(A) Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269)
Eggo Mueller’s effusive description of the Internet’s dissolution of “barriers between producers and audience, professionals and amateurs” (Mueller, 2009) alludes to the seemingly ‘endless’ possibilities offered to ordinary citizens by online publishing and video-sharing sites such as YouTube (Fine, 2008: 92). Or so the popular myth goes. While our digital era democratises cultural production through greater access to interactive digital media, it also evokes the common assumption that online media has become an open ‘platform’ for DIY celebrities to expose their creative works. Burgess and Green, in their article ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media’, explore the mainstream media’s popular discourse: YouTube’s plethora of amateur videos and raw talent, coupled with digital distribution, converts directly to media fame (Burgess & Green, 2009: 21). If this is the case, can any YouTube user become an instant music star or celebrity? Attracting more than 112 million U.S viewers to its site, together with an estimated 6.6 billion video’s streamed alone in January 2010 (Olufunmilayo, 2010: 432), YouTube has certainly emerged as a pivotal player in the mainstream media landscape (Burgess & Green, 2009: 14). However, if ‘real’ celebrity is defined by the individual’s ability to hold power and earn an income, it is apparent that DIY celebrity, with its huge exposure but no support, is a very different experience.
Perhaps you are familiar with YouTube vlogger Lonelygirl 15 whose diary-like accounts of a troublesome relationship with her parents and everyday teenage angst between 2006-2008 relished a strong currency amongst YouTube viewers and generated an estimated 300,000 views per episode (Burgess & Green, 2009: 272). Or perhaps your niche for entertainment lies with the amusing parodies of singer-song writer Dave Days?
Each candidate was, in many ways, successful in using YouTube as an outlet to expose their creativity and concerns. However, their transition to celebrity status, along with many others, was limited due to their inability to access the modes of representation by the mass media (Burgess & Green, 2009: 22). Online sites have in many ways facilitated avenues for ordinary citizens to be hauled into the spotlight and receive temporary recognition by mass media outlets. Yet this access and visibility touched on by media outlets is more or less a transient and fleeting type of fame, which underlies the power of ‘demoticisation’ on everyday lives. The level of notoriety achieved by such YouTube celebrities is clearly limited in its nature, defined by Turner as “ordinary celebrity”, and confined to a small niche of on-line media users for a distinct period of time.
As Burgess and Green point out:
“YouTube has its own internal system of celebrity based on and reflecting values that don’t necessarily match up neatly with those of the dominant media.” (2009: 24)
In these ways, individuals that manage to achieve a degree of fame on YouTube fail to achieve the ‘transfer of power’ evident in the process of ‘democratization’.
So how do individuals transcend the limitations of the ordinary media to achieve a more lasting celebrity status? Burgess & Green observe the ways YouTube’s international character and networked social medium offer a vehicle for self-promotion, commercialization and a potential launching pad to stardom. Celebrity YouTuber Dave Days, with his YouTube Channel ‘Hi Let’s Kick It Kick It’, confirms Burgess and Green’s statement that “a star youtuber can only be achieved by ongoing participation in Youtube.” (2009: 24) By being able to transcend YouTube by developing an external website, he is able to establish a separate identity and potentially segue into a more commercially viable existence through advertising. Yet it must be remembered that YouTube offers only a potential rather than an actuality. Whilst the production and exposure of vernacular video enables users to break away from YouTube’s internal system of celebrity, the myth of DIY celebrity truly manifests itself in the need for YouTube videos to pass through the “gate-keeping mechanisms” of traditional media. This was indeed applicable with teenage singing sensation Justin Bieber and Greyson Chance’s rise to fame, where each respective artist achieved revenue, recognition and prominence through attracting the eye of industry professionals and subsequent record contracts.
Burgess, J & Green, J (2009) ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media’, in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press
Fine, G (2008) ‘Everybody’s Business’ The Wilson Quarterly 31(1): 92-94
Olufunmilayo, B (2010) ‘YouTube, UCG, And Digital Music: Competing Business and Cultural Models in the Internet Age, Northwestern Law Review 104(2): 431:450
Muller, E (2009), ‘Where Quality Matters: Discourses on the Art of Making a YouTube Video’, in Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau (eds) The YouTube Reader, Stockholm: National Library of Sweden