What is an Internet celebrity?
It’s 3 a.m. on a Tuesday night. You’re a twenty-something student and you have work to do for the morning and so, naturally, you’re surfing the Internet. You’re on Tumblr, a site that compiles blogs into a single feed on its homepage. Think Facebook’s newsfeed, but instead of text-posts from your friends, it’s a culmination of pretty pictures, memes, Gifs, and blog-posts from anonymous strangers.You start to notice a pattern; some girl who looks like she’s thirteen is dominating the site. You have no idea who she is, but a meme with the words “Theatres stress me out. So many seats,” has over 10,000 notes. Essentially, this image has either been “liked” 10,000 times, or has shown up on 10,000 different personal blogs. It turns out to be a combination of the two.You start to realize that you’re missing out on the joke, so you start to investigate. (This is much more compelling than reading the overly-convoluted, theoretical text that was assigned for tomorrow morning’s philosophy class.) The girl is Rebecca Black, a singer whose tweeny-pop single “Friday” went viral the weekend of March 12. The song features the bizarre musings of a thirteen-year-old girl, as she tries to decide whether to be “kickin’ in the front seat” or “sittin’ in the back seat”; implores us to have “fun, fun, fun, fun”; and reminds us that “tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards.” Nobody knows who this girl is or where this video comes from (yet), but her name is Rebecca Black and her Youtube video has over ten million views. She is the trending topic on Twitter — globally — meaning that more people are talking about her song online than any other topic in the world.Internet celebrity is a specific kind of celebrity. An Internet celebrity isn’t someone you can find and research on Wikipedia. Instead of possessing a clear-cut sort of fame; instead of being the kind of person the paparazzi stalk at LAX airport; the Internet celebrity wriggles its way into the social consciousness through Youtube, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. The individual begins to pop up in different locations on the Internet, until they have become a household name amongst the online-literate, and nobody seems to know how or why. References to the individual become a kind of universal inside joke. Everyone who’s visiting the same pages, watching the same videos, and giggling at the same memes is in on it.For an Internet celebrity, nothing is centralized; there’s not a fan page, and it’s unlikely that they’ll make it onto the cover of People magazine for their antics at some club in Hollywood. Instead, they become your go-to for a clever hash-tag on Twitter, the thing you post on your Facebook stream to show that you’re hip with the current global joke. They’re a commodity of the absurd; a multi-media expression of societal cleverness and ironic detachment.But the individuals who become Internet celebrities have the last laugh. The commodity of the absurd Internet celebrity has an unlimited potential for monetization. Internet celebrity can be an end in itself, but it doesn’t have to be. Just ask Justin Bieber, the most notable example of someone who went on from YouTube fame to make it big; or, alternately, “Your Friend in a Box”; a third-year Ryerson student and filmmaker who became a YouTube Partner when his Canadian Music video attracted 10,000 views overnight. “Your Friend in a Box” currently has over 5,000 subscribers, and is paid by YouTube for every video upload, and every page view.
The web 2.0 generation
The thing that ultimately distinguishes an Internet celebrity from the more traditional variety of celebrity is user involvement. Rebecca Black would never have achieved her current viral status without numerous users who took her image and her work, and created their own content. Internet celebrity is celebrity 2.0. Instead of being a policy of entertainment consumption, it is an entertainment of creation. Rebecca Black, in the first week of her viral fame, is fascinating because her public image is not controlled by publicists and major media outlets. Instead, she is an enigma.Finding out who she is is a process of investigation. Watching her music video “Friday” is not an end in itself; rather, it is an access point to creating new websites and web-based content that make people laugh. Her exposure is hinged on a typical user’s desire to create something to entertain other users; her exposure and relative fame is a statement of the dynamic relationship between user-generated content and an individual. An Internet celebrity, as such, requires an ambiguous power to fascinate users; an ability to cause users to want to find out more, through any method available. It is a reflection of a new era of entertainment; our generation, the children of a web 2.0 era, no longer want to simply consume, we want to be involved with our entertainment. We want to create.
