Monday, 3 November 2014

YouTube Celebrity Culture: The Debate

by Hope Hopkinson



Over the last few years, YouTube has developed into something largely different from the cornucopia of cat videos and flash animations of 2005. There remain a fair share of cats, but more predominantly, nowadays, the video-sharing website has become a career for a lucky few around the globe. Whether through gaming, fashion and beauty, comedy, or even ‘follow me around’-style videos, an ever-increasing number of internet celebrities are being born through the platform. The most well-known include such personalities as Felix Kjellberg, Zoe Sugg, Tom Ridgewell and Charlie McDonnell. These are just four of hundreds of today’s world of internet celebrities.

The majority of these digital-age celebrities started off making grainy webcam videos from their bedrooms, worldwide fame not really being on the agenda; therefore, for them, the new-found celebrity status, elevated by the online following and fandoms, is still an alien concept.

Around the world, annual events are held for the sole purpose of coming to meet your favourite internet celebrities, whether it be America’s ‘Vidcon’ or ‘Playlist Live’, Germany’s ‘VideoDays’ or, even closer to home, London’s ‘Summer in the City’, where I was in attendance in August. SitC in particular is a very significant event, having started in 2008 with a gathering of 50 or so people in a field, ending up with an 8,000-strong 2014 event in the prestigious Alexandra Palace. Tom Burns, co-founder of the event, stresses that, although the majority of attendees are teenage girls wanting to meet as many content creators as possible, the event is, and always has been, a community gathering predominantly to discuss issues and make acquaintance with like-minded people.

This may have been the case for the pre-2010 gatherings, where casual conversation could easily be made with the stars of today, but, nowadays, it is a completely different story. In order to meet such people (and 'meet' in the loosest form of the word) at such events, special meet-and-greet sessions are held. The layout of this involves the YouTuber/s in question standing at the front, and their viewers forming a queue in front of them. At Summer in the City in particular, there was a ticket system for allocating to those who would meet said personalities; essentially, for a 3-hour slot 300 tickets were given to the first 300 in line, ensuring a place in the meet and greet. However, to obtain these almost sacred tickets, viewers queued hours upon hours in advance; for example, for a 1pm meetup, some started queuing from 4:30 in the morning. Surely this takes away all forms of said community that was once so prominent within the format and at the roots of this event? 

Additionally, these meet and greets have to be as efficient as possible, so all a spot within this ensures is a hug, photo and maybe a quick chat, probably an average of 30 seconds with the content creator in question. Why has such a barrier been enforced by the once-united creator and viewer, and would queuing for all these hours, possibly violating personal health and safety, be worth it for 30 seconds of your favourite YouTube star’s fleeting attention?

Many YouTubers have used their influence and impressionable audiences to speak out about this burning topic debated strongly within the community, I will include links at the end of the article (see below). Reaching out to their viewers about subjects like this has had a hugely positive effect, giving the basic message that they are people too, the newfound idolisation and barrier between creator and viewer being wholly unfamiliar: why should people who talk to a camera once a week have such celebrity status? 


Anyhow, it is a discussion that needs to carry on within the community, as such issues as the strictly one-sided meet and greets and unattainability of content creators (who are really just normal people who got a lucky break) are unnecessary. The following of internet celebrities is increasing and increasing, meaning the issue will keep escalating, so it is for sure that the once-relaxed and casual gatherings in a field in London are not set to return any time soon. The only thing that is certain is that a problem is there and a solution needs to be found, one that, as difficult as it is with the ever-increasing audience, preferably gives the viewer and creator equality. 

What do you think? Are these internet celebrities just your regular celebrities or is the sense of community still there? 

Anyhow, the discussion needs to be carried forward, as this metaphorical barrier is not a good one, and needs to be resolved.

Videos on the topic:

Louise (SprinkleOfGlitter) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnOEYsgcEiQ   
Charlie (charlieissocoollike) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jje3LwnT4E0


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