Celebrity Culture in the Age of the Internet — Follow Up

On April 14, I led a discussion about celebrity culture in the age of the internet including topics like parasocial relationships, internet celebrities in the mainstream media, and idolization. The overall consensus among participants was that there are problems on both sides, from celebrities and fans. Parasocial relationships are becoming much more common with the ability to experience more of an allusive celebrity, even possibly interacting with them, and this boundary between reality and imagination needs to be more closely upheld by fans. But on the other hand, many participants recognized some celebrities’ tendency to feed into this narrative and increase their fame by generating an attached fanbase. One specific celebrity is Jack Harlow, who interacts in a flirty manner with almost everyone he is filmed around, including fans, and accepts and reciprocates any flirts that come from fans, leading them to believe that they have a chance and could be the special one. Other instances like this include One Direction’s Night Changes music video showing P.O.V. dates with each of the band members and Brittany Broski referring to her followers as “friends” despite there being millions of them on her so-called private account. Other topics from the discussion included “drama” youtubers such as Trish Paytas and Tana Mongeau who only are famous for being controversial, yet never seem to lose their followers. The idea of people “hate-watching” only fuels their ability to get involved with controversy for shock-value, and therefore, views.

Despite these criticisms of celebrities, another general consensus was that this newfound internet fame is an amazing thing for those who deserve the opportunity. Specific examples of these worthy people included male beauty influencers like Bretman Rock, other LGBTQ+ influencers, and Emily Uribe, who clearly cares about what she does and is grateful for everything. These positives among the ability for such negatives shows that good can come from the internet for celebrity culture.

Celebrity Culture in the Age of the Internet

Celebrities have been an integral part of our culture for centuries, but what defines a celebrity and how they are viewed has changed drastically over the years. In the past, celebrities were mainly seen “in their element.” This could be doing films, music, sports, or specific events that celebrated these skills like red carpets or award shows, but now, we see celebrities everywhere and doing everything. Of course, paparazzi have been around for years and magazines consistently publish these shots and stories, but with social media, the celebrities themselves are the ones giving the public this access. This access as well as the ability to interact directly with the individual has allowed for the increase of parasocial relationships, where media users imagine a friendship or connection between them and a media persona despite having no or limited interactions. This can become very unhealthy for both parties, with the media users having unstable attachments and feeling entitled to more of the media persona’s lives, and media personas experiencing pressure to keep up with a relationship they do not know about.

Additionally, the internet and social media have made it easier to voice criticism for celebrities, which can have positive and negative effects. With “cancel culture,” it has become very common for a celebrity’s behaviors, comments, or actions to be called out for being problematic. This has been very positive for exposing cases of racist behaviors, sexist remarks, or sexual assault, sometimes even resulting in major change. But on the other hand, many have criticized this “cancel culture” for wrongly accusing individuals of things they did not do, something that was taken out of context, or something that was many years ago and does not represent who they have become. Many of these instances must be looked at individually, making it hard to come to a general consensus, but it is clear that this is a problem of the internet age, and not something film stars of the early 1900s were worried about.

Finally, the internet and especially social media has made it much easier for people to become a celebrity. Tik Tok has skyrocketed many young people to fame, such as Charli D’Amelio, Emily Uribe, Brittany Broski, or Remi Bader. There have been internet celebrities before on YouTube and Vine, but the transition from online to mainstream fame was not as quick or easy. The speed at which these people gain fame may change what defines a celebrity because it blurs the line between everyday person and celebrity, making this a line that can be crossed overnight. The internet and social media have changed what it means to be a celebrity as well as how we interact with them, but are these changes positive or negative? What will become of celebrity culture in the future, will the lines continue to be blurred or will things drastically change once again?