You’re Fake Microcelebrity: Performing the Commodity of Authenticity

This is my undergraduate video and exegesis attempt at understanding celebrity culture and authenticity. Also, see the follow-up article The Democratising Potential of Celebrity and Cosmopolitan Solidarity

My video (below) opens with scenes from the French dystopian short film Logorama (2009) which is a critique on “the loss of real authenticity” in a world which is dominated by self-branded, celebrity-styled individuals.

Banet-Weiser (2012 p. 3) describes Logarama reflecting ‘a world where brands are everywhere, even culture has been branded, where authenticity has been trademarked’. 2500 brands appear in the film which creates a message about the dangers of ‘selling out’ our cultural labours to the inauthenticity of consumerism. But what’s missing in the message is the democratising opportunities afforded to ‘everyday people’ in the new media and celebrity ecologies, where celebrity and authenticity become tools and templates for success. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The contemporary social media environment has haphazardly guided us towards a type of Logorama hyperreality, where performing authenticity has become the key practice of success. In the mass-media celebrities were constructed with a charismatic aura or X-factor for consumption in para-social relationships with fans, but contemporary audiences respond better to the immediacy and perceived intimacy which authenticity offers. The ‘hoax’ of presenting a stable core self with mystical charismatic qualities has irreversibly evolved (Potter, 2010).

When Cashmere (2006) wrote Celebrity / Culture in 2006, Facebook and YouTube were in their infancy. At the time he wrote that the quest to present authenticity was driven by consumerism and the desire of companies to not look like mass market products in the increasing battle to stay ahead of consumer’s abilities to filter out advertising messages. Celebrities played the role of ‘intently branding through consumerism to distinguish their products as morally and ethically superior by portraying authenticity’ (2006, p.177). This practice of creating a self-branded aura of authenticity has increasingly become a key practice of microcelebrity.

New media scholar Professor Jamie Cohen now speaks about the rise of the ‘commodity of authenticity’ and faux-authenticity (2018). In his appearance on Douglass Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast, Cohen looked at the ways in which authenticity has become quantized and codified on media platforms. Authenticity is a tool which is mobilised to gain audience members along with their trust and connection for the monetization and manipulation of audience attention (2018). When ‘coupled with powerful algorithms, the gaming of authenticity threatens serious social consequences’ but also offers democratising potential for the many savvy marginalised voices of microcelebrities, familiar with the codes of the niche authenticities of targeted audiences.

The more our world becomes like Logorama, the more we seem to seek out something real and authentic, only to find this too has been co-opted by faux-authenticity. The ‘demotic turn’ of the celebrity industries and the increase in private disclosure on social media platforms which Turner (2015, p.84) describes as happening along ‘with the rise of reality TV and ‘affordances’ inherent in digital media technologies has been ceaseless and intensifying over the past century. The rise of an ex-reality television producer to the role of United States president illustrates how deeply microcelebrity has penetrated western culture. Trump has been described as an influencer ‘meme who was elected as president’ by manipulation of the authenticity effect (The Commodification of Authenticity, 2018). The ascent of his brand in portraying direct backstage access via twitter has eroded the distinction between the public and private self to his fans. The illusion of faux-authenticity and its power as a commodity has trumped older social mores like honesty and sincerity. Trump’s presidency has parallels with the microcelebrities who Abidin (2019) describes as constantly providing updates for their fanbase to ensure continued popularity.

‘Fake’ Microcelebrities are increasingly having success in the new factory process which is clearly not the result of a coherent inner self but rather the effect of performing a faux-authenticity which is all about manipulating audiences. Hall (2015) looked at the case where an actress amassed a strong following performing Lonelygirl15 on YouTube which stretched understanding of the construct. More recently, Marwick (2019) examined the case of Brazilian-American @lilmiquela who follows Black Lives Matter and is often seen posing with other influencers. That Lil Mechalia enjoys success as an ‘authentic’ Instagram microcelebrity, despite origins as an artificially intelligent corporate algorithm, further shows the precariousness of identity branding claims. That advertisers reportedly find Lil Mechalia more ‘authentic’ and ‘easier to work with’ than her human alternatives says more about the advertisers and our own authenticity as audiences and fans (Marwick 2019, p. 163).

Trump’s popular success, like Madonna’s, also has more to do with a constructed performance of authenticity which is accepted by enough people, rather than the presence of an authentic core identity. Like in the death and funeral of Princess Diana, the role fans take in consuming the niche authenticities offered up by the celebrity industries implicates us in the events, because authenticity is always validated with an audience.

