Entertainment and Media

Vanessa Hudgens and Evangeline Lilly Aren’t Alone: Lessons from the Straw Bans

As the world grapples with quarantines, self-isolation, and COVID-19, it is also dealing with something people have been loath to recognize: ableism. Throughout the last few weeks, those concerned about their health have been gaslit by seemingly “healthy” nondisabled people who don’t want their lives to be inconvenienced by quarantine and public health policies.

Within a week of being met with inaccessibility, celebrities like Vanessa Hudgens and Evangeline Lilly are taking to their social media accounts and the press to express how they won’t let COVID19 rule their lives and that “people will die anyway.” At the same time they lament their current situation being ruled by inaccessibility and health, they cast disabled people and chronically ill people as disposable burdens that would be at risk regardless of their own individual actions.

Coupled with the out of touch celebrity montage to the tune of “Imagine,” a clear sense that wealthy people are out of touch with the realities of everyday people—specifically disabled and chronically ill people—begin to emerge. Why are you singing at me from the comfort of your gated communities and expansive properties perfect for self-isolation? Shut up.

Spread resources or spread silence.

Their video actually brings me to the straw ban. Like them singing “Imagine” to Americans who cannot pay their bills, the straw ban was performative and was useless in actually addressing any underlying problems—not only that, but it actively harmed disabled and chronically ill people.

If the country had any interest in being honest, Evangeline Lilly and Vanessa Hudgens wouldn’t be cast as outliers but as emblematic of a much larger problem. Bluntly, the things they’ve said don’t shock me because I heard them all before when I and other disabled activists were advocating for the use of single-use plastic straws. While we were advocating for measures that would save disabled lives, those in favor of straw bans would cast potential deaths as “natural selection” or “inevitable.” Disabled people were berated and harassed for wanting access to a tool that could save their lives and nondisabled utilized faux collectivism to try to silence them. They believed that it was our individual actions that were endangering the planet and their future health while ignoring that it was their fake environmentalism that was an immediate danger to ours.

Echoes of this can be found in the reporting of COVID19 and the actions of many ignoring public health mandates. While the Trump Administration was downplaying the initial threat, media told the public that it was “only those with underlying conditions that would be affected.” Worse yet, the public started telling one another those talking points and gaslighting one another.

“It’s only if you’re already sick that you’ll really be affected. My life still has to go on.”

COVID19 is revealing a lot about how America and Americans function, and it’s ugly. For those of us with marginalized identities and from other countries, we’ve always been aware of the rot, but now it’s on full display for everyone to see.

This virus doesn’t give a fuck about your “liberties.” COVID19 didn’t study American History or write essays on the constitution in High School. It’s not jealous of us because of our “freedoms” and no amount of bravado or “bootstrapping” will defeat it. On the other hand, it’s a virus and also bought tickets to Coachella. So go, I dare you.

American individualism will not work here. We have to come together and stay the fuck home. Luckily, disabled people have experience with everything nondisabled people are currently grappling with. Plans have been canceled, the things you need to survive are more expensive and no one seems to be taking one another’s health needs seriously.

In order to get through this chapter, nondisabled people need to finally listen to disabled people. We all need to take this seriously because it is only through real, and not performative, collective action that we can survive this.

“We’re all in this together…”

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