On an average day in 2020, you could find Sir Anthony Hopkins dancing to Drake on TikTok, Dame Judi Dench dressed as a dog on Instagram, and Dionne Warwick using Twitter to mock young rappers.
By the time James Caan went viral this winter for tweeting vintage photographs of his movie career, signing off every message with a characteristically cool declaration of ‘end of tweet’, there was little left to debate: the elderly and famous had discovered social media, and they weren’t letting go. That they’ve used it so well was one of the year’s few pleasant surprises.
Celebrities tend not to understand the internet, or its specific rhythms.
Actress Gal Gadot’s infamous and star-studded rendition of ‘Imagine’, which induced widespread cringe at the start of the pandemic, was celebrity social media usage at its worst. It thought the mere presence of celebrities doing something was particularly meaningful. It wrapped itself in tooth-aching sincerity at odds with an internet landscape dominated by the wry or the strange. It was hilarious, but (very) unintentionally so.
Thank goodness, then, for the ‘olds’. In March, Arnold Schwarzenegger (73) hugged and kissed his miniature ponies on his Instagram.
In April, Jane Fonda demonstrated her staggering, 83-year-old flexibility in a workout video on TikTok. In his own TikTok video in May, Hopkins (82), attempted to emulate a viral dance routine called the Toosie Slide, which originated in a Drake song. He gamely shuffled from side to side, lifted his legs, and then challenged Sylvester Stallone to a fist fight.
All trafficked in the knowingly absurd and wholesome, and rejected the kind of grindingly curated artifice that dominates the social media feeds of younger stars.
There is a clear separation between the ‘lifestyle influencer’ posing and quirky Instagram captioning of a Mindy Kaling, Ryan Reynolds or Reese Witherspoon, and the ‘why the hell not?’ indifference of a Candice Bergen (74) whose Instagram bio reads ‘Tired-ass ho’.
While stars in their thirties and forties have tended to pontificate about the revelatory wonders of quarantine, their elders have remained earthbound.
In a video posted to Twitter in July, Mandy Patinkin (68) finally got around to deleting thousands of his wife’s unread emails.
Age is suddenly no barrier. It wasn’t Hollywood that decided the obscure Will & Grace actor Leslie Jordan would become a breakout star of the pandemic era, but rather his delightfully homespun Instagram page, which transformed him into an internet staple thanks to a few twirls and folksy non-sequiturs.
“For someone 65 years old to all of a sudden be, like, an internet star? ... I’ve never gotten this kind of attention,” Jordan told The New York Times in July. “Even on Will & Grace, winning an Emmy, it wasn’t anything like when you have social media.
“When you’ve become a success there, it’s unbelievable.”
Here are towering stars of yesteryear, mucking in with gauche Gen-Y silliness.
It’s a bit like finding your parents on Facebook, squabbling with someone in the comments section who is also getting on in years and ought to know much better.
It’s undeniably human, though.
The internet may urge us to reveal too much of ourselves, or write or say things we probably shouldn’t, but it’s arguably preferable to perpetuating the idea of cultural superiority based solely on money or fame or even creative talent.
Through his social media presence, a star like Hopkins has transformed from an elusive and occasionally frightening silver screen legend to a beloved human being who can be just as sombre, reflective and cringeworthy as the rest of us. And if it took a viral dance challenge to show that, so be it.