A few days ago, Gal Gadot – the Israeli-born star of Fast & Furious and Wonder Woman – corralled a bunch of her famous pals (or maybe just acquaintances, we’re not sure) to perform an online version of John Lennon’s classic, “Imagine”. “Hey guys, day six in self-quarantine,” the actress prefaces the video. “And I’ve got to say that these past few days got me feeling a bit philosophical. You know, this virus has affected the entire world, everyone… doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, we are all in this together.” Then follows a host of housebound big names (Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon, Natalie Portman, Will Ferrell, Sia, Norah Jones, James Marsden, Jamie Dornan, Zoe Kravitz, Mark Ruffalo, Amy Adams, Chris O’Dowd, Sarah Silverman, Pedro Pascal and more) each singing a line from the song during America’s current period of self-quarantine.
The resulting video is, to say the least, a deliriously cringe-worthy affair, replete with tone-deaf singing, a slap-dash feel, and robust celebrity hubris. The response to the video, however, has been cruelly over-the-top, with many online keyboard heroes attacking Gadot and her famous friends with a strange kind of pitchforks-and-torches fervour. “Nothing like rich famous people singing ‘imagine no possessions’ in their mortgage free homes as the rest of society queues for broken biscuits,” said one commenter with a not wholly inaccurate sniff. “Everyone in this video should be fined a million dollars, and anyone who had to watch it gets some money,” howled another. Even a small cohort of celebrities (including Charli XCX and a few others) have joined the lynch mob by throwing down videos mocking the song.
Sure, a lot of the criticism is warranted (again, we don’t disagree: the video is profoundly awful), but the mainstream media has joined the pile-on with disappointing but unsurprisingly gleeful abandon. Amongst the negative voices, Jon Caramanica was particularly vicious (and admittedly very funny) in his critical piece for The New York Times. “You might say that every crisis gets the multi-celebrity car-crash pop anthem it deserves, but truly no crisis – certainly not one as vast and unsettling as the current one – deserves this,” he opens his pithy dissertation, and then proceeds to takes off the gloves…and then slip on the brass knuckles.
At FilmInk, we get annoyed with smug, grand-standing, phony activist movie stars too (the Oscars were a near nightmare on that front), but was Gal’s celebrity orgy take on “Imagine” really that bad? Yes, the video kind of sucks, but its creation seems to have come from a fairly good place, with Gadot explaining that she was inspired by a moving online video of an Italian man playing the trumpet on his balcony for his neighbours as they struggle through the virus-born horrors currently crippling Italy. Though misguided, the new Wonder Woman (who actually roped in the original Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, for the video too…points for that, surely?) appears to have been trying to do something positive, and lacking in any malicious intent. The voices on the internet were always going to cut hard and deep on something like this, but did the mainstream media have to jump in too? In typical fashion, they failed to mention that many on Twitter and other social media actually voiced their approval for the video (strange but true), instead choosing to stick to their knives-in narrative.
The spread of COVID-19 is truly unprecedented. None of us have dealt with anything like this before. It is new and horrifying, and in the face of such horror, some people might respond to it with a wrong-footed clumsiness born of pure inexperience. When our supermarket chain Woolworths, for instance, introduced an hour of exclusive shopping especially for the old and vulnerable, they were savagely attacked by some sections of the media because the store shelves were partially empty. Some criticism was, of course, warranted, but did the boot have to be applied with steel caps and extreme prejudice? 2GB bad boy Alan Jones even levelled charges of “elderly abuse” at the company! This was, however, the first time that Woolworths had attempted anything like this, and they were aiming to do something good. The result was a stuff-up, but one that the company will hopefully fix in future.
The situation is not too far divorced from Wonder Woman and her famous pals. When faced with a global event that is truly enormous and terrifying, Gal Gadot used her star power to try to do something nice, and was then cast as something akin to a cultural criminal for her silly, ham-fisted attempt at creating a little hope and unity. Is that really fair? None of us truly know what the fuck is going on right now, and we should all be allowed to make at least a couple of mistakes as we cower in the face of COVID-19. If your heart is in the right place, do you really deserve to be stabbed through it?