- Under quarantine, celebrities and wealthy individuals posting to social media from their luxurious homes starkly illustrate differences in privilege, from access to a backyard to privacy in huge mansions.
- Those same individuals complaining about quarantine often seem tone-deaf considering the barriers people of different socioeconomic classes face social distancing in their homes.
- People who have referenced the economic and spatial divide on social media told Insider that having private space inside and out is a privilege, especially during a pandemic.
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Back on March 17, before stay-at-home orders and endless days of social distancing became the norm, Toronto-based musician Drake posted a picture of his indoor basketball court to his Instagram Story. He had been spotted hanging out with Kevin Durant a week prior, and Durant was one of four Brooklyn Nets players to test positive for the coronavirus.
“My life for the next however long,” a self-quarantined Drake seemed to sullenly caption the shot from inside his soon-to-be revealed $US7 million mansion, which was profiled in Architectural Digest less than a month later (the shoot was finalised before quarantine). In the music video for his latest Billboard no. 1 hit “Toosie Slide,” Drake slid around his excessively lavish “pleasure dome.”
“I have a tough time with diminishing other peoples’ experiences of what’s happening to them, but when I saw his music video I was like ‘Wow, this is great, you’re rubbing this giant mansion in all of our faces,'” Robin Mazumder told Insider. Mazumder holds a Master’s degree in occupational therapy and is a cognitive neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo studying how urban design and cities affect “how we feel and function.”
He believes that social distancing measures, despite being imperative from a public health standpoint, are disproportionately punishing those in poverty who may not have easy access to the kinds of indoor and outdoor spaces conducive to mental health and wellbeing during quarantine.
The class differences in access to private space are starkly on display, thanks to social media posts from wealthy individuals and celebrities staying at home. Despite the coronavirus pandemic making us “all equal,” as elected officials and A-listers alike have insisted, it actually seems to showcase how privileged wealthy elites are, even when trapped inside their multimillion-dollar mansions with enviable backyards.
“I’ve seen first-hand what kind of conditions people live in and how especially important it is for most people to access the outdoors, especially at a time like this, let alone just in general,” Mazumder, who worked in a clinical mental health capacity for five years, said.
“What I’ve been seeing on social media and what I’ve been seeing from many politicians is this kind of authoritarian approach to reprimanding people, and I think that, while I can’t make any assumptions, I do wonder how much they’re empathizing with people who may not be in their own circumstances financially.”
When wealthy people complain about quarantine from inside their luxurious homes, it feeds a growing anti-celebrity sentiment
Mazumder isn’t the only person bothered by the discrepancy between rich celebrities complaining at home and people confined to inner-city apartments, or even Midwest suburbia. Danny Pellegrino, a writer and pop culture podcast host based in downtown Los Angeles, was inspired to tweet about his outdoor space envy after scrolling through Instagram and seeing people complaining while posting from their yards.
“I don’t mean to complain, I know people have it way worse, but I just get a little jealous of people who have yards right now,” Pellegrino told Insider. “I’m in an apartment building and my apartment is a great space, but I don’t have any yard space. I don’t have a bit of grass. I can get outside of my building and there are some small pieces of grass and shared community space, but if you go to one of those you’re surrounded by people who have to walk their dog.”
I’m so fcking jealous of people who have backyards.
— Danny Pellegrino (@DannyPellegrino) March 21, 2020
When he watched the Gal Gadot-led celebrity cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Pellegrino felt, like many others, that celebrities should be donating some of their money instead of crooning at their front camera from inside their spacious homes. The anti-celebrity sentiment has been felt all over the internet during the pandemic.
Amanda Hess wrote in The New York Times that celebrity culture is burning, and that “the dream of class mobility dissipates when society locks down, the economy stalls, the death count mounts and everyone’s future is frozen inside their own crowded apartment or palatial mansion. The difference between the two has never been more obvious.”
When Jennifer Lopez tweeted a video of her 12-year-old son Max hoverboarding around her lime green backyard, serving Alex Rodriguez a can of Perrier, many of the replies compared her opulent mansion to the house in “Parasite,” the 2020 Best Picture thriller that told a modern tale of greed, privilege, and the class divide.
— jlo (@JLo) March 18, 2020
“I love J. Lo and A-Rod, I love them, but they post ‘Stay in your house’ – which is the right message to share – but then we also see a paparazzi shot of them getting access to a full gym, where they’re able to go inside,” Pellegrino said, referencing photos taken of Lopez and Rodriguez that appear to show them leaving their private Miami gym on April 1.
