of the conflict that he needed ammunition not a ride – nor a peacemaker, so Cena can rest east. It seems unlikely the UN would be able to stretch to cover his wages anyway.
Bravo’s Andy Cohen had peace on his mind too. After all, it’s a five letter word that fits in one of Wordle’s six daily guesses. He clearly didn’t have enough faith to submit the word, however, as none of the letters were colour-coded in the screenshot he confidently shared to social media. Clearly, he has a streak to uphold.
Other figures, however, have put their money where their mouth is.
David Beckham, when it comes to celebrity culture, knows how to play it. In the 90s, his luscious locks captivated a nation as much as his footballing skills. That is, until Sir Alex Ferguson took exception to Beckham’s latest lengthy do before Manchester United’s Charity Shield clash with Chelsea in 2000. Sent to the bathroom to shave it off, another iconic look was born. Over the years, he’s accumulated 71.5 million followers on Instagram alone. Recently he decided to hand over their charge to a Ukrainian doctor working in the city of Kharkiv.
For 24 hours, the former footballer’s stories were filled with videos and photos following Iryna, a child anaesthesiologist and head of the regional perinatal center, through a day at work amid the unfolding warzone.
She showed them the cramped basement where all the pregnant women and new mothers were evacuated to, posted photographs of newborns in the intensive care unit and in one clip she filmed a young mother, Yana, cradling her son who had been born with breathing problems. Beckham, an ambassador for Unicef since 2005, urged all 71.5 million followers to donate to the charity.
Ukrainian-born actress Mila Kunis and her husband Ashton Kutcher also spurred on donations. They raised more than $34m in donations for humanitarian aid to Ukraine and temporary housing for Ukrainian refugees through their GoFundMe page, $20m of which was in one week alone. Joining their ranks, Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively took to social media to announce that they would match donations to assist Ukrainian refugees up to an amount of $1m.
Virtue signalling is everywhere, from politics and sport to celebrity culture and the device we hold in our hands. As long as the conflict is viewed as content, it won’t stop. Its redundancy will come in our ability to see through them. But after a government response of lighting up Downing Street in blue and yellow and pledging that Britain is leading the world in its admission of refugees while donning a tie in the same colours, we’re accustomed to the empty gesture and we’ve got quite good at spotting them.
If you would like to donate to the Ukraine relief fund, The New European is selling T-shirts, mugs and sweatshirts where all profits will go to the Sunflower Relief to help support their work on the ground in Ukraine.