Examining Celebrity in a Time of Turmoil

I guess you should care about them…

By Kelly Tyra
Deaditor in Chief

Celebrity is an interesting phenomenon that has been shaping our social history since the seventeenth century. It may have seemed like a more ‘proper’ time but early and acclaimed stars like author Charles Dickens were subject to the same star struck treatment a member of One Direction may expect today: “people tried to get access to [his] hotel room when he was in Boston…he was stalked, and reportedly fans tried to grab handfuls of fur from his coat when he was out in public.” It appears there has always been something about celebrities that attract intense attention and adoration from their audience.

The modern star was born from the same technological advances that created the world stage and filled seats in the theater. Duplicable photography and the high-speed printing press allowed celebrity news to travel quicker during a time of rapid change and consumption. While capitalist heroes and inventors dominated the pages of penny press papers for some time, a disdain for corruption and a fascination with new media forms tilted the limelight toward a different crowd.

Entertainers became a focal point and a unifier for people of all classes, creed, and country. Celebrities soon became a representation of progress and American propriety for citizens at home and spectators abroad. Their high-profile lives were made possible by urban centers where there were places to see and be seen by an active, eager press and public. The technology revolution and subsequent commercial culture that created celebrity also changed the way Americans thought about themselves.

As fame and notoriety became desirable, development of private, moral character was abandoned in pursuit of a distinct and public persona. As historian Amy Henderson explained, “in a culture preoccupied with personality, “celebrity” became a measure of success.” In becoming national symbols of style, talent, and hope celebrities began to transcend their roles as entertainers. They became models of behavior and personifications of social possibilities few would ever be able to reach.

In creating these icons and building an industry around their every move we have elevated celebrities to a super human status. While we may hear about the lives they live, full of parties and people and possibilities, there will always be a level of separation. Writer Rich Cohen has “long believed that celebrity, the way we worship and package and sell our pop stars, is what filled the need for gods that was once filled by the pictures in stained glass. Hollywood is post-Christian Venice – in other words, a pantheon of saints without the hassle and heartache of religion.” Celebrities distract from the pain of living in the out crowd by uniting the rejects with their music, movies, and magazine interviews. Even still, laymen struggle with their comparatively limited voices and influence.

While the advent of the Internet and increased efforts to promote visibility for all people has made it seem easier than ever to rise to fame, many are still content to live through the famous as they wait for their next tweet, Instagram, or YouTube video to go viral. Social media allows us to shape our personas and voice our opinions to the public. We can now create our own fame by accumulating followers and likes on the same sites as the stars. However, social media companies have incorporated social stratification into their business models – a little blue check next to a username denotes notoriety amongst the noise on your newsfeed. While the verification systems found on Twitter and Instagram are meant to denote authenticity how authentic can celebrities and tastemakers be when they are often paid to promote content?

As celebrities garner millions of social media followers, it is no surprise that commercialization of content has occurred. Until Beyoncé’s stunning pregnancy announcement on Instagram earlier this month, the most liked photo on the platform pictured Selena Gomez sipping Coca-Cola through a striped, paper straw. Per D’Marie Analytics, the star’s social media posts are worth $550,000 in ad equivalent value to the companies that sponsor her. As the fan base and follower count continues to rise (and they do every day), so does promotion based profit. Gomez is certainly not alone in her exploitation of the social media system, however, thus far she has been the most successful.

 

coke
Coca Cola- At least we’re not racist

 

However, selling soda isn’t as scary as spreading misinformation to millions. Our celebrity President is using his social platform and position of power to do just that. Trump exploited his family fortune to rise to fame and his fame to rise to the presidency by manipulating his followers and fan base. His attack on modern media companies like CNN and The New York Times may seem silly and stupid to most, but to some, the Donald has risen to a level of infallibility. Trump is turning on the media that made him in order to promote propaganda on his personal Twitter page. And people are listening.

While the true power of celebrity influence cannot be accurately calculated, stars are clearly not “just like us” when it comes to cultural clout. The media machine has created a class of people who can control consumers and now, the country. Our nation was founded on the idea that all are created equal but social stratification reinforced, and sometimes exploited by the celebrity class has kept this ideal from reaching fruition and will continue to do so.

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