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Revisiting the Great COVID Social Media Scolding – Vanity Fair

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For a few brief weeks last spring, for once, we didn’t really want to hear from celebrities and influencers. Their work, which depends on connecting with others through relatability and authenticity, was ill-equipped to meet the moment. Presenting oneself doing anything that wasn’t personal suffering or giving gobs of money to a cause felt tone-deaf at the time—and even those acts could sound tone-deaf.  It was a moment for nuance,  and social media is famously not a nuanced place. At the time, I wrote a story about a couple such influencers in the midst of running aground to this effect. Topped with an intense headline— “Is This the End of Influencing as We Knew It?”—it drew the attention of the much-followed Instagram account Diet Prada, and more people found out about it from there.

A year feels way too soon to look back at early COVID in the U.S. It seems like such an arbitrary time marker when in fact, it feels like it’s been 10 years since last March, and also like it was yesterday. For me, looking back means remembering this story, which still looms large in my memory, though most have probably forgotten it. I’ve returned to it many times throughout the pandemic, largely to wince, and I started to dread its anniversary specifically, on top of the generalized dread of this March. Still, maybe, right now, when we’re not quite out of this thing, but starting to conceive of an end, is the best time to take stock of what happened in order to figure out how to move forward. 

First, a recap of what happened then. Naomi Davis, known in her online form as Taza, and Arielle Charnas of Something Navy, are two influencer moms who were living in New York City. Both were part of the fledgling influencer cohort that began their blogs and then grew their followings on Instagram; both also became avatars for questionable pandemic behavior just as the novel coronavirus was starting to rip through the U.S. and New York City in particular.

On March 17, 2020, Charnas told her followers she felt sick, and then took them along with her as she went to get tested for COVID. It seems quaint in retrospect. Now, reliable tests are one of the main tools for fighting the pandemic that we have. But—call it recent-history overload—it’s easy to forget that accessing testing in New York, as well as most of the country, was a difficult, confusing experience and a rare one too. Much like vaccines today, there were criteria for who qualified to get tested, and they were rationed for the most vulnerable populations. A few days prior to Charnas’s post, The New York Times published, “One woman in Harlem who wanted to be tested was told by health care workers not to worry about her coronavirus-like symptoms. In Brooklyn, a woman had to wait to get tested until her mother tested positive for the virus. One doctor at a hospital network has turned away patients who probably had the coronavirus because they did not meet the current testing.”

Though obviously ill, Charnas didn’t appear to qualify for testing. She proceeded to find a doctor who would give her a test, eventually posting the video of her nasal swab. She even tagged him, engaging old influencing best practices in a brave new world. There was a contingent that vocalized frustration with her actions (and many who praised her) after she posted again, noting she tested positive. The point she made in a Notes-app post was one that many have made since: “It is the responsibility of our government office to ensure all Americans can access necessary tests,” she wrote.

Around the same time, Davis posted about how she was packing up her family of seven in an R.V. and driving away from the city, which at the time was the nation’s COVID hotspot. Many of her followers condemned her, as health experts shared fears that Davis and social media personalities like her might “influence” others into carrying the virus across state lines. 

By that time, Charnas, too, was getting out. On March 26, less than two weeks after posting that she had tested positive, she announced on Instagram that she and her family had decamped to the Hamptons, posting a photo of herself looking carefree with arms extended overhead in the air. A thread about Charnas’s entire experience, which described commenters getting “big mad,” went semi-viral on Twitter, which is how I and so many others first encountered her.

If bypassing testing restrictions rankled online commenters, then the optics of driving a couple hours east—or across the country—was way worse: A stay-at-home order was in place for most New Yorkers, and not just those showing symptoms of the disease.

There’s no way to prove with hard data that anyone got the idea to go elsewhere from Davis, Charnas, or anyone else who picked up and left their homes, but many did the same. Getting out of a city during the pandemic was not a difficult idea to come by on one’s own. As Kyle Chayka reported in The New Yorker in October, Airbnbs grew scarce over the summer. There was a mass exodus to elsewhere, specifically for longer-term “remote work” getaways outside of urban areas, per the company’s own data: Many migrated upstate, up into the Adirondacks. Others chose Vermont’s ski destinations, resort towns in Montana and Colorado, lake country in Maine as well as Portland, and Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Here’s one dramatic infographic that animated the exodus from the “richest neighborhoods” in New York from May. It couldn’t have been only short-term dalliances elsewhere either; one couldn’t both be on the internet and escape news of the robust housing market and scarce inventory.

