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


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

Is YouTube ignoring You?

Week 3:

While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation of online ‘communities’?

YouTube is the online mecca for self-expression. It provides a platform for any and everybody to share their talents with the world. More importantly, however, is that this sharing promotes the development of user communities with a “communal preference” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45) for something, from extreme sports to funny animal videos.

Van Dijck, however, argues that this process is not nearly as democratic as it appears. In fact, he argues that the site’s interface plays a significant and much ignored role in “steering the agency of users and communities” (Van Dijck, 2009: 43) through the ranking and promotion of particular videos. Yet since “rankings and ratings are vulnerable to manipulation, both by users and by the site’s owners” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45)—see the man who watched his own video 60,000 times!—when users are “steered towards a particular video” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45), there are also significant implications for the online communities that YouTube supports.

YouTube’s diversity makes it an effective means for communities of all sizes to promote and develop themselves. Theoretically. Users are suggested related videos and through these links can discover new activities and tastes. Yet, the “promotion of popular favourites” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45) based on views, ratings and comments, unfairly diminishes opportunities for more obscure and marginal communities by narrowing the spectrum of choice readily available. Even within related videos, the higher ranked ones appear first. It creates a vicious cycle in which the more popular videos are: promoted, viewed more often, made more popular and are then in turn promoted even more. Other and newer videos have less chance of being discovered in the first place and often fall by the wayside. And since YouTube videos are often “famous for being notorious, obnoxious, or annoying” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24), the most popular videos are rarely those most worth watching.

What’s more important: You? Or Views?

[Image: Courtesy Blue Fountain Media]

**UPDATE: In April 2011 a YouTube techie revealed that a staggering 99% of YouTube hits come from a meagre 30% of videos! **

Perhaps most concerning, however, is not that the same videos are being watched, but rather that they are increasingly commercially made.

YouTube is fast becoming a prominent element “of the mainstream media landscape” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 15). Consequently, user-generated content is being overrun by commercial content with big budgets. In combination with ranking-based-promotion, marginal communities now have even less chance of being discovered because potential viewers are being bombarded with more professional, and arguably more popular content. At the moment, only one of the top 5 most viewed YouTube videos ever, is amateur made. The others, and the vast majority of that special 30%, are all commercial. They are music videos or television shows. A disturbing trend for a site based on User-Generated Content.

Viral marketing shows just how much the practice of ranking-based promotion can be exploited. According to a top marketing executive, “clandestine marketing campaigns” (TechCrunch, 2007) regularly fabricate controversial comments, pay blogs to embed videos and craft misleading titles all to maximise the popularity of a (commercially produced) video (TechCrunch, 2007).

Such promotion artificially influences user-agency, making it much harder for average users to stumble upon something that they may love but have never heard of. While anyone can still upload videos to YouTube, ranking-based promotion tactics and an influx of commercial content means that it is increasingly unlikely that more than a handful of procrastinating teenagers will ever watch them. Users are unknowingly being pushed towards mainstream content, undermining the development of innumerable user communities.

So, is YouTube ignoring you?

Yeah. It probably is.

Words: 553


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.

Van Dijck, J. (2009) ‘Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’, Media, Culture and Society 31 (1): 41-58.

TechCrunch (2007), The Secret Strategies Behind Many “Viral” Videos,        22 November [accessed 31 March 2011]