Thursday, 23 November 2017

Is the Definition of Celebrity Changing?

by Mark Docherty

This week saw the beginning of the new series of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, as the nation can finally get their teeth into some high-quality television each evening.  However, when the lineup for this series was published online, I began to question whether the word celebrity had a new definition.  Among the contestants this year are the wife of a footballer, a Youtuber, and a Made in Chelsea star.  While there are always a couple of less well-known contestants on celebrity programmes to make up the numbers, it is interesting to see that they now outnumber ‘real’ celebrities much of the time.

Once upon a time, to be known as a celebrity one had to have won Oscars or played international sport, but now it seems it is enough to upload videos to the internet or be filmed watching television.  Gone are the days when the likes of Andrew Flintoff and David Haye would compete in the jungle; instead fans must make do with Lady Colin Campbell and Jack Maynard.  I wouldn’t call myself an expert on celebrity culture, but I wouldn’t put a socialite or someone with 1.2 million Youtube subscribers on the same level as a former England cricket captain or an ex-world champion boxer at two weights. Therefore it begs the question: what, now, are the requirements to be considered a celebrity?

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of reality stars who have gone on to become celebrities.  Many of the original cast of Geordie Shore have earned celebrity status, while most of the contestants from Love Island are now fairly successful with lucrative branding deals or modelling contracts.  As well as Georgia Toffolo from Made in Chelsea, Love Island’s Mike Thalassitis was lined up to appear in the jungle this year.  Interestingly, it seems that appearing on a reality TV show is now the best way of securing a place on a celebrity reality TV show in future.

It cannot be denied that successful reality shows are watched by millions of of people, thus making the stars well known to a significant proportion of the population, although it has to be questioned whether the work they put in to gain celebrity status matches up to that of successful  men and women in more traditional professions.  However, if the definition of celebrity is somebody who is well-known (which it is according to the Oxford dictionary) then enough people watch reality TV shows for their stars to be considered celebrities.

The development of social media has now meant that just a couple of cameo appearances on a reality show can be enough for people to be branded celebrities, provided they make enough of an impression.  Soon we will be seeing people from viral videos competing in the jungle or other celebrity television shows, but given that it is reality TV that seems to transform people into celebrities, you could put practically anybody into the jungle and they would be a celebrity by the end.

The definition of celebrity has not necessarily changed; it has just got far, far wider.  Rather than celebrities having to work for years to earn their status, it can now be delivered to them in a matter of seconds on the back of an argument or something equally spontaneous.  It seems that the name recognition required to be considered a celebrity is also less than it was in the past, so celebrities do not need to be known by as great a proportion of people.  However, the biggest change to the definition of celebrity is that reality TV now seems to be the most common way to earn - or at least reaffirm - that status.

It may be debatable whether this year’s jungle lineup is made out of celebrities at the moment, but you can be sure that they will all be in three weeks.

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