YouTube: The Democratisation of Celebrity

Before 2005 the celebrity was an allusive beast with the formula behind their success irretrievable for the average mortal. Unbeknownst to us, however, YouTube’s launch in the early two-thousands was going to change this. Ella Bending explores whether it needed to be changed at all.

The roaring twenties was a time of excess, of consumerism, and of a blossoming Hollywood. For the first time people were being remembered, not as the anonymous faces of the silver screen, but as their own brand. From these cataclysmic events the modern celebrity, with preened and glossy feathers, emerged; initially from that same distant screen, but not too much later from the familiar faces of our own personal devices. Simultaneously my formative teenage years were just beginning and my concept of what it meant to be a celebrity was evolving from being synonymous with years of gruelling, poorly paid jobs before ‘the big break’, to being as simple as turning on a webcam. This feeling was reciprocated by the rest of my generation too as the advantages of watching a ‘real’ person on YouTube created a disconnection from all that traditional media had to offer as well as injecting some of that all important teenage rebellion. As the years have continued speeding forward and my generation have been replaced with another, however, all that we were escaping from in the traditional media appears to have encroached upon the prelapsarian YouTube of my memories. Where there was once a webcam balanced on a pile of books, there is now a Canon camera and HD lighting; in the space which sat the unpopular spotty teenager there sits the cool kid, a tanned stereotype from every American movie; where there was once freedom of speech, there is now sponsorships and advertising deals.


Somehow, YouTube’s simple concept and design had revolutionised the way that we look at our computers, metamorphosing them from where work can be done, to where money can be made. Rather than the YouTuber being someone creating content alongside a traditional career, the successful one percent can be well paid enough by their online work alone to give up all other work entirely, meaning that the YouTube-sphere has become more and more saturated with people living the lives of rockstars, selling out stadiums, and writing books. So many books. What does that mean for people like me? The role models who once lived lives like mine have become just as separated from us as the silver screen stars of the 1920s, instead of inviting us to share their lives with us it seems as if we are being encouraged to live voyeuristically through them and rapidly young people are replacing their aspirations to be doctors, film stars, football players, and musicians with the simple compound, ‘YouTuber’. Because who wouldn’t want a life in which sitting in your bedroom can earn you millions?


But, if this was the case, why didn’t my contributions to the YouTube-sphere in 2012 receive the same recognition? What didn’t I have that ‘zoella280390’ did? The fact that my videos were vapid, bland and ultimately dull may not be solely at blame here either; every internet personality on the Forbes’ rich list had to begin somewhere, after all. From my position as a hardened member of the Internet generation, there seems to be some kind of selection process in choosing the next Internet superstar. The passive consumer has become a participative producer, silently demanding so much content that more and more YouTubers are opening second, third, fourth channels; daily vlogging; and even introducing their friends as YouTube celebrities before they have even begun. Rather than it taking a person years to gain a large Internet following, it can take one video, one hour. Not only has the YouTuber replaced what it means to be a celebrity, they have replaced what it takes to get there in the first place.

As terrifying as each generation’s new thirst for content may seem, it is easy to remember how it felt to be a young person before content was so vast and instantly gratifying. There was a constant sense of dissatisfaction in the air as the posters of Justin Timberlake and Brad Pitt topless in my tween magazine didn’t represent who I was, or what I wanted as a consumer. I, as a child in rural England, felt utterly disconnected from all that was happening in the world around me and, in that respect, the fact that the Nuevo celebrity can be whoever has the confidence to pick up a camera is oddly freeing and democratic. The old sense of censorship and control previously held by the white men in black suits of traditional media has been taken and eradicated by Uni grads in tracksuit bottoms and it truly feels as if I am living in a world reclaimed by the young. Who am I to say that is a bad thing?


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