Voyeurism and Cory Kennedy
The first person I ever e-stalked is a party girl by the name of Cory Kennedy. In the summer of 2005 she met photographer Mark Hunter, who maintains the party-photo website The Cobra Snake. She’s a skinny hipster — she looks like she’s on drugs most of the time, she wears a lot of eyeliner, and when I was a sixteen-year-old high schooler she was everything that I had ever wanted to be. For an inexplicable reason, Mark Hunter realized that every time he posted pictures of Cory, web traffic on his site increased. Her photos were constantly reposted on other blogs, and she fascinated me. I didn’t know exactly who she was, but that was part of the appeal. Through these party photos, I was gaining access to a world of hipster parties, fashion, and club-culture that I wouldn’t experience until much later in my life.Her Internet fame peaked in 2006, when she appeared in a Good Charlotte video for the track “Keep Your Hands Off My Girl.” All she does is listen to the song on her iPod and dance as she eats Indian food. Anyone could have done it. She looks emaciated and kind of drunk. She’s not the prettiest girl I’d ever seen and she’s not extraordinarily talented at anything in particular. She’s not even especially fashionable. But she was still fascinating to my sixteen-year-old self, mainly because through these limited channels of exposure; through The Cobrasnake and her WordPress blog (itscorykennedy.wordpress.com/) she allowed me to gain access to a different world. I identified with her, and I began to feel like I knew her on a personal level. I wasn’t alone in my fascination with her, she has since forged a fairly successful modeling career. She has over thirty-one thousand followers on Twitter, and works as an interviewer for Nylon magazine’s online vlog.Through the channels of the Internet, we have access to different worlds without ever having to take part. When a vlogger makes a video, we gain a limited access to the spatial constructs of their world. When photos are posted — either on personal blogs, or Flickr accounts— we see a little bit more through the eyes of the object of our fascination. Without ever having to experience the vulnerability of personal interactions we are drawn into the world of another. We can have experiences with no consequences. We can feel the fulfillment of knowing someone without bearing the responsibilities of real human relationships. The object of your e-stalking will never judge you; because they have no idea who you are. An e-stalking relationship is one with all the benefits of getting to know a person, but without the risk of rejection or judgment.The key to being an Internet celebrity is to capitalize on what seems to be a societal desire for voyeuristic experience; to construct an alternate sense of reality around yourself; the goal being to make your life seem much more interesting than anyone else’s, and worth paying attention to. Through the elements available to you — Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, WordPress — an Internet celebrity creates a fragmented persona that is a strange balance between exposure and concealment. Anyone could do it, but not everyone can do.
So, if anyone can do it, why doesn’t everyone do it? How can I become an Internet celebrity?
I tried vlogging. I really did. I sat in front of my web-cam and tried to speak to the audiences of YouTube. I think I’m an interesting person. I’m artsy, I live in a major metropolis, I go to cool bars, I try to dress fashionably, I have nearly a hundred followers on my personal Tumblr blog, and something like one hundred and fifty on my Twitter account. But hardly anything in recent memory has made me feel more vulnerable than the experience of seeing my face projected on my webcam and addressing an anonymous and potentially infinite audience. I couldn’t do it. I’m not cut out to broadcast myself.The interesting thing about the online apparatus before us is that nearly every twenty-something has the technology and the skills necessary to connect to an infinite audience. All you need is access to a web cam, some kind of photo-taking device, and a reliable Internet connection. But there’s also a certain je ne sais quoi to the equation. There needs to be something about you that has the ability to go viral. You don’t need to be talented, you don’t need to be good-looking — you need to be relatable and, for lack of a better term, someone who inspires others to stalk you.There are different facets of this; you can be absurd like Rebecca Black, whose latest single has been dubbed the “worst song of all time”; you can be fragmented and fascinating like Cory Kennedy, the unsung hero of wannabe hipster girls everywhere; you can be adorable and genuine like Justin Bieber. Celebrity is no longer dictated to us by the powers that be. Instead, it is directed by a fickle, web 2.0 generation that is just looking for entertainment, and something to distract them from their philosophy readings at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday night.
