A Short Discussion About Object Permanence

Gal Gadot cropped lighting corrected 2b.jpg

(Image retrieved from Wikipedia)

If you’ve ever played a game of peek-a-boo with an infant, you probably understand the concept of object permanence. Object permanence is the ability to recognize that objects still exist, even if they are not in our view. The reason why we are able to play peek-a-boo with babies is because they don’t have object permanence.

And while babies should eventually develop the capacity to understand object permanence, recent revelations have given me reason to believe that a certain subset of the population may still be living without object permanence: celebrities.

Last week, actress Gal Gadot made headlines when she posted a video on Instagram that featured her and a compilation of other celebrities singing along to Imagine, in an attempt to raise the spirits of those who have been feeling down in the wake of the coronavirus’ rise. In the caption of the video, Gal Gadot writes that “we are in this together, [and] we will get through this together.”

While a more sympathetic side of me wants to give Gadot credit for trying to do something that her fans would probably enjoy hearing, a more critical side of me finds it extremely tone-deaf that a collection of millionaires self-isolating in expansive estates have chosen to voice their solidarity with everyday people through an Instagram video instead of, something more materially beneficial….like money.

To me, performative gestures like these highlight the ways in which celebrities are somewhat disconnected from the reality that less privileged individuals are living in, and are therefore, unable to truly see our pain and suffering.

While it may be true that the coronavirus doesn’t care about your race, your age, your income level, or your celebrity status. All of those things could have important implications for how the virus ends up affecting us.

Research suggests that doctors are less likely to address the concerns of black patients that report the exact same symptoms as white patients, which could create problems when it comes to determining which people should or should not be tested for coronavirus. Similarly, people from low income backgrounds may be less likely to take off work if they find themselves falling ill, feeling as though they don’t have the luxury of staying at home, when every dollar counts.

Beyond that, the impending financial disaster that could occur in the wake of the coronavirus is also likely to have horrible implications for people that do not come from well-off backgrounds. What is to come of all the small businesses that are having to shut their doors until further notice? What is going to happen to all of the soon-to-be college graduates, who will be entering into a confusing job market? And with unemployment numbers possibly reaching 30% soon, how long will it take for Americans to find new work again?

For many celebrities, these are non-issues. As it stands now, NBA players, senators, and actors have had no problem getting access to testing kits for the coronavirus. Furthermore, with millions of dollars in their bank accounts, they’re unlikely to have their entire lives redefined by the impending financial collapse.

Because of this, maybe it’s time we rethink the relationship that we have with celebrities. Social media apps like Instagram and twitter give celebrities a platform where they can prove that they’re “real people” just like us. They can post videos of themselves playing with their kids, dancing in their backyard, and horribly singing to John Lennon. No matter how much social media may make it seem like these celebrities are normal people, they simply aren’t.

Celebrities have resources and connections that they could be using to help those of us that are less fortunate, and it’s about time that we create an expectation for them to help their fellow man. Reading these Instagram videos as examples of just how tone-deaf celebrities can be, rather than examples of positivity and joy in times of certainty, is key if we are to build a world that asks the rich and powerful to use their privilege for good.

While celebrities may want us to look at what unites us, it may be more fruitful for us to get them to see what divides us.

— Brandon James












4 thoughts on “A Short Discussion About Object Permanence

  1. I saw the picture of Gal Gadot and knew this was about to be a good post. And I was right! Mocking this video has been such a lovely display of class solidarity in the middle of all this mess, so I’m glad you addressed it.

    There was a tweet I saw the other day to the effect of “the people who get sick leave or can do remote work are the ones least in need of it,” which seems relevant here. Hopefully, this pandemic makes us all rethink things like what work is “essential,” what policies (e.g. sick leave, healthcare, wage reform) need to be put in place, and — most salient here — how we relate to celebrities.

    Especially those in that video. Yikes.

    Great post!!



  2. I really enjoyed your use of the idea of object permanence in explaining this story. It made me laugh due to the comparison between celebs and infants but it’s also a valuable concept in the discussion about privilege. I think we can all sometimes fall victim to “object permanence” in that it is only natural to be less aware of the people and forces that are not in our direct “field of vision”. It should be a goal of everyone, but especially those with profound privilege, to be aware of things that don’t seem to directly affect them, and I feel that it takes active effort.
    I will point out that a small handful of celebrities have responded in tasteful ways. Jimmy Fallon, for instance, has continued to release a version of his show on YouTube from home in which his family acts as the camera crew, and each episode serves as a fundraiser for a charity doing work for those most affected by the pandemic. His guests, whom he interviews on Zoom, are usually other celebs who are doing similar work, such as Jennifer Garner, who started a Coronavirus Charity Fund alongside Amy Adams. Fallon has focussed his charitable efforts mostly on organizations that provide food for those in need, even making a large personal donation to Feeding America. Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively similarly donated one million dollars to charity. I highly recommend watching Fallon’s “The Tonight Show: Home Edition” on YouTube as it is great for a laugh and highlights a different charity each episode. To be honest, I have never been a big Fallon fan, but I support his response to this situation.
    I also hope that people with significant power/privilege who are less in the public eye, such as high-earning businessmen and employers, use their influence for good. We have fewer ways to hold them accountable, but those types of people should be under the same pressure to respond appropriately as celebrities are.


  3. Interesting post! I have also found it common for celebrities to post encouraging videos on social medias but haven’t realized the “objective permanence” effect that you have brought up. It is definitely true that although celebrities might have come from a good intention to display their daily lives (that are distant to us), they might be unaware of the situations we’re in. The privilege they received made them neglected the difficulties their audiences might endure.

    On the other hand, I also noted that some of these celebrities posts received abundant amount of likes and positive comments. As I read through some of them, I noted that fans would feel supported when they see things like Gal Gadot’s singing despite the situations they’re in. It is true that fans are mostly common people like us and they are underprivileged compared to their idol celebrities; however, they are pleased by their presence. My 12-year old nephew is currently quarantined at home and she’s so delighted by Taylor Swift’s instagram posts. Celebrities may be a consolation to their fans during difficult times like now, yet as you have mentioned they should make use of their resources for the public good.


  4. Hi Brandon,

    Thanks for sharing this insightful post! I completely agree with you. Admittedly, I often have bought into the idea of normalcy that celebrities promote, and I think they’re flawed and feel emotions and make mistakes just like every human being, but they really are living extremely different lives than the average human being. For the most part, they don’t understand the specific struggles of those who aren’t as wealthy or well-connected. A lot of times when celebrities do draw attention to current events or issues or try to raise money for charity, I appreciate the sentiment, but posts like the one that you’ve highlighted seem so vague and abstract that I definitely wonder if they really understand the issue they’re trying to raise awareness for. It does seem to dismiss real suffering and reasons why people don’t think they’ll make it through. I guess it’s all kind of like Marie Antoinette’s famous (supposed) quote, “Let them eat cake!”.

    – Teresa


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