In the decade since microcelebrity studies was launched, the landscape of fame on the internet has expanded across digital estates, populations and intensities, labour and practices, products, commodifiable entities, and national spheres. This book examines how cultural context molds the experience of fame, popularity, and living online. By bringing together case studies from different regions, the book expands on the existing theoretical framing of the online celebrity experience. The editors introduce a ten-year anniversary update to the field of microcelebrity studies by re-theorizing microcelebrity considering the under-represented diversity in specific ideo-geographical and socio-cultural domains. Collectively, the chapters rethink the concept of microcelebrity to accommodate developments in global internet governance, the evolution of platform politics, the emergence of hybrid forms of celebrity, and the collapsing networks between old and new media.
The collection argues for new perspectives and theories of microcelebrity that dialogue with colonial geographies within and outside of academia, cross-media networks between influencers and legacy media, and gendered aggression and political discourses in a social media-saturated age. Chapters feature geographies and populations in Australia, Brazil, China, England, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, and the US. Platforms considered include blogs, blogshops, bulletin boards, Facebook, forums, Instagram, Musical.ly, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, Weibo, and YouTube. The book considers a spectrum of microcelebrity at all stages of their careers, from everyday users and beginners to veteran microcelebrities and influencers.
Published 19 November 2018 by Emerald Publishing.
“Admirably international in its examples and exposition, this edited collection on microcelebrities is a very useful addition to the literature on popular culture and celebrity studies in the internet age.”
–Daya Thussu, Distinguished Visiting Professor and Disney Chair in Global Media, Schwarzman College, China
“Through the lens of the microcelebrity we can reimagine global, regional and local geographies, which in turn provide new cartographies for theorising and practising within this “social media-saturated age” […] It is this contestation between global and local practices that Microcelebrity Around the Globe: Approaches to Cultures of Internet Fame interrogates through a rich array of methods and techniques. Microcelebrity Around the Globe takes us on a journey beyond the Anglophonic context, innovating on methods within a variety of cultures such as India, Thailand, China and Brazil to name a few. Acknowledging the complexity, unevenness and messiness of social media, this book curates a variety of interdisciplinary approaches in a clear and succinct manner […] A must read for those not only interested in microcelebrities but internet cultures more generally.”
–Larissa Hjorth, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Design and Creative Practice ECP, RMIT, Melbourne
PURCHASE (available in hardback and e-book)
Fame, Shame, Remorse, Authenticity: A Prologue
by Theresa M. Senft
This book contains essays considering how micro-celebrity works around the world. I am the person who coined the term “micro-celebrity.” This makes me an expert of sorts. It also makes me suspicious. Although much of its focus is on the present, my hope is that this book stirs questions about the past as well. Exactly how did we get to our current understanding of what this “field” is, or means? How much of what we know about micro-celebrity comes through direct experience? How much comes from stories of others? From formal education? How much are we simply guessing?
Introduction to Microcelebrity Around the Globe: Approaches to Cultures of Internet Fame
by Crystal Abidin & Megan Lindsay Brown
The field of microcelebrity studies was pioneered by Global Studies scholar Theresa Senft (2008) ten years ago, and prolifically expanded upon by Alice Marwick’s (2013) work on microcelebrity strategies among Silicon Valley Start-ups. In the last decade, microcelebrity studies have expanded across digital estates, populations and intensities, labour and practices, products, commodifiable entities, and national spheres. However, a vast majority of existing research looks into instances of microcelebrity in predominantly English-speaking, middle-class, White, Anglo-centric spaces, or applies Anglo-centric theories to different localized case studies around the world. In this book collection, the editors introduce a ten-year anniversary update to the field of microcelebrity studies by re-theorizing microcelebrity considering the under-represented diversity in specific ideo-geographical and socio-cultural domains. Specifically, this anthology examines the practice and concept of microcelebrity through interdisciplinary in-depth case studies across the globe. Through highly contextualized cultural settings and social histories, the chapters present scholarly accounts of microcelebrity as it has proliferated and diverged in global social media networks.
Together, the chapters argue for new perspectives and theories of microcelebrity that dialogue with colonial geographies within and outside of academia, cross-media networks between Influencers and legacy media, and gendered aggression and political discourses in a social media-saturated age. Specific case studies situated in various ideo-geographical locales seek to revise the concept of microcelebrity to accommodate developments in global internet governance, the evolution of platform politics, the emergence of hybrid forms of celebrity, and the collapsing networks between old and new media.
