Online Celebrities vs. “Real” Celebrities: shifting from a distinction to a sprectrum

(Prompt 4)

One of the main focuses of our unit on celebrity and fan relations is that celebrity and fan practices and interactions are evolving in a way that blurs the distinction between “traditional celebrity” and “Youtube/social media/internet sensation celebrity.” Fans are reacting and reaching out to online celebrities in many of the same ways they have always done with conventional celebrities, as discussed in Kessler’s article on Youtube as a “Fame Factory,” but as we can gather from Marwick and boyd’s discussion on celebrity practice, traditional celebrities are also adapting new practices into their fan interaction based on those of internet-born celebrities.

tumblr_n74pxyggpm1t0sm54o1_1280Sarah Kessler discusses her experience at Vidcon, where thousands of fans line up to see and meet their favorite online celebrities. She describes the scene, “More than an hour before the doors open at the Anaheim Convention Center, there’s already a line that stretches from the entrance, past a nearby Hilton, around a water fountain, through a palm-tree lined promenade, and all the way to the driveway’s entrance.” The masses of anxious, (sometimes screaming) fans that gather in wait for these online celebrity figures are not much different than those who first gathered for the Beatles in the sixties, or for the more modern boy bands of the 2000s, or for Hollywood movie stars or famous athletes.

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When quoting a security guard, Kessler writes, “I’ve worked Justin Bieber concerts. This is the same thing.” While further emphasizing that these online celebrities are becoming as intensely worshipped as traditional teenage heartthrobs, this simple comment is made even more interesting by the fact that Justin Bieber himself was discovered through a Youtube video. Not only are the fans treating online celebrities in the same ways, the distinction between the two types of fame is becoming less clear as stars move along a spectrum from online celebrity to “real” celebrity.

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Similarly, many of these “real” or traditional celebrities are borrowing practices for fan interaction from the online celebrity figures to further enhance their relationships with their fans. Marwick and boyd explain, “While the distinction between micro-celebrity and ‘real’ celebrity might once have been a question of popularity, approachability, or mainstream status… ‘traditional’ celebrities have adopted techniques formerly characterized as ‘micro-celebrity’.” By this, they refer to celebrities creating social media identities for themselves that allows their fans to gain intimate and personable insight into their everyday lives, strengthening the connection fans feel toward a celebrity. An obvious example of this is Taylor Swift’s Twitter account, where she tries to identify with her fans by representing herself as an average young female who’s awkward and dorky and just wants to hang out with her cats. While it all might seem a little ‘caked on’ so to say, it achieves the goal of strengthening her relationship with her fans by allowing them to relate to her on a deeper level than just enjoying her music. These practices also allow stars the opportunity to respond to fan approaches, creating a two-way dynamic of interaction that was once expected only of online celebrities.

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As internet celebrities are being treated as scream-worthy, mob-forming stars, and traditional celebrities are becoming more accessible and “normal” by adopting practices once uncommon for the elite members of Hollywood, we begin to see a shift, or dissolve, in the divide between the two. As this evolves, how will we begin to define a “celebrity,” will you simply need to have a million online followers, or will we lay out new guidelines and standards for what it means to truly have become “famous”? It’s interesting to compare these two articles, and the changing celebrity practices they highlight, to contemplate how new and developing social media technologies are changing and shaping the celebrity and fandom landscape that we, as a society, have built entire industries around.

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