Poverty cosplayed by the rich

Which celebrity is playing homeless today? Jonathan Kho via Unsplash

The misconceptions behind celebrity “rags to riches” stories

by sarah charles, contributor

It’s no secret that mainstream media personalities absorb the most palatable narratives to assume success. After all, consolidating their audiences’ most innate desires is what makes them famous. In the latest, or maybe not so late, rendition of this is the narratives of fictional poverty assumed by celebrities to adhere to the interests and likeness of the consumers who make them successful. More specifically, influencer culture that survives off of pandering to their audiences dreams and desires while pushing a “hard work” exterior of moral showboating. Unfortunately, the act of donning a working-class costume to send the message that money does not matter as long as you work hard and stay true to oneself seems particularly ubiquitous in the new age of influencers. For celebrities, the audiences most far removed from poverty, these displays of performative relatability go unchecked. But this “working-class cosplay” directly adds to the displacement of actual working-class people.

Social media is one of the most powerful avenues through which influential members of society can be exposed to the experiences and voices of the marginalized. Therefore, objectification of the poor to entertain a privileged audience is fundamentally wrong, but the ethical minefield of depicting poverty to be palatable to an audience is still extremely pervasive. The usage of a lower- and middle-class aesthetics assumed by people who are not actually lower or middle class translates to a very distorted view from the privileged that is assumed towards individuals actually living in poverty. For celebrities, depicting poverty on screen is a tactic that positions them on a moral high ground while still having a profitable disconnect under the guise of “working hard.” When celebrities assume this narrative, they fail to acknowledge that they retain the luxury of being able to have the financial capacity and resources to “work” harder than most. There is no obligation for celebrities to engage with politics, but they should be cognizant of the consequences that are left from perjuring these narratives. When the “one must work hard to get to a certain level of success” message is being assumed and promoted, it tells us that poverty is something to escape rather than rectify by the establishments that can consolidate the dismissal of these communities. Allegedly, if one wants to escape poverty, they only need to work harder to be successful in doing so.

The distortion of these messages through influencers makes the messaging that much more real. Viewing the lives of celebrities and influencers from an outside lens to the audiences makes the assumption that their lives are real much easier, whether being doctored or not. When these lives presented to us are a reflection of struggle or “rags to riches,” it can be a far more convincing illusion – most likely also hiding the fact that these influencers and celebrities were born into high amounts of privilege that existed before fame and their current following. Consequently, directly or indirectly indicating that the wealth, power, or even status one has is solely based off of hard work and is attainable to the masses is incredibly facetious, as there will be a point when actual working-class people realize that the paths of their favorite celebrities are not achievable for them.


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