Consumer culture in free form: Twitter and celebrities
Last night at an East Village bar with two of my journo friends, we talked about our favorite celebrity tweeps. My favorite is Roger Ebert (@EbertChicago) — though some might argue that Ebert is a fellow journo, not a “celebrity.” He has excellent Twitter taste in both links and retweets, and is pithily wise. I’m also a fan of Conan O’Brien, who doesn’t tweet often but always tweets funny (@ConanOBrien).
One of my friends favors Mindy Kaling of The Office (@mindykaling). She’s humorous and a big basketball fan. The other friend drools over John Cusack’s dreamy tweets (who used to have the handle @shockozulu but has now converted to the more banal @johncusack).
None of these are the most popular celebrity tweeps. Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, and Lady Gaga top that list. Sorry to break it to her fans, but reading her twitter feed, I think Spears may have hired a six-year-old to ghost-tweet for her.
This morning, I was thinking about what it is we derive from being able to follow and interact virtually with “famous people” we respect/admire/hate/love/obsess over.
Ta-Nehisi Coates touched on this yesterday in the Atlantic in a post on KingJames, though his focus was more on what the celebrities derive:
A measure of how different things are nowadays was James [LeBron's] decision, shortly before his Decision, to join Twitter. We have unparalleled access to movie stars, athletes, politicians, etc. They seem more approachable than in days bygone, even if we are merely one of thirty-thousand, following a brand. And so we have new ways of imagining ourselves within this constellation of stars. We can like each other; we can bask in some approximation of “friendship.” A politician comes across as just another guy, a rapper seems like someone with whom you could hang out. Perhaps, like Kanye West, who attended James’ Decision party, they’re just misunderstood and their blog-their ALL CAPS direct line to the people-lets them really be who they want to be. There is a value to being merely “likable” in this sense, to being “cool” enough to inspire a random person to click a link. A few thousand people liking something in unison, a band of followers skimming your 140-character missives: brands have been built upon less.
Twitter, Facebook, and blogs allow celebrities to make themselves more accessible and seem like “normal people,” and at the same time, allow normal people to make themselves more visible and “known” like celebrities. At what point do those two things converge and eliminate unique celebrities all together?
Some celebrities, like Ebert, became celebrities because they have very interesting things to say. Getting to be part of their daily conversation on Twitter is a bit of thrill. With other celebs, like Lady Gaga, I think the act of following is simply a declaration of “I like what you do.” Twitter is a nice free way of consuming the person and their output, what Coates calls their brand.
Of course, in the course of sharing, some celebs may hurt their brands by killing their mystique.
In the meanwhile, are there any celeb tweeps you recommend @kashhill follow for wisdom, laughs, or mystique-killing?