In July–August 2017, I was invited to be Guest Professor to teach a two-week intensive summer school programme entitled ‘Digital Living’ at Aarhus University. These are some notes and resources from my seminars, lectures, and workshops on Internet Celebrity. Please feel free to use with credits back to this page.

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Internet Celebrity

Networked Publicity & Branding: micro-celebrity, virality, promiscuity

The nature of activism today means that the personal is political. The demand of the market today is that we present our online selves as consistent and recognizable, and easy to locate. The most desirable expressions these days are those that “go viral,” reaching publics beyond the original geographies and time frames of their creators. And yet faced with an “attention economy” that demands public constant sharing of our own lives and consuming of others, we must also be careful of sharing too much material, sharing too frequently, or too indiscriminately. Today we’ll discuss the gendered, raced, class and sexual politics of what Robert Payne terms “media whoring.”

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Compulsory readings

Senft, Theresa (2014) “Microcelebrity and the Branded Self.” Companion to New Media Dynamics. Ed John Hartley, Jean Burgess, Axel Bruns. Blackwell.

Payne, Robert (2016) “Virality without Viruses” in The Promiscuity of Network Culture.”

Abidin, Crystal. 2016. “Visibility labour: Engaging with Influencers’ fashion brands and #OOTD advertorial campaigns on Instagram.” Media International Australia 161(1): 86-100.

Luvaas, Brent. 2016. “Style Radar: On Becoming a Street Style Blogger and Knowing Whom to Shoot.” [chapter 3] in An Ethnography of Fashion Blogging. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

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Lecture: A quick history of internet celebrity

What is a celebrity? What qualities must a celebrity have? What do celebrities even do? Does the form and practice of celebrity change in the age of the internet? In this lecture, we will be introduced to a brief history of internet celebrity culture, and interrogate the relationship between forms and practices such as memes, virality, micro-celebrity, Influencers, prolific accounts, and celebrities on social media. We will also consider the diversity and evolution of prolific icons on the internet such as eyewitness virality, face of memes, spotted and groomed, politicized posterchildren, borrow influence, and weaponized microcelebrity.

Concepts covered:

Celebrity power (P. David Marshall, 2014) “Tools for the Analysis of the Celebrity as a Form of Cultural Power.” Pp. 51-76 in Celebrity and Power. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Demotic Turn (Graeme Turner, 2010) “Ordinary People: celebrity, tabloid culture and the function of the media.” Pp. 12-32 in Ordinary people and the media: The demotic turn. Los Angeles: Sage.

Subversive Frivolity (Crystal Abidin, 2016) “Aren’t these just young, rich women doing vain things online?: Influencer selfies as subversive frivolity.” Social Media + Society 2(2): 1-17.

Money Shot (Laura Grindstaff, 2002) “The Genre Goes Hard-Core: A Brief History of Talk Shows and the Money Shot.” in The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV Talk Shows. Chicago: Chicago Scholarship Online.

Shamelebrity (James B. Twitchell, 1997) For Shame: The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture. Collingdale, PA: Diane Publishing Co.

Resources used:

Cha-Cha Cheating (The Jerry Springer Show) (The Jerry Springer Show 2010)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8A82E01mRI

Rachel Crow elimination (X Factor USA 2010)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hq59-4EmSsw

Eyewitness virality (Crystal Abidin 2016)
https://wishcrys.com/2016/04/05/eyewitness-virality-racism-and-journalistic-responsibility
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7WDwvSO4z8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpSOWfFtKJE

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Workshop: Your internet celebrity guilty pleasures

On which social media do you spend most of your time? What sorts of content do you consume on these platforms? Do you have a favourite (or most hated) internet personality? We will spend 30 mins in groups of 5 to share these deepest, darkest guilty pleasures. Tell us what/who you follow, what/who you don’t, why this content attracts/repels you, how you consume this content (i.e. on what device, at what time of the day, do you have a routine or habit, etc), and how you may or may not interact with other consumers of this content. In the next 30 mins, a couple of students should volunteer to ‘show-and-tell’ your chosen internet celebrity to the class. We can connect your laptop to the projector and you may screen brief content as a visual aid.

