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  • Mark 7:38 pm on September 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: celebrity, star system   

    The cynical lure of online celebrity 

    I recently co-authored a paper with Mark Johnson and Tom Brock about the moral economy of celebrity streamer on Twitch. We attempt to understand how the aspiration for celebrity, the imperative to be seen, reflects the broader conditions in which the aspirant streamers make their way through the world:

    More broadly than the phenomenon of live streaming, the relative deprivation of many young people under contemporary neoliberal labour conditions is compounded by the disjuncture between their education levels and the reality of the work available to them, with many young people reduced to mere ‘click-workers’ in the digital economy. Structural questions about occupational opportunities are increasingly obscured by cultural ones concerning individual morality, specifically with regard to the level of work and effort that individuals are expected to put in in order to climb to the top. Gerrard (2014) has argued that education and training become important moral markers, signaling a willingness to develop the self in order to better fare on the labour market. This desire for self-improvement and in turn the place of self-improvement as a method towards fame and financial success finds a strong outlet in the world of video game live streaming, existing as it does within a domain that requires no formal qualifications, minimal start-up costs, involves the play of leisure activities as the foundation upon which such a career will be built (cf., Sotamaa, 2007; Johnson and Woodcock, 2017), and has the demonstrated capacity to result in six-figure incomes and tremendous levels of digital fame.

    These elements combine to offer a (very obvious) appeal, which in turn leads to the particular streaming phenomena outlined in this work, reinforced by the affordances and structures of streaming Web sites. Bauman (2004) has dramatically proclaimed an epochal shift in which ‘unemployed’ as a fleeting condition has given way to ‘redundancy’ as a perpetual possibility; streaming seems to offer not just a way out of such a situation, but a way to actively turn one’s spare (or redundant) time to career benefit without prerequisite training or substantial investment. It has consequently become a distinctive and hotly-contested new source of digital celebrity, and one that brings with it particular dynamics and practices that merit our scholarly attention.

    If this is concerned with what inclines people towards celebrity streaming, it still leaves the question of what encourages people into the platforms in question. In their book YouTube Jean Burgess and Joshua Green reflect on the assumptions made about the potential for fame in the celebration of participatory cultural production that marked the era of YouTube’s inception. From pg 31:

    A common assumption underlying the most celebratory accounts of the democratisation of cultural production in the mid 2000s (Grossman, 2006a, 2006b) was that raw talent combined with digital distribution could convert directly to legitimate success and media fame–if only the right platform were provided. This assumption was especially noticeable in the early mainstream media discourse around amateur video, usually invoking individual success stories that appear to realise this promise.

    This frames meritocracy as contingently constrained by distributional systems. People with talent will be recognised once the mechanism exists for them to get beyond gatekeepers and broadcast themselves to the world. There was a kernel of truth to it as “recording labels and talent scouts increasingly turned their attention to online publishing opportunities” (pg 32). But even if this mythology originated in the irrational exuberance of cultural commentators in the death throes of the roaring 90s, there are vested interests at work in ensuring it persists. From pg 37:

    Although YouTube has become a mainstream source of commercial online video content, the mythology of the accidental, ‘viral’ video star still persists; and it is a myth that is carefully cultivated by successful YouTubers and by the platform itself (featuring ‘accidental’ YouTube stars that were the subjects of viral videos heavily in each of its birthday specials).

    What percentage of those following an online celebrity hope they too might become one? I’m fascinated by the attentional ponzi scheme I increasingly see cutting through social media in which the accumulation of visibility and the assumed benefits it can bring  draws others into the pursuit of visibility in the hope they too might enjoy the benefits. It’s a structure which must constantly be replenished if it’s to avoid crashing down around those who dream about becoming one of the chosen. The only ones who in this scenario are the architects of what Richard Seymour calls The Twittering Machine.

    (For those unfamiliar with it the picture is Paul Klee’s The Twittering Machine

  • Mark 9:01 am on August 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , celebrity, , , power laws, , , , , , user generated content,   

    The rhetoric and reality of user generated content  

    On pg 102 of Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things, he highlights email exchanges between YouTube’s founders, released in a court case, which suggest the invocation of ‘user generated content’ might be a matter of branding rather than a meaningful growth strategy for social media platforms:

    In another email exchange from 2005, when full-length movies were being posted on YouTube, Steve Chen, a cofounder of the company, wrote to his colleagues Hurley and Jawed Karim, “Steal it!,” and Chad Hurley responded: “Hmm, steal the movies?” Steve Chen replied: “We have to keep in mind that we need to attract traffic. How much traffic will we get from personal videos? Remember, the only reason why our traffic surged was due to a video of this type…. viral videos will tend to be THOSE type of videos.”

