Author of Celeb 2.0: How Social Media Foster our Fascination with Popular Culture
In 1968, Andy Warhol predicted, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” But in the current age of social media, viral marketing and an entire world of online culture, Scottish musician Momus has altered Warhol’s prediction, saying, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 people.”
Unless, of course, you’re Rebecca Black, in which case you’re famous for not only an entire 3 minutes and 48 seconds, but also an impressive 127 million people (and still counting).
In any case, YouTube has served as a launch pad for many artists’ careers. Kelli Burns, assistant professor in the School of Mass Communication at the University of South Florida and author of Celeb 2.0: How Social Media Foster our Fascination with Popular Culture, sat down with Buzzsaw to talk about the role of YouTube in starting careers.
Buzzsaw: Do you think that YouTube and other social media making fame so readily available for anyone has lowered the standard of what it takes to be a “celebrity”?
Kelli Burns: The entertainment industry must be selective because there is a limited number of television shows, movies and albums that can be produced. What social media do is provide more outlets for people to achieve fame. To some extent, the standards are lower because people are not always celebrated for their talent. Sometimes they do one funny stunt and may or may not be able to parlay their Internet fame into something else. Sometimes they receive attention for their lack of talent. At the same time, social media can bring some really talented people to the forefront who never would have had a chance to make it in Hollywood.
B: Do you think that Internet celebrities should be treated in the same realm as “real” or old-fashioned celebrities? Is there any value of differentiating between the two?
KB: I believe we still have a line between an Internet celebrity and someone who has taken a more traditional path. Yet, there have been many cases of people who have crossed over very successfully. Justin Bieber, for example, first received attention on YouTube. We don’t think of him as an Internet celebrity today. We used to call the Internet “new media.” We don’t say that any longer. The line between traditional and social media is blurring. People who can be successful in one venue will cross over to the other. We have also seen traditional media celebrities moving into online. Will Ferrell did this successfully with FunnyorDie.com. Several television actors have starred in web series or videos. We also have Internet celebrities who are very content to stay within that realm. There is a lot of money thrown around online today.
B: I think that back in the day (and sadly, this is far back in the day) talent was obviously the No. 1 priority to be “famous” in Hollywood. In the world of YouTube and the Internet, what do you think is the most important factor?
KB: In the entertainment industry, what matters is whether you can sell movies, albums or television shows. Your talent might be the key, but looks are important, too. It probably was not Britney Spears’s singing talent that got her where she is today. Keanu Reeves, an actor of questionable talent, has had a successful movie career. Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian landed on television because of their personal escapades. We have made celebrities out of reality show contestants. Online, it’s about whatever you can do to get you a lot of YouTube views. If so, you might be marketable outside the realm of the Internet.
B: What do you think [Rebecca Black’]’s story says about our society, and what message do you think it sends to people, especially younger people, about wanting to break into the world of stardom and celebrity?
KB: The message this situation sends about our society is that certain people, because they have attracted attention, will be lifted above others despite their talent. All those truly talented singers and musicians using YouTube to gain attention might be missing their shot at stardom because of her. It is still too early to know what Rebecca Black has to offer that will extend her celebrity status. The other message of this case is that people will use the shield of anonymity provided by the Internet to be unbelievably cruel with their feedback. In this case, she is a young woman, and it is particularly disturbing to see others being so hurtful. Rebecca Black tells us that fame does not require talent and that whatever it takes to achieve this fame, whether dangerous stunts or embarrassing bad singing and all potentially cruel feedback, is worth it.
B: What advice would you give to someone who is looking for fame and starting online?
KB: If you aspire to use social media to become a celebrity, you are not alone. Although your chances of gaining recognition online might be better than with more mainstream methods, you still might not get any attention.
You cannot just upload a video to YouTube and expect that you will start racking up views. You have to promote yourself using Facebook, Twitter or a web site. You need to stay committed and upload videos on a regular basis. Be a part of the online community. Respond to people who comment on your videos. Drive people to a website at the end of your videos. In the end, you have to offer something worthy of attention. That might be talent, looks, intelligence, personality or attitude. People want to be entertained when they are online, and another video is always a click away.