In the age of Instagram promos, youtube challenges, and virality, fame is more attainable than ever before. In the past, journalistic industries and celebrity gossip tabloids were the only chances the general population had to peek into the lives of people we deem as celebrities. Now, celebrities and the general population alike meticulously craft the lens through which they are seen by the rest of the world. Internet popularity is more prevalent than ever and attention is a hot commodity that everyone–no matter the profession or socio-economic status–seems to seek. However, the same intangible resource that the world is hungry for, may have disturbing disadvantages.
Medical professionals like Dr Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple popper), and Dr. Micheal Salzhauer (aka Dr. Miami) are influential in their medical field but also in reference to their social media following. The impact that their internet fame has on their business, shows the power of exposure and the way that social networks make catching people’s attention much easier than it was before the age of the internet. Lawyers, counselors, and artists alike are using social media as a beneficial tool for professional advancement. The widespread influence of social media platforms is inseparable from the way the western world currently lives and this brings up the question: how did we get here?
Soulja Boy is a name that has been circulating the Internet for the past few weeks. There is conversation surrounding his influence on internet fame for musicians and his creation of the foundation for modern day “TikTok” dances. Soulja Boy was developing as a rapper and a teen at the rise of the internet and social media platforms. He was active on MySpace dating back to 2006 and he uploaded his first video to youtube in 2005, three months after the platform was launched. Soulja Boy was able to build a fanbase and gain traction in the music industry solely off of the internet.
He made Crank Dat, the number one song in the world and secured a record deal with no professional support; something that had never been done before. The internet was unmarked terrain and Soulja Boy made a definite direction for the development of fame and influencer culture as we see it today. He was constantly uploading videos of himself dancing and his music similar to what present day youtubers and musicians do.
Currently, it is common for artists to rely on social media platforms as their main source of exposure. The internet makes reaching an audience easier than ever before. The buying and selling of products as well as the branding of individuals can be done on an iphone. The same platforms that Soulja Boy used to develop his fanbase, are now being used for influencers and businesses to sell themselves and their products.
The setup of social networks today puts users in two categories, creators vs consumers. Creators can be artists, content creators, businesses, media outlets, and any user utilizing social media as a means of putting out content and receiving some sort of return. Consumers are the customers, users who consume content more than they create it. The internet makes the world feel so much bigger and connected but also causes an oversaturation of content. For example, there are currently approximately 500,000 influencers on Instagram. This means that Creators are pressured to put out content quicker, and consumers grow to over consume and dehumanize creators if they fall into social media addiction and reliance. This creates a rat-race dynamic. Plus, consumers constantly taking in outside stimuli can cause a dependency of the information received on social media and an internalization of the content consumed.
Constantly using social media and receiving validation from posts, likes, comments, can make it easy for platforms to overwhelm the way we experience the world around us. On social media, the focus is on aesthetics, so luxury — in the material sense — is romanticized. Musicians put expensive cars, jewelry, and money in their videos. Influencers showcase high end brands, private destinations, and exclusive experiences. The advertisement of luxury and a lifestyle that the general population has trouble attaining, makes us look up to celebrities and influencers as people who are bigger than ourselves and draws heavy users to internalize and try and attain this material wealth to keep up with the world “around them”.
84% of individuals 18-29 regularly use social media. Developmentally, this is a time where people craft their sense of identity and build intimate relationships with others. Humans are vulnerable to social approval and social media gives people instantaneous approval with a like, view, or comment. Looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after our basic needs (food, water, shelter) are met, we pursue acceptance and respect from people around us. Social media allows for us to feel a fabricated sense of instantaneous belonging.
The ease in reaching millions of people through virality and the addicting nature of social media causes for an interesting debate on the impact fame has on the psyche. There are countless documentaries shining a light on celebrities’ lives and the ways fame changed their lives completely. Take a look at Framing Britney Spears, Amy, a documentary about the life of Amy Winehouse, and Surviving R Kelly.
The art these celebrities create is beautiful and unparalleled, but it seems like the recognition these celebrities receive does something to the human psyche that can’t be reversed. In Britney Spears’ case, control and constant public attention from the age 16, shattered her youth and led to her being put under conservatorship where she has no control over her financial and personal affairs. In Amy Winehouse’s case, fame and recognition masked the addiction she was facing and reduced it into something beautiful that people could consume. For example, ‘Rehab’ is one of the artist’s most popular songs, however it indicates the depth of her struggle with addiction. Addiction that she later died from. Rest in Peace. In R Kelly’s case, his status and talent is powerful enough to make people overlook his horrifying abusive tendencies towards young girls and enjoy his music anyways. This brings up a question that seems impossible to answer– If the images of these celebrities are enough to make millions of people blindly support them, what does “fame” mean to the average social media influencer and consumer? I think about trolling artists like 6ix9ine and local clout chasers turned internet celebrities, like Boonk Gang (now John Gabanna). How far is too far to go for fame? Is fame and exposure ever satisfying enough?
I constantly wonder about the connectivity that the internet has brought into our lives. Social media creates endless opportunity, but I always question it. Do these influencers and celebrities internalize the attention? Does fame bring out innate human greed in a way that’s a little horrifying? Are humans innately greedy? Is this life a simulation? Where do we go from here?
Trinity is a 1.5 generation Jamaican immigrant from Philadelphia. She is a multifaceted artist and writer who takes complex societal trends and communicates them through music and pop culture for easy comprehension. @iriejanea
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