Is Social Media Changing the Way We Think About Celebrity?

27 Jul ’07

Some months ago I wrote about the idea of digital narcissism, and my opinion that the lure of social media wasn’t the satisfaction of a narcissistic urge, as some were saying, so much as it was a response to a need to connect to People Like Us. The digital narcissism angle, as superficially appealing as it is as an explanation, has always struck me as a cheap way to mock the content providers, in much the same way as early users of celphones and blackberries were chided for being self-indulgent (to think that others would want to know all the time what they were doing, and so forth).

A need, I wrote at the time, that Hollywood has single-mindedly attempted not to serve, the better to create a fantasy world for its customers to immerse themselves in. Why, after all, would one want to escape into a world of People Like Us?

I’m not saying we no longer need Escapism – there will always be some need for it. But I think that, at least for a while, there will be less interest in it. The Internet gives us the power to make our lives more meaningful by tapping into People Like Us – perhaps finding ways to derive this deeper meaning from our lives is simply more satisfying than escaping from them.

What I’m wondering now, in the age of TMZ and PerezHilton, is whether the carefully stage-managed world of celebrity is now in for rather a rough ride. Coming off of a nice run of decades of compliant media, eager to run fake celebrity interviews and publish sycophantic cover photos and interviews, the gloves have come off, and a new generation of media has emerged – a media with an appetite for fresh meat.

Lindsay Lohan’s recent troubles are a perfect example – in years past, mainstream media would generally have been satisfied with press releases, interviews with handlers and the promise of an exclusive with a celebrity tearfully speaking about secret pain and the need for ‘privacy in this difficult time’. No longer. Ms. Lohan’s recent troubles have ignited a firestorm of uncomplimentary coverage and very detailed reporting – complete with photos, video and audio, and the messages of handlers have been lost in the blizzard of coverage.

I don’t see how traditional ideas about celebrity can survive social media. And I’m wondering, as we see how unremarkable and unpleasant People Like Them so often are, how we’ll react. And whether People Like Us will seem that much more appealing in comparison.

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