    Much critical literature has focused on how social media platforms ossify existing hierarchies and establish new ones. It is too easy to see this as an unexpected consequence of a new social infrastructure, as opposed to an outcome which was knowingly designed in from the start.

  • Mark 12:11 pm on June 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , celebrity, esports, ,   

    The Celebrity Millionaires of Competitive Gaming 

  • Mark 10:54 pm on May 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , celebrity, fame, , ,   

    Fame and the content eco-system 

    In Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success, there’s an interesting reflection on pg 46 about Trump’s first experience of being in a newspaper:

    In his third year at the academy he earned a headline in the local paper—“ Trump Wins Game for NYMA”—and the experience was almost electrifying. “It felt good seeing my name in print,” he said fifty years later. “How many people are in print? Nobody’s in print. It was the first time I was ever in the newspaper. I thought it was amazing.” This first brush with fame could be seen as the spark of a fire that would eventually light all of Trump’s life. The notice in the paper made him real, and heroic to people who weren’t even at the game. Fame also established that Donald Trump was a special boy. His deep appreciation for the experience shows that he understood that a great many people wanted fame but almost all of them fail to achieve it.

    This highlights an interesting relationship between the psychological pay off of fame and the media conditions within which it becomes possible. Contrast this to our contemporary content eco-system: is internet celebrity devalued because everyone can immediately publish in the way that only the richest and most powerful can get themselves in newspapers? 

    No, because the distinctions change as the infrastructure does – now the challenge is being ‘heard above the din’ rather than the simple fact of appearing in a publicly recorded way.

  • Mark 3:39 pm on April 4, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , , celebrity, , digital celebrity, , online celebrity, , , ,   

    The Aristocracy of the Digital Celebrities and the Magical Thinking That Props It Up 

    This is possibly the most depressing blog post I’ve ever read. It’s the earnestness with which the author conveys the message that “influencers are rarely the people who move the needle in our life”, as if this was a genuine personal revelation that he now feels the need to convey in as gentle as tone a possible:

    After scrolling for several hours, I came to a conclusion.

    Some people–including me that night–spend too much time following top influencers.

    If only I can get their attention, we think, then I’ll make it big.

    As I scrolled, I thought about how hopeless some people may feel when they can’t catch the attention of that one influencer. I imagined how nervous that person might have felt as they crafted their Instagram pitch to Cuban, Vaynerchuk, or John.

    Not everyone feels this way about connecting with influencers, of course.

    But many do.

    At the end of the day, influencers are rarely the people who move the needle in our life. Our success hardly depends on their attention.

    Our success ultimately depends on the attention we give to our work, not the amount of attention our work gets for us.


    By definition there can only be a handful of celebrities. As Goffman describes it on pg 68 of Stigma, by ‘fame’ we “refer to the possibility that the circle of people who know about a given individual, especially in connection with a rare desirable achievement or possession, can become very wide, and at the same time much wider than the circle of those who know him personally”.

    Digital celebrity detaches fame from achievement and instead renders it a function of network position. To hope that one can “make it big” by “getting their attention” isn’t a career strategy. It’s not even an unrealistic hope. It’s magical thinking and I’m scared by the neo-aristocratic politics I could imagine it one day supporting.

  • Mark 6:48 pm on February 2, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , celebrity, , , , , ,   

    unpicking the political economy of digital cats 

    Much deserved Guardian coverage of the weird phenomenon that is the internet cat video festival. What grips me about things like this is not the fact that people are trying to make money from their cats, but rather that many others people are trying and failing to make money from their cats. Not unlike the aspiring professional pick up artists, though you’ll have to read this brilliant paper to see what I’m getting at.

    I’m increasingly convinced that a tendency to publicize successful outliers to propagate the illusion‘ can be seen across the web, as a few people who make a living within a novel field wilfully co-operate with platform providers to promulgate the notion that other people could do this too. The result is inevitably a rather off-putting stampede of aspirants which must be read against the background of contracting structures of opportunity which can be seen across more established sectors within an increasingly low-wage and precarious economy.

    There’s an interesting BBC programme about the rise of Vloggers which has left me thinking about this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06zw04s/rise-of-the-superstar-vloggers It’s very descriptive but it’s interesting to see these people asked about what they’re doing now and how it relates to what they were doing previously.

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