YouTube celebrity: Fickle fame or superstar stepping-stone?

Week 9:

A) 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).

YouTube is the fairy godmother of the 21st century, turning ordinary people into celebrities overnight. But what happens to Cinderella at midnight? Can YouTube really bring lasting fame and fortune?

We’ve all heard (or rather seen) the amazing success stories of people like Justin Bieber and Andy Samberg. The lucky few who’ve become legitimate celebrities after being discovered on YouTube. But in reality, stories like these are rare. Very rare. For the majority of YouTube sensations, their online popularity never amounts to anything in the real world.

YouTube has been “mythologized as literally a way to ‘broadcast yourself’ into fame and fortune” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 22). Burgess and Green, however, argue that ordinary people who become celebrities through their own efforts still “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (2009: 23). They argue that to become a true celebrity, you have to transcend YouTube and become popular in the mainstream media.

I couldn’t agree more.

YouTube is ‘new media’. One part of the social media revolution currently underway. Yet, due to its popularity, YouTube is now, “however begrudgingly accepted, of the mainstream media landscape” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 15). As such, the true success of any ‘YouTuber’ must be measured “not only by their online popularity but by their subsequent ability to pass through the gate-keeping mechanisms of old media” (Burgess and Green, 2009).

Success is still defined by “the recording contract…the television pilot, the advertising deal” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24). It is this “transfer of media power” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 23) out of YouTube and into the real world that signifies a celebrity. In contrast, the continuing popularity of most YouTube sensations relies solely on their “ongoing participation in YouTube” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24).

True celebrities are also able to profit from their fame. Turner argues that “celebrities are developed to make money” (2004: 34). A celebrity develops “their public persona as a commercial asset” (Turner, 2004: 35) to become a “celebrity-commodity” (Turner, 2004: 35). Signing contracts thus not only brings recognition for talent, but also monetary reward. Something that YouTube sensations struggle to do.

Finally, let’s actually define what a celebrity is. The dictionary offers “a famous person“, yet I think that is too simple. For me, a celebrity is a famous person that other people want to be. Think about it, there are plenty of YouTube sensations out there: NumaNuma, the Starwars kid, Tay Zonda. But would you want to be any of them? No. Not. At. All.

(Neither do the guys at Hungry Beast)

The very nature of YouTube as a democratic, user-generated content sharing space, means that it will inevitably promote and celebrate “values that don’t necessarily match up neatly with those of the ‘dominant’ media” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24). As such, celebrity status, in the traditional sense, can’t be achieved purely by ‘views’ or ‘likes’. In fact, since many YouTube stars are simply “famous for being notorious, obnoxious, or annoying” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24), it is ridiculous to call them celebrities at all.

Take Chris Crocker. With over 38 million views, he is a YouTube hit. But is he a celebrity? No. He’s a freak.

The simplest argument, however, is to look at the few who have succeeded. Arguably, the most successful of which has been ‘The Beibs’.

From this:

To the most watched YouTube video ever:

To Forbes. It seems the whole world has caught ‘Beiber Fever’. Not just YouTube.

I guess ‘The Beibs’ is right. You(Tube) should never say never.

Words: 542

References:

Burgess, J. & Green, J. (2009) ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media’ pp. 15-37 in J. Burgess and J. Green (eds.) in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Turner, G. (2004) Understanding celebrity. London: SAGE, pp 34-35