Section One: Norms
1) Vlogging Parlance: Strategic Talking in Beauty Vlogs
by Sophie Bishop
The YouTube affordance of auto-generated textual Closed Captions (CC) is valued by the YouTube algorithm, and therefore spoken words in vlogs can be strategically used to optimise and orient videos and channels for search. In their blog, YouTube suggests that complicity with their desire for rich and accurate CC is rewarded with algorithmic visibility (YouTube 2017a). CC metadata is therefore an example of the significant degree of pressure for vloggers (video bloggers) on YouTube to optimise their content down to minutia of self-presentations. In this chapter I analyse the practice of highly visible beauty vloggers to conceptualise vlogging practices that contribute to algorithmically readable CC text. I term this labour vlogging parlance. Vlogging parlance includes keyword stuffing, defined as inserting often searched-for keywords into speech. It also encompasses the strategic verbal expressions, language choice, speech pace, enunciation and minimization of background noise by vloggers. Vlogging parlance can be thought of as a microcelebrity (Senft 2008) technique, deployed to attract attention and visibility in an information saturated online “attention economy” a system of value in which often “money now flows along with attention” (Goldhaber 1997). The call to optimise speech ultimately places responsibility onto creators to ensure their videos can become visible, whilst assisting YouTube in developing search accuracy for their viewers. Furthermore, the Western-centric language affordances of CC, and the high valuation of English on the YouTube platform, are used as examples of how social media platforms can underserve differently abled and non-English speaking audiences.
2) Facebook And Unintentional Celebrification
by Angela M. Cirucci
In defining microcelebrity, media technologies are often described as integral to the self-branding process. This chapter argues that social network platforms are not social utilities, but, in fact, celebrification utilities. That is, they are programmed to necessarily brand users by extracting and filtering identifications to be easily consumed by advertisers, just as microcelebrities promote specific, “authentic” aspects of self that can be easily consumed by fans. Through a discourse analysis of Facebook’s functionalities and in depth interviews with 45 emerging adults, I present an analysis of microcelebrity culture through the narratives of everyday users who are not actively involved in self-branding but are instead compelled by the site’s inherent design to unintentionally brand—they unknowingly align with corporation-like mission statements, ignore multiple, dynamic selves, and discard their right to anonymity.
3) Musical.ly and microcelebrity among girls
by Burcu Şimşek, Crystal Abidin, & Megan Lindsay Brown
My interest in musical.ly begins with a personal observation. Holding on to a mobile phone on the one hand and performing hand signs with the other, while acting and lipsyncing a trending popular song, my thirteen-year-old daughter introduced me to the social network Musical.ly while I drove her back home from school in March 2016. “In the name of love” was the song, and while the hand signs were created spontaneously in 15-second blocks, the recording session was repeated over and over until perfection was achieved. My daughter moved the mobile phone in circular movements, sometimes using close-ups, other times with distance shots, or with immediate stops to keep up with the rhythm of the song. When I realized that this was a new platform, as a parent, privacy became my primary concern. We have always discusses her social media habits and use, how she connects with her friends, and the type of content that she shares. I queried my daughter and learnt that she had a private profile and did not want to post any of her videos publicly. She said she was “just practicing” when she made her Musical.ly videos. Being exposed to these practice sessions with friends, I channeled my interest as a parent into a formal feminist linguistics research project about young girls practices through the site and how the Musical.ly platform encourages microcelebrity aspirations for young users.
4) Being red online: The craft of popularity on Chinese social media platforms
by Ge Zhang & Gabriele de Seta
While in common English-language parlance speaking of “online celebrities” encourages the conflation of new forms of famousness with existing discourses on mass media stardom and fandom, the Mandarin Chinese term wanghong, a shorthand term for wangluo hongren (literally ‘person popular on the internet’) frames the enticing shores of online celebrity through the peculiar lexical domain of a grassroots popularity. The figure of the wanghong has in recent years accompanied the development of social media platforms in China, becoming a profitable profession, an inspirational role model, a morally condemnable byproduct of Internet economies, and in general a widely debated social phenomenon among local users. Drawing on interviews with more and less successful local online celebrities and discussions with their audiences, this chapter offers an up-to-date portrayal of the various forms of wanghong currently vying for attention on Chinese social media platforms, illustrating how popularity is crafted along with narratives of professionalism and economic aspirations intimately connected to the sociotechnical contexts of contemporary China.