I can see now that one beat I didn’t hit hard enough was that Charnas was putting her own face out there because it was her job to always be posting. She became the poster child of people reaching into their pockets to escape the pandemic, even though she and her husband were already sick. She tried to explain that she was following advice from her doctors and the CDC. For terrified people looking for a visible person to project their anxieties on, none of that mattered. 

Recapping all of that brought back visceral memories of that time. My roommates and I were still taking 20 minutes to wipe down all my vegetables every time someone went to the grocery store. It was, remember, the same brief moment when Andrew Cuomo was a source of calm, just because he was taking it seriously on a daily basis while the president contradicted his own health authorities and played down the severity of the virus publicly. It inspired one particularly cursed portmanteau. (No need to repeat it here, but here’s a link for posterity.)

If our heroes were too easy to come by, perhaps our villains were too. I didn’t enjoy the celebrities and influencers offering up their lives to me in March and April 2020, and I wasn’t alone in that feeling. It came across all wrong, appearing boastful yet under the guise of help. Not my life, yet not far away enough to take me out of my life. I was too quick to single out one type of person with one type of job, though, one whose livelihood is largely dependent on posting. Cuomo now looks more like Donald Trump than ever, and we, perhaps, resemble Charnas, Davis, and the rest more than we thought we would.

Davis declined an interview, though she has a book coming out, A Coat of Yellow Paint (subtitle: Moving Through the Noise to Love the Life You Live. She does not address the “noise” of last spring, but she details the work one has to do to live one’s life online and survive.) Charnas took me up on my offer. It’s been a difficult year for her. She had already parted ways with Nordstrom in order to launch Something Navy as a standalone brand with clothing drops and a retail location in New York. She hired a CEO and they made a plan before having to push the launch back twice due to the coronavirus. Something Navy finally opened in July, though. Charnas said that her followers, the core fans who knew what they were opting into when they followed her, have stuck with her.

I wondered how she felt when she saw other people—normal people, famous people, people people—doing what she got publicly flayed for as the pandemic dragged on and the “stay at home” spring gave way to a pandemic response that varied wildly by region. 

“If I were to think too much about that, I would just make myself crazy,” Charnas said. “I was following my doctors’ and my kids’ doctors’ recommendations. They were saying to me that, you know, at this point, it’s okay for you to go straight to your house in the Hamptons, you’re fine to do that. So that’s what I did. You know what I mean? So when I saw other people doing that—of course, if you had that opportunity, anyone would take that for their family.”

Over the summer and onward, just like influencers and celebrities, regular people had begun to live lives of emphatic desperation online. Suddenly, if I saw some woods or a pool or an ocean or a gorgeous view in the background of a photo or a video, it hit with a heavy thud rather than a pang of aspiration that could be easily dismissed like usual. It wasn’t just posts from influencers that kicked off little spirals, it was everyone’s posts—those of friends, family, friends of friends, loose acquaintances, my own. I know this isn’t a unique feeling (and I also know everyone didn’t feel that way). Stella Bugbee, formerly the editor in chief of New York magazine’s The Cut, put it beautifully this past December: “This year, it seemed like no matter who you are, whatever you posted, you had a high chance of getting it wrong in some way, because many of the values we’ve come to expect (and enjoy) on Instagram feel incorrect for this moment: Narcissism, flexing, even the forgivable human cry for validation seem crass in the face of so much social discord.” 

She wrote this months after the spring, months after a summer that many spent reevaluating their relationship to the country’s baked-in injustices. More horrible villains than our original ones, more exacting in their privilege, had become impossible to ignore. The whole world watched a police officer squeeze the life out of George Floyd on film. Officers entered the home of a young woman, Breonna Taylor, and shot her fatally. So many stories like these followed, and meanwhile the state, and in many cases, relatives or friends, revealed their indifference or particular talent in defensive equivocating. It’s still crushing.  