Works Cited:
References:

Abidin, C. author. & Brown, ML 2019, Microcelebrity around the globe: approaches to cultures of internet fame, Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 2019., viewed 2 December 2018, <http://ezproxy.deakin.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00097a&AN=deakin.b3997198&authtype=sso&custid=deakin&site=eds-live&scope=site>.

Banet-Weiser, S 2012, Authentic: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture, New York University Press, New York.

Cashmore, E 2006, Celebrity / Culture, Routledge, New York.

Cirucci, A 2019, ‘Facebook and Unintentional Celebrity’, in Abidin, C. author. & Brown, ML 2019, Microcelebrity around the globe: approaches to cultures of internet fame, Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 2019, pp. 33 -45. viewed 2 December 2018, <http://ezproxy.deakin.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00097a&AN=deakin.b3997198&authtype=sso&custid=deakin&site=eds-live&scope=site>.

Feliz, A 2019, ‘Performing as a Transgressive Authentic Microcelebrity: The Qandeel Baloch Case’, in Abidin, C. author. & Brown, ML 2019, Microcelebrity around the globe: approaches to cultures of internet fame, Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 2019, pp. 131 -143. viewed 2 December 2018, <http://ezproxy.deakin.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00097a&AN=deakin.b3997198&authtype=sso&custid=deakin&site=eds-live&scope=site>.
Hall, K 2015, ‘The authenticity of social-media performance: lonelygirl15 and the amateur brand of young-girlhood. Women & Performance’, A Journal of Feminist Theory, vol. 1, no 1. pp. 125 -142.

Marshall, PD & Redmond, S 2016, A companion to celebrity, Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2016., viewed 2 December 2018. <http://ezproxy.deakin.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00097a&AN=deakin.b3362108&authtype=sso&custid=deakin&site=eds-live&scope=site>.

Marwick, A 2019, ‘The Algorithmic Celebrity: The Future of Internet Fame and Microcelebrity Studies Case’, in Abidin, C. author. & Brown, ML 2019, Microcelebrity around the globe: approaches to cultures of internet fame, Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 2019, pp. 161 -169. viewed 2 December 2018, <http://ezproxy.deakin.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00097a&AN=deakin.b3997198&authtype=sso&custid=deakin&site=eds-live&scope=site>. Potter, A 2010, The authenticity hoax: How we get lost finding ourselves, Harper, New York.

Rojek, C. 2012, Fame attack: The inflation of celebrity and its consequences, Bloomsbury, New York.Senft, TM 2008, ‘Camgirls: Celebrity and community in the age of social networks’, Digital Formations, vol. 4, Lang, New York.

The Commodification of Authenticity 2018, podcast, Jamie Cohen, 5 December, retrieved 11 December 2018, <https://teamhuman.fm/episodes/ep-113-jamie-cohen-the-commodity-of-authenticity/>

Turner, G 2016 ‘Celebrity, Participation, and the Public’, in Marshall, PD & Redmond, S 2016, A companion to celebrity, Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc pp. 84 -88. viewed 2 December 2018, <http://ezproxy.deakin.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00097a&AN=deakin.b3362108&authtype=sso&custid=deakin&site=eds-live&scope=site>.

Video Credits:

2 Paparazzi – Princesa Diana 2016, streaming video, Agustin Benitez, 6 December, retrieved 7 December 2018, < https://youtu.be/eNTsL_YgigM>

Erving Goffman and the Performed Self 2015, streaming video, BBC Radio 4, 14 April, retrieved 7 December 2018, < https://youtu.be/6Z0XS-QLDWM>

First Blog / Dorkiness Prevails 2006, streaming video, lonelygirl15, 29 July, retrieved 7 December 2018, < https://youtu.be/-goXKtd6cPo>

Greta Garbo’s signature 2016, streaming video, Messylin, 28 December, retrieved 7 December 2018, < https://youtu.be/EEab8NZO3Fg>

How To: My Quick and Easy Hairstyles 2013, streaming video, Zoella, 10 November, retrieved 7 December 2018, https://youtu.be/my3Bfd6qYrs

Justin Bieber Surprises Fans 2015, streaming video, StefanoBolis96, 10 November, retrieved 7 December 2018, https://youtu.be/UclNw5-MaRo

LOGORAMA, by H5 2014, streaming video, Autour de Minuit, 6 Feburary, retrieved 7 December 2018, https://youtu.be/cgrHFEVJY4w

