There’s a story I think about a lot, told by Douglas Rushkoff, one of the only good futurists. I encourage you to read it in its entirety, but essentially: Rushkoff was once invited to give a fantastically well-compensated talk about the “future of technology” that was in fact a five-person seminar for hedge fund managers at a luxury resort. They didn’t actually want to talk about technology, Rushkoff found. They wanted to talk about how they would survive the climate crisis or a viral outbreak. They wanted to know how they would escape.
I thought about this story when Gwyneth Paltrow, who has built a massively successful second career by positing that illness can be prevented by cold baths and energy healing and lifestyle choices, posted a picture of herself on Instagram wearing a ventilator—by the looks of it, an Airnum in Onyx Black. Billed as the “world’s most advanced” ventilator mask, the Airnum (which retails around $70) contains four filters of different densities and is R&D tested in Sweden. The model Paltrow, who has a net worth of around $100 million, is wearing here is currently sold out:
I understand it’s sort of rote to hit Gwyneth Paltrow on all the things that make her a parody of herself. But it’s notable to me that someone who, for instance, has knocked sunscreen because the sun is “natural” and “anything that’s natural can’t be bad for you” and whose company recommends coffee enemas and drinking goat milk to prevent disease, is all of a sudden very invested in how people actually get sick. As recently as a few years ago, when Paltrow came down with the flu, she wasn’t particularly worried about how viruses spread: She visited an infrared sauna, and posted about it. “All contagion aside... Going to hit it with heat,” she wrote on Instagram at the time.
Elsewhere, it’s been suggested that the various celebrities posting photos of themselves wearing face masks out of a fear of contracting coronavirus are spreading paranoia, or that they should be posting photos of themselves washing their hands instead. It’s certainly true that health workers and people who have already contracted the virus should be getting masks before celebrities, considering we’re entering into global mask shortage that will make it even more difficult to contain a rapidly spreading public health crisis.
But Paltrow isn’t wearing a mask out of deep concern for public health; she’s posting because she’s beginning to panic. Coronavirus definitely isn’t the end times, but it’s a useful indication of what it would look like if we got there: All our favorite celebrities, throwing out their public postures and scrambling to spend as much money as possible to make sure that they’re the ones who stay safe.