YouTube: Celebrity within the large or small scale?

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).

It is argued that YouTube is becoming ‘a site of cultural and economic disruption’ (Burgess & Green, 2009), and represents a shift in power from mainstream media to the people, a groundbreaking and culturally significant outlet for new media. However, to what extent does YouTube have independance from mainstream media? In their article ‘Online Video and Participatory Culture’, Burgess and Green contend that ‘Even when ordinary people become celebritites through their own creative efforts, there is no necessary transfer of media power: they remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media’.

The first thing i want to discuss in this statement is the term ‘ordinary people’. What does this mean? Burgess and Green cite Nick Couldry (2003) who argues that within mainstream media ‘the distance between ‘ordinary citizen’ and celebrity can only be bridged when the ordinary person gains access to the modes of representation of the mass media’. So basically, using YouTube as an example, one is only classified as a celebrity once their infamy has surpassed the YouTube world and has been recognised in a mainstream medium. An excellent example of this is the rise of Justin Bieber. Biebs was first discovered by producer Scooter Braun as he was browsing YouTube. This is one of the very first videos he ever uploaded.

Justin Bieber is now one of the biggest stars in the world. He is obsessively adored by girls the world over, his song ‘Baby’ has over 500 million hits on YouTube, and recently he sold out his concert at Madison Square Garden in just 22 minutes. ‘Bieber Fever’ has taken over the entire world! He has infiltrated almost every aspect of popular media, he pretty much defines celebrity. And all this was spawned from YouTube. So in this instance, Justin transcended the boundaries of YouTube, and is now identified not as a product of YouTube but an unquestioned component of mainstream culture. It is stories like these that lead YouTube to be associated with the concept of the rags to riches story, a platform for amateurs to make the big time. And indeed, there have been many instances of notoriety born from YouTube. However, they are either kept within the confines of YouTube celebrity, or boosted into mainstream media. Burgess and Green argue that users can only be transported from their amateur status to celebrity status if they are recognised by a major media outlet. Another example of this is Keenan Cahill, whose videos of himself lip-syncing to popular contemporary songs have accumulated tens of millions of views.

Keenan is some-one who in all likelihood, would not have been able to reach the same levels of celebrity without YouTube as his platform. He has now appeared on popular US talk-show ‘Chelsea Lately’, has recorded a video with 50 Cent, and been featured on MTV. This year he signed with record label ‘G-Unit Records’. Keenan suffers from Maroteaux–Lamy syndrome which causes him to have a dwarf-like appearance. He does not embody the conventional look of teen stars, like Justin Bieber for instance. And yet he has been able to go from complete anonymity to not only an internet sensation but also celebrity, for a relatively obscure attraction. It the unique mix of quirky, funny, and honest that caught the attention of the online community.

Most YouTube videos that grow viral do so via word of mouth, and linking via social networking sites. Rebecca Black is an example of this; her song ‘Friday’ currently stands at over 150 million views. The clip went completely viral, with an outpouring of abuse and incredulous reactions from viewers. She became an internet sensation, creating that much controversy that the media was alerted to it. The power of internet users is not to be underestimated; it is the sheer velocity of activity, particularly on YouTube, that attracts the media and leads to the jump into stardom for some. YouTube has it’s own internal world, it’s own system of celebrity and hierachy that doesn’t necessarily have to coincide with external recognition. An example of this is Kingsley, a YouTube (perhaps self-proclaimed) King who is famous for his shockingly honest and extremely hilarious gripes concerning pop culture. The things we are all thinking, but can’t say with quite the same…zest. Example:

Kingsley has not yet been broadcast in a mainstream media outlet, despite his undeniable success within the YouTube community. Yet he is definitely a celebrity of some kind. Which lends to the argument that infact Youtube is ‘gradually becoming incorporated as a mainstream part of the cultural public sphere’ (Burgess & Green, 2009, 36). They assert that ‘YouTube has now arguably achieved mainstream media status’. However, YouTube will always have user-controlled content, and thus is ‘not just another media company’, so power is with the people rather than the media.

References:

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

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