Section Two: Labour
5) Origin stories: An ethnographic account of researching microcelebrity
by Crystal Abidin
Depending on whether one premises academic literature, press reports, or vernacular folklore, the origin stories of microcelebrity cultures can differ greatly. As academics, we are often inclined to sort canon timelines as detailed in refereed academic publications on specific phenomena, viewing them as scientific truths that take precedence over other forms of written records such as traditional press or popular media reports. But what happens if the origin stories of cultural phenomena are not logged in these traditionally privileged outlets, often in the English language, and in a vocabulary not usually accessible to the general populace? What happens if the origin stories of cultural happenings remain within the domains of material or oral folklore without ever being logged as transmittable text? How do researchers go about reading theory, applying concepts, and interpreting their data while maintaining the critical lens of cultural relativism? In this chapter I contemplate the origin stories of my research on microcelebrity cultures between 2009 and 2018 both thematically and conceptually, by biographically recounting my methodological and theoretical trajectories in studying internet celebrities. As an act of radical transparency in displaying some of my most intimate fieldnotes – such as how I came upon particular schools of thought and theories – and as a reflexive mode of transcribing from material and oral culture the earliest beginnings of microcelebrity culture in Singapore as a participant observer, I hope this methodological biography will contribute towards rethinking the politics of our knowledge production as researchers.
6) Fame Labour: A Critical Autoethnography of Australian Digital Influencers
by Jonathan Mavroudis
This chapter reports on findings from a critical autoethnography (Anderson, 2006) about the strategies and experiences of male microcelebrities from Australia. The author Jonathan Mavroudis, himself identifies as a microcelebrity with a following of over 27,000 on Instagram at the time of writing. This position granted him insider access to this specific cohort and the microcelebrity world in general. The study comprised participant interviews, analyses of the author’s own experiences, and a survey of over 500 of his Instagram followers. The author draws from these data sources to introduce the concept of ‘fame labour’. Fame labour re-configures the way visibility labours such as self-banding labour is understood. It offers a macro perspective that relates to non-microcelebrities as well as microcelebrities and illuminates potential wider implications of microcelebrity culture.
7) Net idols and beauty bloggers’ negotiations of race, commerce, and cultural customs: Emergent microcelebrity genres in Thailand
by Vimviriya (Vim) Limkangvanmongkol & Crystal Abidin
Around the mid-2000s, the first wave of young Thai women who attained fame organically on the internet emerged when their photos and profiles were widely shared by friends and fans in web communities and discussion forums. Comprising mainly of students, these women were known as ‘net idols’ and celebrated primarily for their looks, as online conversations focused on their beauty, cosmetic and dressing skills, and overall pleasant appearance. Since then, some of these net idols have parlayed their online popularity into commercial exchanges and partnerships by advertising for clients, evolving into a commercial form of microcelebrity known as ‘influencers’ (Abidin 2016), while still others progressed into different forms of internet celebrity confined only to online fame as social capital without further tangible returns. In this chapter, we review the conceptual history of net idols and a subset of influencers known as ‘beauty bloggers’ in Thailand, drawing on observations and content analysis of net idols’ Instagram posts, beauty bloggers’ Facebook posts, conversations from selected discussion boards, and popular sentiment about these internet celebrities in tabloids and online websites. Most of the content is originally in Thai and translated by the first author.
8) Catarina, a virgin for auction: Microcelebrity in Brazilian media
by Lígia Lana
Mercado Livre, a site for e-commerce and online auctions, is popular in Brazil. Given the accessibility of user-friendly technology, any person can open an auction on the internet to trade items such as cars, mobile phones, and domestic electrical appliances. In 2012, a media mobilization was sparked after the online auction of Brazilian Catarina Migliorini’s virginity. Described by the Brazilian media as one of the events of the year, the auction was promoted by Justin Sisely, an Australian filmmaker who designed the project Virgins Wanted. Tracing media reports, this chapter focuses Migliorini’s savvy attention literacies, upon which she capitalized upon the situation to obtain her celebrity. Seizing the opportunity given by a watchful internet audience, she established herself as an iconic personality through press coverage and the curation of online profiles, and became a microcelebrity.
