In the social media age, who isn’t guilty of the occasional self – or lifestyle – glorification? Perhaps we post flattering snaps or make our weekend appear more glamorous than it actually was (no mean feat in this intensely dull era). People are “filtering” their internet presence more and more, and that includes their political ideologies.
We are living in a time where it is fashionable to be woke. Some days it’s near impossible to flick through friends’ Instagram stories without being bombarded with political aphorisms about the latest sexy cause. Granted, these usually focus on important issues worthy of discussion and debate. What irks me, however, is the failure of the people posting about such causes to follow through with changes to their own lifestyle. It is, after all, very easy to post quote after quote about protecting the high street in public, while simultaneously placing a mass order on Amazon in private.
Of course, there is the argument that such hollow gestures are harmless, or that they may even have a net positive impact on the world by getting the word out. Perhaps it’s simply naïve to expect people to actually mean what they say or post.
Normally, I can respect (although not necessarily subscribe to) anyone’s political views provided the person espousing them does so with integrity and conviction. One would assume that if someone applies what they are saying to their own life, then they surely must mean it.
But presumptions over an individual’s principles can often be misplaced. Just look at what I will term the “integrity delta” among the celebrity elite, many of whom are the most vocal and most hypocritical of virtue signallers.
As the (now notorious) Lund University study uncomfortably laid bare, Hollywood celebrities and business leaders may talk a good game when it comes to climate change but they have carbon footprints up to 300 times bigger than the general public. “Do as I say, not as I do” seems to be their guiding principle.
Examples of this type of hypocrisy are multitudinous. Millionaire actress Emma Thompson flew 5,400 miles in her private jet to protest climate change at the London Extinction Rebellion protests in 2019. Bill Gates said “climate change is a terrible problem, and it absolutely needs to be solved” before reportedly flying 213,000 miles in one year alone. Oprah Winfrey said “the future of life as we know it is being determined by everything we’re doing – and not doing” before it was revealed she flew 83,356 miles over a period of twelve months. Her most recent interviewees also came under fire for proselytising on such matters, only to later take private jets to the South of France. Whatever your views on Greta Thunberg, at least she boated to the climate change summit!
And, of course, it’s not just climate change. Celebrities are often the biggest proponents of socialism, despite having benefited from the capitalist system. When filmmaker and activist Michael Moore, for instance, says “capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil”, or tweets “Happy Birthday Karl Marx. You were right”, I can’t help but wonder which of his nine luxury homes he posted that fashionable soundbite from?
You might be thinking: celebrities can be hypocrites, so what? They say one thing and photoshop another. But the trouble is, their actions undermine the very cause they’re trying to support. Tell us the planet is going to hell on a handcart, but if you then hop on a private flight or mega yacht, we might take those prognostications a little less seriously before you platformed your eco-activism.
Yes, a posting snowball may follow where a celebrity endorsement leads, with tweets, Insta-stories, Snapchat, and live streams piling on the political pressure. But how rigorously have the tweeters and the chatters examined these issues? Have they considered the unintended consequences of some of the changes they are advocating? Do they risk shutting down the debate? As the late Prince Philip once wrote to the Institute of Economic Affairs: “When ideas become fashionable they are just as resistant to objective criticism as the length of skirts.”
For many, it is jarring to see the likes of Emma Thompson flying off into the sunset in their private jets, while being applauded for their contribution to bettering the planet. Climate change is an important issue, and we need to be free to discuss and debate approaches to decarbonisation. We need to be alert to who is talking the talk when it comes to political activism – particularly when it often falls to the lowest socio-economic pockets of society to bear the immediate costs of some of the more ill-thought-out policies.
Hypocrisy may be as old as time. It is said to be the compliment vice pays to virtue. However, it has undoubtedly become more dangerous with the arrival of social media. Curating our internet image to align with the matter of the moment can (and often does) have real-life implications. So please, post with integrity. #nofilter.