Madonna – Vogue from Truth or Dare with English Subtitle 2016, streaming video, Metehan Kiraz, 10 November, retrieved 7 December 2018, https://youtu.be/TZ8v2FHMjic

Qandeel Baloch: Why was she killed? BBC Newsnight 2016, streaming video, BBC Newsnight, 24 October, retrieved 7 December 2018, < https://youtu.be/Tih2sfBccys>

The story of the First Ever Movie Star 2018, streaming video, Serena G, 29 July, retrieved 7 December 2018, < https://youtu.be/ezU_reL8KzY>

Trapped in Technology 2012, streaming video, MondoMedia, 10 January, retrieved 7 December 2018, https://youtu.be/kIezWFo9464

Video Transcript:

Over the past century, the proliferation of celebrity culture has become ubiquities. Microcelebrity has become a highly individualised quest and been defined as “a set of practices wherein a user’s audience is viewed as a fan base with whom they constantly engage to ensure continued popularity (Abidin, 2019).
An increasing number of ‘everyday individuals’ have engaged in the quest of presenting an authentic self. Traditional celebrity cultures have paved the way for this microcelebrity success by promoting the illusion of authenticity through backstage behavior, eroding the distinction between the public and private self.
This is especially true of Microcelebrity, which was originally defined as ‘the commitment to deploying and maintaining one’s online identity as if it were a branded good, with the expectation that others do the same’ (Sent, 2008). While traditionally celebrity has been thought of as a ‘highly visible mass-mediated character’, contemporary microcelebrities generate their own smaller publics (Turner 2016). But the back-stage access microcelebrities allow means their fans know everything.

Greame Turner (2016) cites a large number of highly visible people in these contemporary modes of the production of celebrity as the effect of the ‘demotic turn’. This portrayal or private disclosure has coincided with the rise of reality TV and ‘affordances’ inherent in digital media technologies. These days, rather than thinking of “social media’ as social utilities it is more accurate to consider them celebrification utilities (Cirucci, 2019). We now live an era where all of us are implicated in the celebrity industries.

Microcelebrity today is often regarded as a battle for eyeballs, while earlier forms of public visibility like “fame” signify a time where significant achievements, like a hero soldier, was celebrated publicly. Authenticity performing as status seeking has emerged as a reaction to what is often seen as the overcommercialising effect of celebrity (Potter 2010). Daniel Boorstin’s description of celebrities as ‘well-known for being well-known’ exemplifies this sentiment of harking back to a more ‘authentic’ place in time. The quip reflects a romantic sentiment which has evolved along with the dometic turn and increased backstage access (1971 in Turner 2016).

A formula for producing stardom continued to evolve inside the Hollywood studio system which continued to treat talent as commodities in a factory process. While Hollywood was onto the idea that stardom was an effect, they could create they were not letting on. We were starting to have a more intimate connection with the stars with new technologies. Rolland Barthes speaks of his infatuation with the Greta Garbo star image which created a divine-like aura. The studio process primarily perpetuated the myth however that it was the stars heroic individualism and authentic stable self that launched their star image permanently into the constellations.

In time the monopoly of the Hollywood star system in manipulating fame would get disrupted by the paparazzi. When the philandering Elizabeth Tailor and Richard Bergman were photographed kissing on a yacht during the filming of Cleopatra the frenzy associated scandal was impossible to contain. There was not any going back and interactions between the press and stars would change forever.

With the death of the people’s princess, Dianna, the public could not but help but recognize they were playing a part in the celebrity industries by devouring the magazines. Their part in her Cinderella story trapped with the unloving Prince Charles had become transparent.
As MTV arrived in the early 1980s as media executives searched for new ways to fill the copious amount of airtime and cable time on hand. Out of this era of this era of neo liberal politics and MTV fueled by advertising needed a way to Move those refrigerators. A heroic girl named Madonna would show the world how DIY celebrity works and stand out in an increasingly celebrified world. While her onstage efforts Madonna’s and her heroic performance disclosure and shaping her own ‘scandalous’ pop star persona which would keep Madonna’s star burning bright for decades to come.

While in the past the myth was that the star had something authentic, which made them shine with Madonna came the assumption that the individual can construct their own star image. Madonna did this by making herself appear transparent and authentic and in her disclosures made herself highly visible, as one of the highest paid artists of all time.

Fortunately for Madonna,, her backstage performance was accepted as Authentic to her audience. For others that has acceptance has not always happened.