Even the storyline that Davis and Charnas initially epitomized kept on going until it reached impossible heights. There was Kim Kardashian, for example, and her wild choice to share her  enormous, expensive destination birthday party on an island with her hundreds of thousands of followers. There were so, so many parties. “We all got tested and social distanced, of course” became some kind of incantation meant to will judgment away.

Back in spring 2020, some outlets that published stories on their actions suggested that Charnas and Davis weren’t the main problem. The problem was much larger; it was systemic, an old story, one you already know. The government was failing to take care of the people who hired them to do so, and in the absence of leadership from elected officials and health advisers people were making their own decisions. Into that void, anger got directed at those who had the gall to post. 

“At the end of the day, my intention was just to share what we were going through, just like always. And going forward, I’ve been more careful about what I post. I definitely think twice now,” Charnas told me. “I’m trying to be more sensitive [to what’s] going on around me and in the world before I do share anything.”

As time went on, it became clear that being an absolutist about COVID precautions was unsustainable at best. At worst, it made people afraid to do certain things—like go to the beach or find a better place to live—that eased mental health burdens and made “safer,” more nuanced risk-taking possible. Of course this was hard to see back then. When I first wrote about Charnas last April, I was desperate to know what to do and how to feel about every little thing. More than anything else, I remember guilt. Guilt for health, guilt for home. Guilt for having a job that persisted under the circumstances. Guilt for struggling sometimes to do the one thing I have to do for my job—just write. That’s it!—and hoping that I wasn’t getting it all wrong. There was so much guilt, and that doesn’t translate well online either. Every post on social that didn’t transmit guilt felt unrelatable and tone-deaf, and if it did manage to hit that incredibly difficult tone, it was too overwhelming. I didn’t want to relate any more.

Influencing, the Job, isn’t over, as both Charnas and Davis are a living testament to. The concept of people sharing their lives with followers and, in the process, selling them stuff will likely always be economically viable, in its many iterations, whatever those may be.  I do stand by the essence of the piece. Generally speaking, the days of influencers posting straight lifestyle content without a thought to the politics of the moment are over for now—some will obviously and openly not care about it, but that, too, has become a choice. The protests this summer and onward only deepened that feeling. In the meantime, we’ll still follow the story lines that those living lives half online provide for us because influencers, like most celebrities and public figures, are our avatars. They help us work out how we feel by putting their choices out there. They allow us to judge them, so that we can judge ourselves, so that we can know how we want to live.

More Stories From Our Pandemic Year

— Revisiting the Great COVID Social Media Scold
— How Tom Hanks Became the Avatar of Our Pandemic Year
— Andrew Cuomo Got His Coronavirus-Celebrity Wish
— For Every Stage of the Pandemic, There Has Been a Celebrity Getting in Trouble for Partying
— After the Year of No Bras, Things Are Looking Up

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Movie theaters face uncertain future

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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Maryo Mogannam snuck into the Empire theater in San Francisco with his older cousins to watch “Animal House” when he was 14. He watched most of the James Bond movies at the historic art house and took his wife there on some of their first dates.

The cinema, which had been showing movies since the silent film era, served notice in February that it was permanently closing because of the impact of COVID-19. The marquee is now blank, and cardboard and paper cover the box office window.

“It’s kind of like losing a friend,” said Mogannam, now 57, who owns a retail shipping outlet near the theater, which had been renamed the CineArts at the Empire.

As vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes, they also may find their neighborhood theater is not there to greet them.

An eight-cinema chain in New England said it will not reopen. The same fate hit a Houston art house beloved by director Richard Linklater and, in a shock to Hollywood, more than 300 screens run by Los Angeles-based Pacific Theatres. That includes the Cinerama Dome, a landmark that hosted several red-carpet movie premieres.

Following a year of closures, theaters face deferred rent bills plus media companies’ focus on drawing customers to streaming services. Up to one-fourth of the roughly 40,000 screens in the United States could disappear in the next few years, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.

The National Association of Theatre Owners rejects that estimate, spokesman Patrick Corcoran said, noting that similar dire warnings accompanying the advent of television and the switch to digital screens never came to pass.

Hollywood filmmakers want cinemas to thrive.

“It’s the only place where the art dominates,” said “Avatar” director James Cameron. “When you watch something on streaming, the other people in the room with you are welcome to interject, to pause to go to the bathroom, to text.”