“I think it’s tough in a small apartment or studio or wherever you live when you see celebrities, they’re just being like that on social media, it’s frustrating,” he added. “I just think oftentimes, some celebrities are out of touch with what the average person goes through.”
Another person who tweeted about the celebrity disconnect was 19-year-old Trishna Rikhy, a New York University student studying journalism and art history who uses her “@ULTRAGLOSS” Twitter handle to regularly craft viral tweets with hundreds of thousands of likes. She suggested, in jest, that a celebrity complaining about quarantine trade places with her where she’s staying right now, at her parents’ Washington, DC home.
celebrities be like “quarantine is so hard” ok why dont u come live with my parents and i’ll go live in ur $18 million beverly hills home with an indoor pool and spa and home movie theatre and personal chef and backyard tennis court
— trish (@ULTRAGLOSS) March 25, 2020
“All that was going through my mind every time I saw a celebrity like Ellen cry on social media about being stuck at home was just thinking about how we’re all at home, and if it’s hard for them to be inside, imagine how hard it is for people whose homes are a fraction of theirs, without the luxuries of personal assistants, a fully stocked fridge, indoor pools, spas, gyms, and everything else they have,” Rikhy told Insider in an email.
She was referencing a recent episode of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” during which the TV host complained about how bored she was and compared being home to being at prison. The monologue was lambasted for making light of the public health crisis that could severely affect prisoners. For those who aren’t behind bars, there’s still a toll being taken on mental health and wellbeing, which is linked to access to private and outdoor space.
Access to outdoor space is beneficial for mental wellbeing, and quarantine illustrates how much privilege is tied to living space
Pellegrino told Insider he suffers from anxiety and depression, and that walking around outside and enjoying the California sunshine has been a reliable mood-booster in the past.
“I’m worried about everyone’s mental health, because I know when I’m at my lowest point I’m at least fortunate enough to be able to get outside and enjoy the sun and get to my therapist’s office or go to an exercise class or one of the many things you do to help when you’re in a bad mental state,” he said, noting that Vitamin D production from sunlight has been linked to improving your mood.
“I’m worried for myself and all the people who are alone and who aren’t quarantined with other people, who aren’t quarantined anymore, or who are worried about making money.”
Mazumder also noted that there’s a growing body of research exploring how green space improves mental health, and part of his own research is to find a mechanism of causation between outdoor space access and wellbeing.
“My interpretation of the research is that when you’re in green space, first of all, you don’t really have to worry about car traffic. The task demands of just occupying that space are much less, so you can be at ease,” he told Insider. “There has been population-based research that looks at large cohorts of people and communities and they have found that proximity to park space or access to park space is correlated with higher ratings of wellbeing.”
A 2019 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that childhood exposure to greenspace reduces the likelihood that a person will develop mental illness, and numerous studies have found that access to green space can reduce the impact of life stresses.
People who live in poverty have less indoor space and accordingly may need to access public space to ensure emotional wellbeing. I can appreciate the intention to close parks, but an intersectional lens is needed. Not everyone has a big backyard & comfortable house to isolate in.
— Robin Mazumder (he/him) (@RobinMazumder) April 5, 2020
In terms of that access, Rikhy told Insider she feels more privileged than most during quarantine. She was studying abroad in Europe this past semester and came straight back to her childhood home, where she has access to a backyard and dishwasher, unlike some of her classmates stuck in New York City apartments.
“It’s definitely a flex to show off the luxuries of your quarantine space, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily malicious or bad,” she wrote. “I think the expectation is to just recognise what you have and the privilege that comes with it, and be aware that when you complain about your situation to people who have less, it can come off as ignorant or tone-deaf.”
Mazumder was also living abroad, in London, when the pandemic reached the United Kingdom, so he found temporary new housing in his sister’s basement in Edmonton, Canada. He says his current neighbourhood is relatively affluent, and he’s grateful to have access to both his family and their amazing backyard. Even with that privilege, he’s still finding it difficult to go for a run while social distancing and found himself running on the streets instead.
“I can only imagine in other neighbourhoods, especially in the United States, there’s a degradation of footpaths. There are some neighbourhoods where you don’t even have adequate infrastructure in communities anyways,” Mazumder said. “When it comes to something like a pandemic, it’s really testing or kind of illuminating these massive issues when it comes to just the amount of space we have for living in the first place.”
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