The Digital Generation – How social media changed the face of fame
Long gone are the days of the untouchable celebrities living far away with a carefully crafted image. “Normal” people held hopes of meeting just one famous person in real life in their lifetime. Live television appearances by Elvis and the Beatles were huge events because access to celebrities in real time was rare. Flash forward to “America Online’s” popularization of chat functionality and the internet boom and suddenly stars became only a paid chat message or a tweet away. When anyone can “tweet” with a star the entire notion of celebrity has changed for better and worse.
Canadian born pop star, Justin Bieber was discovered at the age of 13 when an American Talent Manager named Scooter Braun saw Bieber in a self-made YouTube video. Braun convinced Justin and his mom to meet with him in Atlanta and a few months later signed a deal with Usher to produce Justin’s first album. At 18 years old, Justin’s videos are rapidly approaching 3 billion views and his concerts sell out in less than 30 minutes on average. YouTube has been the catalyst for giving celebrity status from the most unusual sources; Greyson Chance’s performance of Lady Gaga’s “Paprazzi” at a high school assembly, or Chris Crocker’s epic meltdown when his emotional plea “Leave Britney Alone” was viewed over and over again. Since then Chance and Crocker have achieved celebrity status, receiving more than 1 billion combined views. Entertainers and their management know that the old truism “no news is bad news” has been proved again and again by celebrities who had career rejuvenating performances on sex tapes or via camera phone expose. When “Famous for being famous” celebrities rival the attention shown to today’s classic stars it’s clear the rules of the game have changed.
Doug Spearman, former star of Logo Channel’s “Noah’s Ark” and Producer of independent film, “Hot Guys with Guns,” thinks the internet turned the industry upside down. Spearman began his career behind the scenes as a writer and director for TV commercials. In 1991, as a voice over artist, he played the role of Gen. Robert E. Lee on TV. He said that ironically it was much easier for him as a black man to be the voice of the Southern resistance, before IMDB and profile pictures. Secrets large and small stayed hidden and access was a sought after commodity. Now, as Spearman says, “there’s no such thing as privacy and it can be rewarding and scary at the same time.”
Life used to be all about “local,’ so sweater girls, like Lana Turner flocked to Hollywood to be discovered at soda fountains. Today, anyone with a smart phone can produce a short film or music video and hope to be discovered. While quality is not a prerequisite, on rare occasions global sensations pop on a YouTube channel and catch fire via promotions like Facebook posts. Today, “viral” is the new word for “discovered” and everyone’s 15 minutes of fame has been reduced to 140 characters.
Doug recounts his career before cell phones and says, “I remember driving around town with a ‘Thomas Brother’s Guide’ which you had to have to navigate Hollywood. So you carried a book the size of the yellow pages and you’d get a call with a map number and you’d go from your car to a payphone to check your answering machine. Everywhere you went there were hundreds of headshots plastered on the walls of coffee shops and dry cleaners and everything was just so much more visible then. Everyone was out there working every angle to be seen. Now, all you have to do is google someone’s name and get their email or friend them on Facebook to get an audition.”
In 2005 Spearman landed a mini-breakout role as “Chance” in “Noah’s Ark”, a series produced exclusively for DVD. Marketed through sizzle reels (teaser videos) that were posted on the web, in a then cutting edge business model, DVD orders paid for the next episodes’ production and their series got distribution without the help of any major Hollywood players. Until the series was picked up and aired on networks TV’s Logo Channel. Learning from this model and leveraging his celebrity status, Spearman is now the Producer and Director of his first feature film, “Hot Guys with Guns.” Doug and his team raised the budget through social media and a campaign on Indiegogo.com. Their campaign slogan says it all, “For the price of a movie ticket, you can help MAKE one.” Spearman isn’t alone and this is a pond where fish of all sizes can swim. “I got the idea to use Indiegogo.com when I heard of Whoopie Goldberg using a kickstarter.com campaign for one of her projects.” Doug says in reference to Goldberg’s campaign to raise start-up funds for her project, “I Got Something to Tell You.” A documentary on the career of stand-up comedian Moms Mabley.
The entertainment industry has fully embraced social media and now often includes endorsement deals in contracts that include the use of celebrity profiles for product placement. In 2008 a startup called the Shorty Awards first recognized excellence in social media and many thought the awards were premature. Demonstrating their farsightedness, the Shorty Awards have become a social media success story of their very own, harvesting over 16 million twitter votes during their fourth annual award ceremony in 2012.
The trends in virtual stardom and audience participation has changed the entertainment world. The word “Star” is no longer associated with an immediate image of a talented young singer struggling to get by while he or she writes, produces and performs their own music. While there are still undiscovered viral sensations waiting to be “liked” or “shared”, the days of impossible dreams transcends the god-like status of yesterday’s celebrity to become as accessible as the internet itself. Who knows, maybe the next Michael Jackson or Marlon Brando or Chris Crocker is just a click away.
By: Jeremy Manning