I don’t see a need for late-night talk shows under the current societal conditions, particularly given what some of their writers judge to be witty commentary. Nevertheless, they persist. But the near-total shutdown of Hollywood as an industry and institution means that actors appearing on these programs are short of material — those prepared celebrity anecdotes that the host will dutifully set them up to deliver. So it was that professional handsome guy Armie Hammer went on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to relate his boredom in the pandemic, and what he did to alleviate it.
Newly divorced, Hammer went to the California desert — without his young kids, I guess, as they started school in the Cayman Islands in early September — to help his buddy renovate a run-down motel. In his telling, it’s a quasi-unexpected story of what someone famous gets up to when none of their usual work is available. Kimmel’s practiced disbelief (“You say no, right? ‘Of course not, that’s terrible. I’m a movie star, that’s the last thing I want to do’”), however, and Hammer’s self-deprecation about his skills (“I’m not doing electrical work — look at me”), made the labor seem at once faked, tourist-y and a kind of rock bottom for someone used to red carpets and yacht trips. It was even more questionable when Hammer revealed his whereabouts in late August in an Instagram post that claimed he had “worked construction” over the past two months with a guy he called “a good friend (and boss).”
Hammer, of course, is a millionaire, and grew up wealthy, the great-grandson of a rather crooked oil tycoon. The surge of headlines about how he “worked a construction job” or “took a construction job” or has become (shudder) “a lumbersexual” walk right up to the suggestion that this guy picked himself up by the bootstraps out of sheer financial necessity. Never mind that he obviously wasn’t getting paid to hang around a vacation spot and lend a hand on some easy remodeling; that this was more about spending downtime with a pal than trying out a new career; that few Americans have the luxury to do whatever they want right now, and many, including a record-breaking number of actual construction workers, have lost their jobs this year.
With that context, though, doesn’t this strike you as tone-deaf cosplay?
It’s more akin, predictably, to an actor “preparing” for the role of a construction worker, instead of turning to a blue-collar means of making ends meet. It’s more than a little irritating that someone else’s (now precarious) living is an extended holiday for a recognizable face of the leisure circuit. There’s an “ah, this is how normal folks spend their days” epiphany lurking in here, fairly divorced from the suffering of those on the edge of eviction right now or forced to continue clocking in for shifts that will potentially expose them to COVID-19. We’d have a much better country if more of us had experience in the service industry or manual labor at some point; Hammer doesn’t have to frame it as an opportunistic lark, the last alternative to “sitting at home picking boogers and seeing how far I could flick them.” Saying he was “out of options” — again, on a network late-night talk show — is a bit insulting to those who are standing on the edge of the abyss.
It’s not like we’re lacking for things to gripe about besides Hammer treating some light handiwork as a semester abroad, and in truth, pop-culture media is more than half-responsible for amplifying it that way. Magazines that barely acknowledge the existence of a working class can’t help but glamorize and exoticize its humble trappings when an A-lister is willing to sample them. But it’s getting harder and harder, in the 2020 collapse, to ignore the chasm between this academic curiosity of waged employment and what’s happening to that abused workforce from day to day.
Maybe some guy laid off from a construction company should get to lounge around in Armie’s $5.8 million Tudor-style mansion for two months? Fair is fair. Cough up the keys, my man.