Section Three: Activism
9) The Rise of Belle from Tumblr
by Megan Lindsay Brown & Hanna Phifer (Belle)
I followed Belle (@bellecosby, @bonitaapplebelle), or Hanna, from Twitter to Tumblr. Her presence on the blog was thoughtful, defiant, playful, and informed. Looking through Hanna’s posts as Belle from Tumblr, she struck me as “Tumblr famous” — a type of microcelebity that uses Tumblr to connect with an audience and maintain popularity among other Tumblr users. Well before the #MeToo movement had caught fire in 2017 Hanna was ready and willing to challenge mainstream celebrity on behalf of the voiceless. Her tweets were laid out as a linear and cohesive argument challenging the impulse to victim-blame when sexual assault survivors do go public. This chapter traces how Belle’s online community was an opportunity for relationally understanding herself and expressing her identity to specific Tumblr networks, among like-minded peers that also confront social issues.
10) Transparency & Authenticity Through Transgressive Microcelebrity Performance: The Qandeel Baloch case
by Fatima Aziz
Anglo-centric scholarship understands authenticity of online mediated performance for acquiring fame as a context-dependent claim, requiring labor in displaying a vulnerable self that is evaluated and validated by a relevant audience. This book chapter examines this concept in a non-Western context through a case study of a Pakistani microcelebrity, Qandeel Baloch. By explaining how Pakistani broadcast celebrity performances continue to be evaluated by religious and moral standards, this analysis finds how a transgressive performance shapes an authentic microcelebrity claim on social media.
11) It’s Just a Joke! The Payoffs and Perils of Microcelebrity in India
by Rukmini Pande
This chapter will consider the workings of micro-celebrity in the context of an evolving Indian cyber-public. In the contemporary moment, large-scale battles for control over the world’s youngest and increasingly digitally active demographic are in full swing – both by corporations like Facebook through efforts like free basics, as well as by ideologues who wish to mould the “idea of India” is certain ways. While digital spaces are often framed as liberating, there are also extremely strong conservative forces that are well established. It is within this context that I would like to examine the recent growth of the Indian online comedic scene whose popularity has increased by leaps and bounds. My particular focus will be the comedy collective of AIB (All India Backchod), who are most prominent on Youtube. This collective has garnered significant popularity through their deployment of viral comedic videos riffing off on various aspects of Indian society and have also made socially aware videos around hot button issues like gay rights and women’s rights. I would like to examine their treatment of gender and sexuality particularly in the context of it being made up primarily of straight men and how that has affected their engagement both with the content of their videos as well as their ability to leverage their online visibility. I will be using ideas of postcolonial cyberspace as theorized by Nishant Shah (2015) as well as theorists of micro-celebrity and the use of humor such as Theresa Senft (2013).
The Algorithmic Celebrity: The Future of Internet Fame and Microcelebrity Studies
by Alice E. Marwick
Miquela Sousa has 1.1 million followers on Instagram. Her account, @lilmiquela, is a never-ending stream of shots that show Sousa flexing designer brands like Balenciaga and Margiela, taking photos with other influencers, posing with celebrities like producer Nile Rogers, skateboarding, and hanging out outside the 7-11. Her usual carefully-posed selfies were replaced on April 20, 2018 with a moody self-portrait. The caption read: I’m thinking about everything that has happened and though this is scary for me to do, I know I owe you guys more honesty. In trying to realize my truth, I’m trying to learn my fiction. I want to feel confident in who I am and to do that I need to figure out what parts of myself I should and can hold onto. Sousa is not a person. She is the creation of Brud, a Los Angeles creative agency specializing in “robotics, artificial intelligence and their applications to media businesses.” Brud is backed by major Silicon Valley investors including Sequoia Capital; Lil Miquela is simply the most successful of a number of proof-of-concepts of something new, the virtual influencer. In fact, Brud had previously orchestrated a “hack” of Lil Miquela’s account by one of their other influencers, a blonde Trump supporter named BermudaIsBae (Petrarca 2018). (Miquela, in contrast, identified as Brazilian-American and included Black Lives Matter and a link to Black Girls Code in her bio; the hack played out a very particular type of racial partisan animosity familiar in the era of Trump.)
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