The Guillotine of Our Time

opinion and analysis
Singer Ariana Grande, one of the many celebrities who attended the frivolous $75,000 ticket event called the Met Gala while Israel was bombing Gaza. Photo courtesy of The Commons
Singer Ariana Grande, one of the many celebrities who attended the frivolous $75,000 ticket event called the Met Gala while Israel was bombing Gaza. Photo courtesy of The Commons

On May 6, some of the most influential and wealthy individuals of our country gathered in front of cameras, making their way past protestors and up red carpeted stairs to flaunt their opulence in intricately made outfits they could barely move in. The Met Gala was like a scene out of the Hunger Games saga.

Bizarre “fashionable” images of the rich enjoying a party they paid $75,000 to get into. The “fundraiser” for the Costume Institute (a collection of costumes housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) made more than $26 million. That same night, Israel was again bombing Gaza.

The theme of the night was “The Garden of Time,” inspired by the short story written by J.G. Ballard. The story follows an aristocratic couple in their large estate. From a distance, they can see an angry mob approaching, so the couple begins picking and using the “time flowers” in their garden. These magical flowers push back, time-keeping the danger at bay.

Eventually, they run out of flowers, time resets and everything (having been turned back in time for so long) turns to stone. By the time the mob arrives, there is nothing there for them.

Some theorize that the story is about creation and destruction. Or it could be a relevant allegory for economic inequality. A story about the rich hoarding and taking—preventing anyone from sharing in their wealth until there are no more resources for the rest of us.

Perhaps the celebrities who attended the Met Gala were too busy editing their pictures for Instagram to read the short story. Perhaps this is why they took the theme so literally, covering themselves in expensive decorative flowers or, like Camila Cabello, carrying a block of ice with a gold rose valued at $22,500.

The prices of their gowns and accessories are almost laughable—especially when considering Cabello’s block of ice was meant to be carried like a purse but the handle broke right away. Presumably, she saved the receipt.

No one quite embodies the irony of this over-the-top ridiculous event like Haley Baylee. Despite having several million followers, many might not know this influencer. Invited as a host for the Met Gala, she decided to post a TikTok showing off a dress that can only be described as what it would look like if spring vomited on someone.

Moreover, she used an old sound that trended a while back on the app, lip-synching the famous words “Let them eat cake.” Yes, the phrase that people attribute to Marie Antionette as a response to being told that her people were starving and didn’t even have bread.

This tone deaf and ignorant TikTok sparked outrage.

Wasn’t it enough that we’ve been watching civilians, doctors and babies being bombed, starved and shot at for months?

Wasn’t it enough that we watched rich people play dress-up for $75,000 while we struggle to pay rent or afford groceries?

Wasn’t it enough that the colleges we have become indebted to in exchange for an education won’t tell us where our money is going?

Wasn’t it enough that our politicians lie and spend our money on weapons that kill children across the ocean?

IInfluencers like Baylee—whether or not aware of it—showed us how completely out of touch they are from the rest of us. Especially when she went on to apologize and claimed to be a “normal person,” despite the fact that she rents a $17,000 per month N.Y. apartment. It was simply the last straw. Within hours, the hashtags #Digitalguillotine and #blockout2024 were trending.

The idea behind #blockout2024 is simple:

In modern capitalism, attention has become another form of currency. Followers, watches, streams, likes—it all translates to money somewhere.

Although the genocide in Gaza has a multigenerational history, the last eight months we have essentially watched live as homes, hospitals, schools and lives are destroyed.

We have also noticed how many celebrities, influencers, politicians and so-called activists and leaders have stayed in silence. There are many possible reasons for their silence such as support for Israel or not wanting to lose contracts with Israeli funders or not caring.

Many of these public figures have spoken out on humanitarian issues in the past—which makes their silence on this genocide particularly disappointing. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter anymore. If you have stayed silent or made excuses for the genocide while being someone of influence—you will be blocked.

The #blockout movement does not aim to bully anyone into caring about what is happening to Palestinians because at the end of the day you cannot force someone into caring. The movement is simply about not wasting our time and attention on people that clearly would not spend it on us. It is about no longer spending our time and money on people who are standing still and instead uplifting each other’s voices.

People following this movement are not only boosting and posting videos on ways to help Palestinian families to evacuate but also calling attention to other genocides like the ones in Congo and Sudan.

There are many criticisms of this movement. Is it performative? Is it really making a difference?

TikTok creator @adonaicaimmoloch has made various videos relating to the #blockout movement, including a 7.5-minute video in which he details the importance of the movement in our current socioeconomic structure. He breaks down how celebrities perpetuate and benefit from the systems that keep us struggling to survive and how they’re used to distract us from real issues, as well as the importance of focusing on each other instead of rich people who don’t care about us.

“[Social media] have become pillars of celebrity worship, consumerism and corporate worship. In order for the imperialist system to function, they require us to be 1) pacified and 2) distracted amidst the violence that is committed against us and against people across all the world…

“Celebrit[ies] represent…the idea that those of us who work hardest will be justly rewarded for our hard work. But if you’re poor like me you understand that the hardest workers are often the poorest.

“The celebrity…is the goal. We’re all supposed to try to achieve this level of fame, recognition and wealth, but the gag is that wealth is always, in every single circumstance, at the expense of someone else’s poverty and the violence committed against that person to ensure the profit from their labor.

“And this is where the #blockout movement comes into play. We, the working class, are tired and aware of what is going on. And the reason why is because we are affected by it—we’re also being oppressed.

“After we get off our 9–5 shift, where we’re making money to barely afford groceries, barely afford rent, barely afford our phone bill, we go on social media and see what is happening all across the world and it’s not that hard to draw the connections.

“The only currency of real value is not the dollar, it’s not the yen, it’s not the euro, it’s our attention. If we stop paying it to them and pay it to each other, we can uplift each other, we can survive the crisis that is gonna happen soon. We have to save ourselves.

“What is happening with the #blockout movement is that we are shifting the consciousness and taking control over our lives and what we will see on our social media—while we still have it…We can talk to each other about how we are going to survive.”

For those who don’t believe change can really happen this way, such celebrities as Lizzo and such influencers as Chris Olsen have already started talking (in fear of losing followers for their previous silence) about Gaza and programs like Operation Olive Branch (a grassroots collective that can connect you with a family raising funds to evacuate Gaza).

The movement has already cost thousands of public figures millions of followers. Kim Kardashian alone has already lost more than three million followers thanks to #digitalguillotine.

The genocide in Palestine is pulling our attention toward atrocities around the world and away from celebrities. Our attention must stay focused on the injustices in Palestine, Congo, Sudan and here. We cannot continue wasting our time on people that only care if we’re alive when it is affecting their revenue. So, who’s on your block list?

Author

  • Paulina Deeds Ortiz

    Paulina Deeds Ortiz is a former fellow with the Community Alliance newspaper. She is a Mexican immigrant currently attending Fresno State, working on an anthropology major with a minor in psychology. She spends her free time writing poetry or painting.

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