(Trilling in Feliz, 2019) authenticity has been described as” a display of an inner life with flaws and strengths and has been associated with the decline of hierarchical societies and their preference for moral values like honesty and sincerity. Goffman, (1959 in Feliz, 2019) famously claimed this inner self is a performance which validated by others. Authenticity is more an effect than an essence. A socially constructed performance which is either accepted or rejected (Potter, 2010).

Traditional celebrity cultures have paved the way for this microcelebrity success by promoting the illusion of authenticity through backstage behaviour, eroding the distinction between the public and private self.

This is especially true of Microcelebrity, which was originally defined as “the commitment to deploying and maintaining one’s online identity as if it were a branded good, with the expectation that others do the same” (Sent, 2008). While traditionally celebrity has been thought of as a “highly visible mass-mediated character”, contemporary microcelebrities generate their own smaller publics (Turner 2016). But the back-stage access microcelebrities allow means their fans know everything.

Graeme Turner (2016) cites a large number of highly visible people in these contemporary modes of the production of celebrity as the effect of the “demotic turn’. This portrayal or private disclosure has coincided with the rise of reality TV and ‘affordances’ inherent in digital media technologies. These days, rather than thinking of “social media’ as social utilities it is more accurate to consider them celebrification utilities (cur). We now live an era where all of us are implicated in the celebrity industries.

Microcelebrity today is often regarded as a battle for eyeballs, while earlier forms of public visibility like “fame” signify a time where significant achievements, like a hero soldier, was celebrated publicly. Authenticity performing as status-seeking has emerged as a reaction to what is often seen as the over-commercialising effect of celebrity (Potter 2010). Daniel Boorstin’s description of celebrities as “well-known for being well-known” exemplifies this sentiment of harking back to a more “authentic” place in time. The quip reflects a romantic sentiment which has evolved along with the dometic turn and increased backstage access (1971).
Around a century ago, In the silent movie era, the backstage was hidden, and actors remained nameless until the well-known face of actress Florence Lawrence changed production companies. Her new producer faked her disappearance as a publicity stunt and announced her name to the world. She is often referred to as the first film star.
A formula for producing stardom continued to evolve inside the Hollywood studio system which continued to treat talent as commodities in a factory process (Rojek, 2012). While Hollywood was onto the idea that stardom was an effect, they could create they were not letting on. We were starting to have a more intimate connection with the stars with new technologies. Rolland Barthes speaks of his infatuation with the Greta Garbo star image which created a divine-like aura. The studio process primarily perpetuated the myth however that it was the stars heroic individualism and authentic stable self that launched their star image permanently into the constellations.
In time the monopoly of the Hollywood star system in manipulating fame would get disrupted by the paparazzi. When the philandering Elizabeth Tailor and Richard Bergman were photographed kissing on a yacht during the filming of Cleopatra the frenzy associated scandal was impossible to contain. There was not any going back and interactions between the press and stars would change forever.
With the death of the people’s princess, Dianna, the public could not but help but recognize they were playing a part in the celebrity industries by devouring the magazines. Their part in her Cinderella story trapped with the unloving Prince Charles had become transparent.
As MTV arrived in the early 1980s as media executives searched for new ways to fill the copious amount of airtime and cable time on hand. Out of this era of this era of neo liberal politics and MTV fueled by advertising needed a way to Move those refrigerators. A heroic girl named Madonna would show the world how DIY celebrity works and stand out in an increasingly celebrified world. While her onstage efforts Madonna’s and her heroic performance disclosure and shaping her own ‘scandalous’ pop star persona which would keep Madonna’s star burning bright for decades to come.
While in the past the myth was that the star had something authentic, which made them shine with Madonna came the assumption that the individual can construct their own star image. Madonna did this by making herself appear transparent and authentic and in her disclosures made herself highly visible, as one of the highest paid artists of all time (Cashmore, 2006).

Fortunately for Madonna, her backstage performance was accepted as Authentic to her audience. For others that has not always happened.

(Trilling in Feliz, 2019) authenticity has been described as ‘a display of an inner life with flaws and strengths and has been associated it with the decline of hierarchical societies and their preference for moral values like honesty and sincerity. Goffman, (1959 in Feliz, 2019) famously claimed this inner self is a performance which validated by others. Authenticity is more an effect than an essence. A socially constructed performance which is either accepted or rejected’. (Grazian, 2003; Potter, 2010).
Celebrities have long taught us about humanity in their backstage performances. Key moments in celebrity shows us how authenticity has been staged through time, to produce a star image or aura that that affords success. Some negotiate this performance better than others but it’s this drama which keeps us intrigued, whether a tragedy or triumph.