E-stalk: To follow someone’s online persona obsessively; generally through use of Facebook, but also applicable to overly thorough Google-searches.Flickr: A social-networking site based on photography. Users upload their own photos on their Flickr and connect via groups centered around photo genre and visual interest.GIF: Stands for Graphic Interchange Format. In layman’s term it is a single file that switches back and forth between several still images, with the appearance of a soundless film-loop.Meme: A concept that spreads via the Internet; usually some kind of an inside joke. Popular memes include lolcats, and “Rick Rolling.” An Internet meme can be a website, a phrase, a parody, or a video clip.Viral: An Internet meme that is fast spreading with a pervasive online presence due to its high-re-postibility and re-playability.Trending topic: A list of the most popular and talked-about topics on Twitter that is updated in real time.Tumblr: A micro-blogging platform and community. Members of Tumblr maintain their own blog and follow others; all blogs are conglomerated together in a personal Dashboard, and all posts can be ‘liked’ and ‘reblogged.’Vlog: A video blog, usually hosted on YouTube.Web 2.0: The ideology behind web applications that require user involvement. Notable examples of sites that have emerged from this ideology include Wikipedia, social networking sites, and photo and video sharing sites.WordPress: A simple and free blogging platform.YouTube channel: The site that hosts all of a specific user’s uploaded videos.YouTube partner: A program offered by YouTube for users who attract a significant amount of views to their channel. The program offers services to analyze the user’s audience, protect your copyright, and earn money for each upload.YouTube subscriber: A YouTube user who has officially followed another YouTube channel, and therefore receives updates every time the followed-channel is updated.
The E-Famous: Justin Bieber
Even if you’re not a Bieliber, by now, everyone in the public sphere is aware of Justin Bieber. The American talent manager, Scooter Braun, discovered the teenager from Stratford, Ontario in 2008. Braun came across Bieber’s YouTube videos of his singing, and Bieber has since achieved international acclaim for his musical career, most recently peaking with the 2011 bio-film, Never Say Never.
The troubled-teen made her way into the public sphere through her involvement with hipster-party-photographer Mark Hunter in 2005. Hunter recognized that traffic to his website increased every time he posted a picture of Kennedy, and soon introduced her to the editors of fashion and culture magazine, Nylon magazine. Now 21-years old, Kennedy has been dubbed at ‘It’ girl by theLos Angeles Times, has been featured in a number of fashion magazines, and in an major exhibit at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.
Crocker gained international attention for crying in his now-infamous 2007 YouTube video “Leave Britney Alone” in which he ardently urged the public to stop criticizing Britney Spears for her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Crocker has since received over fifty million plays on his YouTube channel. Post “Leave Britney Alone” Crocker has utilized an autobiographical comic strip to state his plans to star in his own TV show, and to leave his grandparents home. In 2008 he was featured in Weezer’s music video for the song “Pork and Beans,” and has acted as an Internet correspondent on the BBC show Lily Allen and Friends. Crocker has also released two singles, and has announced that he will be self-releasing an album in 2011.
On July 28, 2010, Antoine Dodson from the Lincoln Park projects was interviewed by NBC affiliate WAFF-48 News after a break-in and attempted rape of his sister, Kelly Dodson. The clip of his interview became a viral sensation as he addressed the attempted rapist, while staring directly into the camera. His words,“You are dumb, you are really dumb, ”and “Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife,” have become viral catchphrases, and his interview was auto-tuned and turned into the hit “Bed Intruder Song.” The video has been viewed more than seventy-five million times; and he has made quite a bit of money through sales of the song on iTunes, and selling T-shirts and other merchandise featuring “Bed Intruder Song” quotes. Dodson has also used his Internet fame to launch a donations website to get his family “out of the hood.”