On the fourth, or fifth, or sixth night of American Carnage 2020 Edition, David Guetta, the superstar French DJ, ascended to the roof of a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper, with a dream in his heart.
The ‘Sexy Bitch’ hitmaker was holding this concert, United at Home, to raise money for Feeding America and the World Health Organization. Corporate sponsors, partners and donors included Heineken, Atari and Perfection Snacks. Their money — and yours, if you choose to buy David Guetta United at Home branded face masks — would be used to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ah, yes, the pandemic. The country had rather changed the channel on ‘the biggest public health crisis since Yahweh unleashed the pestilence on Egypt’ or whatever CNN was calling it two weeks ago. There was an even bigger story in town. Like other celebrities, David Guetta was prepared to take a stand.
Guetta began his set. After 10 minutes, he cleared his throat. The time was now:
‘Da vorld iz goin’ fruu difficult tiiiiimes,’ Guetta said in Gallic English. ‘An America too, actually. Zo…lass niiight. I knew we were gonna do diss, and I make a special record… Zo diss record… isssss in honor of George Floyd.’ (Guetta looks direct to camera). ‘An I really ’ope we can see more… unity an more peaze, when already things are zo difficult… Zo, shout out to ’is family.’
Then, as the beat prepared to drop, the familiar voice of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. blasted out of the DJ’s speakers: ‘I HAVE A DREAM…’ Guetta raised his arms by his sides, framed by Gotham shimmering behind him in the gloaming, and began to pump his right fist energetically.
there’ve been a lot of crimes committed against my ppl this weekend, but david guetta putting a drop behind MLK’s “i have a dream” speech is up there pic.twitter.com/4iskArPcVy
— my otter academia (@ottergawd) May 31, 2020
Over the next four minutes he played his track, sampling Dr King the whole way through, paying tribute to Mr Floyd, sending a message to a land of hypocrisy, giving hope to the hopeless, spreading joy to the morose.
I watched this open-mouthed; clenching my fists, groaning my appreciation, closing my eyes, and thinking, above all, thank you David Guetta. Other celebrities had sent tweets, some had taken to Instagram, but none had been so bold as Mr Guetta. This was the turning of the tide, the dawn after the long darkness. American cities had been smashed after the grotesque murder in Minneapolis last week, but, I thought, now that Guetta had broadcast this track to the world, see how the misery and indigence would vanish, how the violence and despair would dissolve into justice, frugality, industry, dignity, peace on earth and goodwill towards all men. With Dr King’s words an integral part of four minutes of sub-standard electronic dance music, the pain of black America, product of four wild centuries of injustice and generations of wrongdoing, would surely be over…
But I was wrong! For some reason that night, and the night after that, and even the night after that, the rancorous, violent disorder continued. Guetta had done everything he could, but like Sisyphus, the boulder of American carnage kept clunking down the mountain, mashing up police, protesters and presidential churches. Even Manhattan, where Guetta made his stage, was brutally ransacked yesterday evening, long after Guetta’s set finished.
Prancing about on top of a skyscraper — doing good during the pandemic in a nebulous corporate way — but drawn like a moth to a tragedy that had nothing to do with him, Guetta was doing what every celebrity in America has been doing for the last week. Guetta was using a crisis to affirm his status, and to feel important. Celebrities were watching the largest breakdown in civic order since 1968, and they were either cheering it on, or making it about their feelings.
After the death of George Floyd, the marvelous people came drifting down from Mount Olympus on their clouds. The stars, according to multiple outlets, were on ‘the frontline’ of the uprising, as if they were in Warsaw in the summer of ’44. Machine Gun Kelly, ‘Hot Felon’ Jeremy Meeks, Emily Ratajkowski, Paris Jackson, John Cusack, Anna Kendrick, Jamie Foxx, Ariana Grande and the singer Madison Beer, holding a BLM sign and a Dior saddle bag, were all ‘responding’ to injustice on the streets of LA.
It was like that Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial, except more people were getting tear gas canisters fired directly into their faces.
Others were on Instagram, posting and posting again, desperate to show each other they cared. Posting something has become a test for America’s celebrities, a ‘what did you do in the war’ moment. A test that separates the cultivated from the uncultivated, the unattuned, the uncaring, and the outright barbarous people who might, deep down, wonder how smashing up a husband and wife with a two-by-four represents progress.
(Parallel thought: almost unbelievable, really, how quickly the virtue-signaling of the celebrity class mutated from stay inside your homes and save lives, to, if you’re not showing solidarity out on the street you are a racist.)
It is tricky to know what to say when a murder turns into a protest, and protests turn into riots, and riots trend towards class war. Especially when the backdrop of all this is a global pandemic. But celebrities are so cravenly addicted to attention that they have to say something anyway, or at least make their adopted children dance for racial justice, like Madonna did.
Last week Trevor Noah’s take on events — which started life as a Facebook Live video viewed a whooping 16 million times — was an epic of conspiratorial twitchiness. ‘I feel like everything that happens in the world connects to everything else that happens in some way, shape, or form,’ said Noah. He went on:
‘I saw so many people online saying, “These riots are disgusting. This is not how a society should be run. You do not loot and you do not burn. This is not how our society is built.” But what is society? Fundamentally, when you boil it down, society is a contract. It’’s a contract that we sign as human beings amongst each other. We sign a contract with each other as people, whether it’s spoken or unspoken, and we say, “Amongst this group of us, we agree in common rules, common ideal and common practices that are going to define us as a group.”’
Black America, could no longer be expected to uphold the social contract, after the murder of George Floyd, that was Noah’s gist. I thought about this for a while, this speech that largely summed up the thoughts of America’s celebrities, and wondered, rather cheaply, what kind of house Trevor Noah lived in, and what kind of neighborhood that house is in. As enjoyable as it was to consider social contract theory, elaborated by the host of The Daily Show, I couldn’t help but wonder if anybody would be burning down his house that evening. Was he at risk from the looting and burning he approved of?
Trevor Noah lives in a $20 million LA home that he purchased last November. Although saying that, he has multiple homes, so maybe he was doing his Rousseau act in a different one. This home according to the listing realtor, is ‘the perfect marriage of innovation and sophistication’, with features like polished glass floors and automatic walls of glass that ‘blur the line between indoors and out’. It has ‘a custom saltwater aquarium, stone bar, cigar room and office, with a marble chef’s kitchen, custom cabinetry, and climate-controlled wine storage for up to 250 bottles. The master bedroom is just over 200 square meters, finished with oak floors, automated doors and Lutron shades.’ Truly, this a man who lives like he cares about ‘common practices’.
As far as we know, nobody has thrown a brick through Noah’s automatic glass walls, or taken a dump in his saltwater aquarium, or rifled through his custom cabinetry. The equivalent of all of this has happened to many business owners in Noah’s city, and elsewhere in America. Noah, like all the other aristocrats, can sit in his big house(s) and tacitly encourage the worst behavior of human beings, because they don’t understand the basic point that social order comes before social contracts.
They cry in their mansions like Ellen, or somberly philosophize about the nature of systemic oppression and romanticize the looting of (immigrant-run!) businesses, because they are not real; celebrities have transcended anything like reality. Protests, riots, looting, uprisings — they’re real. Stars like Noah, and Guetta, are not. Real beatings, real tear gas, real shootings, real cars speeding into real crowds; none of it scares the celebs at all. They’re more scared about being called out by other celebrities for not using their ‘platforms’ correctly.
They see this bitter discontent growing fiercer and madder by the day and think it can be cured by making it about themselves. Just like they think they can post racism out of existence on Instagram. I hope they’re right.