Fame, Fortune and Fifty Thousand Followers: Micro-Celebrity and Social Media
Alice E. Marwick, McGannon Communication Research Center / Fordham University
In a networked time when social media users are encouraged to live public lives, what does it mean to be famous? I explore the experiences of micro-celebrities, including influencers, the “Instafamous,” YouTubers, and Vine stars to examine fame as a continuum. Rather than thinking of celebrity as something one is, social media makes it possible for celebrity to be something one does. But while actors, pop stars, athletes, and politicians have the apparatus of fame—managers, publicists, bodyguards and, usually, high salaries—those famous online often lack such protections. As a result, online fame is more precarious and difficult to navigate than its offline counterpart. Analyzing micro-celebrity calls into question the impact of one aspect of fame, attention, on those without the financial and logistical support that celebrity usually brings. Micro-celebrity as practiced by young Tumblr or YouTube stars may be considered somewhat of a niche practice, but its dynamics are increasingly a part of everyday life. The ability to view oneself as a celebrity, attract attention, and manage an audience, regardless of the potential downsides, may become a necessary skill for success in a variety of professions. In this talk, I use ethnographic data to illuminate how celebrity exists as a subject position, why it appeals to so many young people, and how different micro-celebrity practitioners navigate the challenges and complications of online fame.