ROFLCon – Alice Marwick on Internet Celebrity

The critical frame I hoped for in my day one summary was delivered by Alice Marwick‘s keynote on Internet Celebrity.

Here’s my rough notes, though once the video gets put online I’d really recommend watching this one, of all the panels I’ve seen so far. The questions she raised were really the ones I hoped the conference would address.

(I’ll try to come back later and update with links to the videos, as well as clean up my typos, misspellings, etc – and add some links where appropriate).

[Update: Alice has blogged that she will post her notes as well if people are interested.]

I went to SXSW earlier this year to talk about social status and elitism in web 2.0. But no one wanted to talk about that. Everyone wanted to talk about celebrities.

Status embodies values – tells us what’s important. Fame gives you a kind of power, and also demonstrates a certain amount of value.

[Britney, with shaved head – fame is not a solution to everything.]

Our culture is suffused with the desire to become famous – celebrity means success, and is the ultimate reward.

What is it about daily life which makes people so desperately want to be famous?

Limited opportunities, vacuity of suburban teen existence. The myth of individualism and meritocracy – small town girl who struggles for years and becomes an overnight success story – back to Horatio Algier.

Then there is the reality of VH1 behind the scenes. This myth has an ideological function. Stars are just like us, or at least they were, which means that it could happen to us. Why is this ideological? Celebrity is not democratic. We can’t all have the same success if we only work hard. It serves to mask the celebrity system and how it operates.

Pseudo-celebs – Paris et al. Reality tv stars, who are celebrities for the sake of celebrities – if they didn’t exist, the tabloids would have had to create them. Paparazzi photos as proof of digital stardom. This trickles down – facebook profiles and myspace photos become the local version of paparazzi shots. We emulate them.

Neal Gabler, Jodi Dean – celebrity culture, publicity culture. We prize social skills that emphasize performance. Capital, service-oriented economy has adopted the cultural logic of celebrity, in which recognition is its own reward. Terri SenftCamgirls: Webcams, LiveJournals and the Personal as Political in the age of the Global Brand, coming out this summer – microcelebrity.

Microcelebrities respond to fans, know their fans – so in some ways it breaks down the spectator relationship of traditional fandom – closer to an equality relationship. Magibon – staring into the camera. Acting like an anime / manga character. YouTube vs IRL. When Magibon was revealed to be just another socially awkward teenager from the US, she got harshly critiqued.

In the 70s and 80s the inner wrappings of fame started to come unravelled – exposing the machinations of the celebrity culture. Daniel Boorstein. The culture behind the machine is now entirely visible – even foregrounded. [Think of the Kathy Griffin show – my example, not Warwick’s – Griffin foregrounds her own attempts to remain semi-famous]

Internet celebs appear more “authentic” – [pace Weinberger just yesterday]. But the backlash is strong when these authentic celebs get revealed as also constructed. (Magibon story).

Is internet celebrity any more honest, authentic, or real, than other kinds of celebrity?

Creating a taxonomy of internet fame – heroes, stars, celebrities.

Internet famous is not the same for Mike Arrington as it is for Suicide Girls.

1. Careerist Promoters – maintain an online presence in order to further their offline careers.

2. Creative promotors – Scoble, Ze Frank.

3. Self-promoters – scene queens of buzznet. Using the logic of micro-celebrity to get the spoils of traditional celebrity

4. Reluctant celebs – those who have it thrust upon them. (Star wars kid, numa numa).

If we think that celebrity is democratic, we really want to believe that internet celebrity is democratic.

Certainly internet fame has enabled people to distribute creative content without mass media support, but it is also very ephemeral, and also very based on validation by big media.

But look at who really owns these sites – internet celebs are deeply enmeshed in a consolidated corporate system. And often those who bubble up fit a certain profile.

Does internet celebrity question or validate the status quo and the values of dominant mainstream society?

It can be very racist, sexist, homophobic, classist.

Internet celebrity rarely does anything to upset or critique mainstream values.

What about the specific subculture of roflcon

Being famous to fifteen people (citation?)

There are multiple cultures on view here – lots of different kinds of subcultures each with their own sets of values, ways of being, ways of seeing. Crafters vs tech pundits.

Microcelebrity exists, by definition, in a very small community.

Tila Tequila’s failed single, failure to make Rick Astley the 8th inning song for the mets.

Internet celebrity does not translate across all worlds.

IC does use the cultural logic of capitalism, but in a different way – not outside it, but using it in new ways.

Last theory – cultural of narcissism, hollow, superficial, echo chamber.

Internet Celebrity and celebration – injecting a critical voice into a conference which has been more purely about celebration.

If this is the culture we’re building, let’s make it mean something.