This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
On Wednesday night just before 9 p.m. on an episode of the The Masked Singer, a person dressed as a pink bear, styled as if they had bathed in cotton candy after an acid trip, took off their clunky mask.
It was Sarah Palin, who proceeded to rap along to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” as Mariah Carey’s ex, Nick Cannon, twerked next to her and famed vaccination skeptic Jenny McCarthy enthusiastically whooped in delight.
After the credits rolled, Fox News cut in with the presidential address on the novel coronavirus from Donald Trump, in which a confused travel ban was announced. By the time Trump finished his speech, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson revealed that they had contracted the virus.
If it were a fictional doomsday tale—akin to the upsetting launch of HBO’s Years and Years—it would be too on the nose to even be entertaining. Taken as bleak reality, however, I coughed soon after and began writing my will.
It was a truly remarkable series of events, alternatively a wake-up call and a told-ya-so moment, depending on whether you lean more toward the Bethenny Frankel-coined #thisisacrisis or the Elisabeth Hasselbeck-endorsed “Prayer & Purel” side of the concern spectrum.
After some vaguely mean-spirited odds-playing about which celebrity would be the first to contract the coronavirus, it is, almost too outrageously, the most famous actor in the world and his beloved wife who are the first major public figures. As comedian Whitney Cummings said in a widely shared tweet, “It’s like it picked the celebrity we cared the most about to make a point.”
It was, for so many Americans, the moment that shit just got real. I know this because if you search “shit just got real” and “Tom Hanks” on Twitter, a whole lot of people did indeed say just that.
Listen, no one is the “right person” to be the highest-profile face of a terrifying pandemic. That is a ludicrous suggestion. But the fact is that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have tested positive, and are being hospitalized and cared for. It’s sad and egregious, yet true: It took it being them for the world to finally pay attention.
It’s a burden that’s been unfairly thrust onto them, but as actress Nia Vardalos wrote, “If there are any two people who can lead us with dignity and good humor through this health crisis,” it is them. Perhaps, finally, this is an opportunity to demystify this disease—an opportunity that couldn’t have come soon enough.
Scan social media, the news, and your friends’ and family’s group text chain, and you’ll encounter people drunk with panic off a debilitating cocktail of alarming news, anxiety, anger, and hysteria.
There are the writers and influencers with large followings who have embarked on second careers as armchair public health experts, making great use of an already attention-seeking platform to stoke fears, chastise, and shame—as well-meaning as their mission may be to inform. We’ve gone from joking about touching our faces to spelling out society’s certain demise in just the span of a week.
Yes, of course it is to the benefit of all for everyone to, for the love of Oprah and all things holy, stay home. But the reality is that most Americans don’t spend their work days staring at the clouds from the desks of their high-rise buildings, for whom working from home amounts to a sacrifice of the free hummus packs and a few more conference calls. For the vast majority of the workforce, social distancing requires a much more dramatic reckoning.
Even yet, the very idea of working from home is being characterized as some incarcerating form of torture, with scores of people suddenly moonlighting as coaches on how to weather it. “Dress everyday like you’re going to work and keep a strict schedule,” as if, for those who typically go to offices, the opportunity to wear sweatpants and take a break to masturbate at 2 pm isn’t the one silver lining to all of this.
The truth is, as we trip over stacks of hoarded cans of beans on the way to what purports to be an absolutely epic amount of pooping, there needs to be some clarity and reason—especially as our leadership continues to issue mixed messaging and many still gather news and advice in echo chambers.
Bringing it back to the unfortunate predicament of the Hankses, we’re already starting to see some rationality and benefit. Accompanying the news that the couple tested positive was the reason they were tested at all. They felt unwell, suspected their symptoms could be problematic, and—here it is—testing is free and widely available in Australia.
On the subject of wake-up calls, that should ring the loudest alarm. Their symptoms may not have been enough to warrant testing in the U.S., where a shortage and lack of testing remains one of the most pressing concerns in the country’s response to the pandemic.
That Hanks and Wilson were only able to be tested because of the country where Hanks was shooting a film, and are now stable and with a promising prognosis, is information that concerned Americans should weaponize in their demand for safe protocol.
Beyond that, there’s power in their instantly viral, calming words about what happens next, arriving just when we needed to hear them: “Not much more to it than a one-day-at-a-time approach, no?”