A few YouTube stars in a galaxy of celebrities?
ASSESSED POST (WEEK 9):
Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269).
There can be no doubting of the power of internet celebrities, or more affectionately, “cewebrities”. Most commonly discovered through YouTube and other online video sources, these regular, everyday people grasping fame through their uploaded videos are finding themselves with an increasingly prominent position in today’s mass media; their names and creative projects splurged over newspaper headlines, viral emails, discussion forums and even television programs. One could go so far as to argue that these ordinary citizens are the face of a new generation of stars, finding fame through their own means rather than being followed endlessly by paparazzi and pushed by agents like the traditional star. Viral sensations such as Rebecca Black of ‘Friday’ fame, Antoine Dodson of ‘Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wives…’ and Chris Crocker of ‘Leave Britney Alone!’ have proved to be so popular not only from their unique videos, but from their apparent ‘everydayness’- the viewer relating to the natural and somewhat genuinely authentic circumstances in which the video was created and uploaded. Indeed, a lot can be said in the merit of acknowledging these regular human beings as celebrities, rather than obnoxious divas caught up in the fake and materialistic society of Hollywood stardom.
And yet despite the simplicity, authenticity, and even democracy of these “cewebrities”‘ practices, it can be argued that this new generation of stars are not part of the celebrity culture generated and dominated by the mass media. As Burgess and Green assert, entrance into the exclusive ‘Celebrity Club’ is secured not through online popularity, but through “gate-keeping mechanisms of old media- the recording contract, the film festival, the television pilot, the advertising deal.” (2009:24). This is where these “cewebrities” are left hanging in cyberspace: their fame may have millions of online views, but, as Burgess and Green commentate, they are simply “famous for doing something in particular very well, even if that something is unlikely to accrue prestige in the traditional media or arts industries.” (2009:24)
An example that immediately springs to my mind is Keenan Cahill, a 16-year-old teenager who uploaded videos of himself lip-syncing to popular songs such as Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ and Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’; some of which have received over 40 million views.
Essentially, Cahill is a YouTube sensation because his videos make us laugh- he can get a little too into the lyrics and his confident dance moves are quite unique. He’s been featured on MTV, interviewed by Chelsea Lately, and even collaborated with ‘real’ stars such as 50 Cent, but this sudden popularity online doesn’t automatically make Cahill a celebrity. Although he’s recognizable on our computer screens, he hasn’t quite made the transition from what Couldry (2003, in Burgess and Green (2009:22) labels the ‘ordinary word’ and the ‘media world.’ I can’t imagine Who Weekly will be publishing photos of him shopping for groceries next to a picture of say, Cameron Diaz frolicking on the beach.
As Burgess and Green observe, “YouTube has its own, internal system of celebrity based on and reflecting values that don’t necessarily match up neatly with those of the ‘dominant’ media.” (2009:24) There’ll always be an opportunity for a wannabe celebrity to broadcast themselves into internet stardom, but the real system of celebrity can only be cracked by those supported by members of the mainstream media.
Burgess, Jean and Green, Joshua (2009). ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media,’ in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.