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Lecture: Networked Publicity & Branding: micro-celebrity, virality, promiscuity

The nature of activism today means that the personal is political. The demand of the market today is that we present our online selves as consistent and recognizable, and easy to locate. The most desirable expressions these days are those that “go viral,” reaching publics beyond the original geographies and time frames of their creators. And yet faced with an “attention economy” that demands public constant sharing of our own lives and consuming of others, we must also be careful of sharing too much material, sharing too frequently, or too indiscriminately. Today we’ll discuss the gendered, raced, class and sexual politics of what Robert Payne terms “media whoring.”

Concepts covered:

Camgirls (Theresa Senft, 2008) Camgirls: Celebrity & community in the age of social networks. New York: Peter Lang.

Status Update (Alice E. Marwick, 2013) Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, & Branding in the Social Media Age. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Please Subscribe (Crystal Abidin, 2016) “Please subscribe! Influencers, social media, and the commodification of everyday life.” PhD Thesis (Anthropology & Sociology, Communication & Media Studies).

Parasocial Relations (Donald Horton & R. Richard Wohl, 1956) “Mass Communication and Para-social Interaction.” Psychiatry 19(3): 215-229.

Communicative Intimacies, Perceived Interconnectedness, Relatability (Crystal Abidin 2015) “Communicative <3 Intimacies: Influencers and Perceived Interconnectedness.” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, & Technology 8.

Shifts in the Influencer industry (Crystal Abidin, 2016)
https://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2016/09/19/a-few-shifts-in-the-influencer-industry/

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Workshop: Global case studies in internet celebrity

To date, internet celebrity has been theorized as labour (Abidin, 2016a; Duffy, 2016; Wissinger, 2015); identified in branding (Booth & Matic, 2011), linguistic practice (Page, 2012), academia (McMillan Cottom, 2015), and activism (Tufeci, 2013); and studied among mainstream media celebrities and social software developers (Marwick, 2013). Shifting away from Anglo-centric, English-speaking, global North-platforms, some research is emerging from national scapes with distinctive internet governance and platform politics, like China (Meng, 2014) and Indonesia (Rahmawan, 2013). In this workshop, we will be introduced to some of the different forms of internet around the world. You are required to actively engage in our class discussion, and identify and take notes on the celebrity strategies mentioned. Are there patterns pertaining to different persons, cultures, and societies?

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Assignment: DIY Internet Celebrity

Part A: In groups of 5, use the concepts and theories from the lecture and workshop to craft the persona of an internet celebrity. Be as creative as you can, adopting both physical and digital materials and estates, such as a social media account, a blog, or a physical model speaking to an audience. Crystal will rotate among groups to offer guidance.

Part B: Which community or society would your DIY internet celebrity flourish in? What does this say about the qualities of that community or society? How will your DIY internet celebrity carry themselves online and offline? What brands and companies will they work with? How will they engage with their audience? Are you modeling after any existing internet celebrities?

Part C: Present the prototype of your DIY internet celebrity to the class. Document the process and decision-making undertaken by your group in relation to the concepts learnt. Each group will have 15 mins to present. Visual aids are optional but encouraged. In packaging your presentation, consider your audience. Who are you? Who are we? What is the end goal of this interaction? Are you a tech developer trying to get a business man to invest in your internet celebrity product? Are you a public relations manager trying to encourage elite social media users to collaborate with your internet celebrity product? Imagine role-play. Frame this interaction in your brief introduction. Be as creative and multi-modal as you wish.

The assignment you will have to submit is an individual 500-word response to the DIY internet celebrity your group has created, from a specific point of view. Firstly, adopt a role/positionality. Who are you? A follower, fan, troll, hater? A PR manager, social media manager, or company looking to hire an internet celebrity? Secondly, state the criteria for what you would deem to be an effective internet celebrity, listing qualities that correspond to the agenda of the role you have undertaken. Must this DIY internet celebrity fulfil certain criteria, such as number of followers, personal history, branding archive, interpersonal skills, reputation, etc? Finally, explain whether or not you would ‘follow’/’use’ this DIY internet celebrity. The idea is to study the product (i.e. DIY internet celebrity) you have co-created, and reflect on whether you will personally (i.e. personal values, preferences, etc) ‘follow’/’use’ them.

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Some sample case studies from this class are here: http://digitallivingaarhus2017.weebly.com/diy-internet-celebrity.html

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