At theaters, “we literally make a pact with ourselves to go and spend two to three hours in a focused enjoyment of the art.”

“For 300 people to laugh and cry at the same time, strangers, not just your family in your house, that’s a very powerful thing,” said Chloe Zhao, Oscar-nominated director of best picture nominee “Nomadland.”

At the Academy Awards on Sunday, the movie industry will “make a case for why cinema matters,” producer Stacey Sher said. While acknowledging the hardship of the pandemic, “we also have to fight for cinema and our love of it and the way it has gotten us through things,” she said.

About 58% of theaters have reopened in the United States and Canada, most restricted to 50% capacity or less. The biggest operators – AMC, Cinemark and Cineworld – make up roughly half the overall market.

Industry leaders project optimism, forecasting a big rebound after restrictions ease and studios unleash new blockbusters.

Coming attractions include a new Bond adventure, the ninth “Fast & Furious” film, a “Top Gun” sequel and several Marvel superhero movies.

“Avatar 2,” Cameron’s follow-up to the highest-grossing film of all time, is set to debut in December 2022. Some box office analysts predict 2022 ticket sales will hit a record.

Supporters point to late March release “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which brought in roughly $48.5 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices over its first five days, even though audiences could stream it on HBO Max.

“That was a big win for the entire industry,” said Rich Daughtridge, president and chief executive of Warehouse Cinemas in Frederick, Maryland.

But near- and long-term challenges loom, particularly for smaller cinemas.

Theaters are negotiating with landlords over back rent. A federal aid program was delayed due to technical problems.

Plus, media companies are bringing movies to homes sooner. Executives say streaming is their priority, pouring billions into programming made to watch in living rooms as they compete with Netflix Inc.

Most at risk are theaters with one or two screens, Wedbush Securities’ Pachter said. He said his best guess is between 5,000 and 10,000 screens could go permanently dark in coming years.

“I think we’ll see a gradual decline in the number of screens,” Pachter said, “just like we’ve seen a gradual decline in the number of mom-and-pop grocery stores and bookstores.”

 

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles, Alicia Powell in New York and Nathan Frandino in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Applications open for Pattison Media 2021 Prairie Equity Scholarship – Lethbridge News Now

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(Lethbridge News Now)

By Pattison Media

Apr 19, 2021 12:01 PM

LETHBRIDGE, AB – Applications are now being accepted for Pattison Media’s 2021 Prairie Equity Scholarship competition.

The scholarship is aimed at broadcast and digital media students in the Prairie provinces who are part of under-represented groups.

Two awards of $2,000 will be made to residents of Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba who in 2021 are attending or planning to attend a recognized broadcast or digital media program at a post-secondary institute in one of the three provinces.

Information and application package

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‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ Tops Box Office Again, Crosses $80 Million in the U.S.

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will set aside C$12 billion ($9.6 billion) to extend its main pandemic support measures in a budget to be presented on Monday, the Toronto Star reported, as much of the country battles a virulent third wave of COVID-19 infections.

The emergency wage subsidy and the emergency rent subsidy, due to expire in June, will be extended to the end of September, the Star reported on Sunday.

Separately, the government will create the “Canada Recovery Hiring Program” in June meant to help those companies depending on the wage subsidy to pivot to hiring again, the newspaper said.

The Finance Ministry declined to confirm or comment on the report. However, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Sunday that government pandemic supports would continue for as long as needed.

“If Canadians need that support and the pandemic continues, the government will certainly have their backs,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson also confirmed that the budget would be “ambitious” and that the government would “invest for jobs and growth to rebuild this economy,” though he also said there would be “fiscal guardrails” to put spending on a “sustainable track”.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will present the country’s first budget in two years on Monday after promising in November up to C$100 billion in stimulus over three years to “jump-start” an economic recovery during what is likely to be an election year.

Canada has been ramping up its vaccination campaign but still has a smaller percentage of its population inoculated than dozens of other countries, including the United States and Britain.

Amid a spiking third wave of infections, Ontario, Canada‘s most populous province, announced new public health restrictions on Friday, including closing the province’s borders to domestic travelers.

($1 = 1.2501 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer, Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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