Celebrities make my day…?

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I have spent the last couple of weeks obsessing over this one case of a celebrity’s child being hauled into jail for possession of drugs. Or something. From what I can tell, it is a pretty big deal. Not to me though – as much as it feels like it. I went to Instagram (which honestly seems like the only place I get my news from nowadays) and because of the way the algorithm works, in a few clicks, my entire feed was full of accounts either demanding the kid be released or proclaiming that its a great thing he’s been caught (serves that rich man right, am I right?). The week before that my feed was full of V’s dating scandal (V from BTS). So many opinions, so many takes…so many people caring about things that have absolutely nothing to do with them, and about people who don’t even know they exist.

Now, I’m not saying I’m not a gossip. I love celebrity gossip. I can discuss Khlo√© Kardashian’s breakups to death. I probably know a lot more about Addison Rae than I do about the latest climate change convention (and as you can see I have no qualms in showcasing the dumber side of my personality). But the thing I can’t figure out is, why? What do I have to do with these people? Why do I care? Anyway, you know me, I had to get into it. For whatever it is worth, here is what I think about it.

The Nature of Celebrity

So, if you’re between the ages of 18-25, and you haven’t been living under a rock for the past year and a half, you know who the D’Amelio sisters are – Charlie and Dixie. They’re TikTok royalty. Charlie, I think, is one of the most followed individual creators on the platform. They shot to fame doing, well, not much. Dancing, and having fun in front of a camera. You may like them, dislike them or even dismiss them entirely, but you can’t deny that they have caught the public’s fancy. For whatever reason. A byproduct of such intense fame is that there are a lot of people waiting to make money off of you. Cue the many, many brand deals and associations. Next up, an entire Hulu series capturing their lives a-la-reality TV format (you know, the kind of TV the Kardashians made profitable). The show itself is quite boring. It has already received a lot of criticism online. I can understand why. The show follows around a very normal family that never expected to get famous, never thought it was possible, and certainly does not know what to do with the fame now that they have it. I don’t quite agree with all the criticism the girls themselves receive. There are a lot of moments you can see their own self-doubt regarding their fame. They are, as they put it themselves, just kids who decided to dance on the internet. Do they really deserve all this fame? And this brings up my first point. The nature of fame, and by virtue of that, the nature of celebrity has changed.

It used to be that people would work for years, if not decades, honing a talent or a skill. You would practice singing, or you would attend acting school, or you would produce music, and after years of struggle and strife (less, if you were lucky) you would be recognised for your talent. So in effect, fame was a by product of something internal – your talent, your ability. Such fame then, to you, was secondary to what you were actually put on earth to do, and to the public, was well deserved.

This is not the case anymore. Or at least, not entirely. You can still get famous for any of these talents. But you can also get famous (extremely) while possessing no special ability. Like the D’Amelio sisters. And in the absence of such innate ability, you are bound to second guess your fame, the perks that come with it, and also (more often than not) be perceived to be undeserving of such fame. When you have nothing that sets you apart from the masses you are viewed as more ‘relatable’, and I think a side effect of that is that people tend to think they have more of a stake in your fame.

At least, this is what I feel. I like celebrity gossip, but there are levels to it. Gossip about ‘proper’ celebrities isn’t as exciting as gossip about ‘newer’ celebrities (TikTok stars, YouTubers, Instagram influencers) is. I think people feel some sense of ‘I told you so’ when the newer kids on the block mess up.

Evolution

This is not to say that obsession with celebrities is a recent phenomenon. We have always been obsessed with people that are unattainable, people we perceive to be at the top of the social pyramid. Our ancestors were as obsessed with the movers and the shakers of their times as we are with the Addison Raes of our times. Maybe a little less. But that can be chalked down to access. Because of social media, we have unprecedented access to celebrities.

I’ve spoken quite a bit about social media and how it has had an impact on almost every aspect of our lives. Here is another thing it has impacted. The ways in which celebrities interact with us. Before the advent of social media, we had access to only what the large media houses or tabloids put out into the public sphere. There was a bit more control over the kind of news that was being generated, and in turn, consumed. Now that that bit of control has gone out of the window, celebrities have to come down to our level and interact with us in the ways we interact with each other in order to stay relevant. I think about this a lot. The antics on Instagram and TikTok make sense if you’re starting out and trying to become famous (for the sake of being famous). But if I was already an established artist, would I hop onto the inane trends of dancing around meaninglessly to a 15 second audio clip to gain more relevance? I don’t think I would. I find it kind of sad honestly when celebrities who are famous for a certain trade / craft sink to this level of eyeball catching behaviour. Anyway, regardless of why they do it, they do it. And this means that we get more access to the people we consider to be on the top of the pyramid – and as we have already seen, there was never a time when we didn’t enjoy it.

Being surrounded

The more we enjoy it, the more we consume it, and the more we are fed the same thing by the algorithms. Algorithms only care about getting you onto your screen and keeping you there (Social Dilemma anyone?). And if celebrity gossip is your juice then that is what you will get. Constantly. In fact, this false proximity to celebrities has given rise to an increase in the number of para-social relationships i.e, relationships characterised by a one-sided affair with your celebrity of choice. A strong example I can think of is the relationship many fandoms in the K-Pop industry have with their ‘idols’ (that is what pop stars are called there). The way some of us (myself included) delude ourselves into thinking we have a strong personal connection with these K-Pop stars is fascinating, sometimes even scary. If you don’t believe me try googling the term ‘Sasaeng’. You’ll see.

This behaviour on the part of the fans is cultivated by the production houses – in the ways they present the K-pop idols. These men and women do a lot more than just put put music – they have game shows, they have live telecasts (often from a homely and cozy environment to make you feel like you’re in that room with them) and a bunch of other things. They also have to remain single (at least as far as the public eye is concerned). Now isn’t this a recipe for developing a para-social relationship? Because they are marketed as ‘boyfriends’ and ‘girlfriends’, it comes as no surprise to me that obsession with such celebrities goes beyond what is considered normal.

Are you more susceptible to this than others?

But not everyone is affected in the same way. Yes, all of us love to take our mind off our lives with a bit of harmless gossip now and then – and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. My issue is that each and every single thing celebrities do nowadays – all the mundane things about their lives that no one should care about – gets discussed with an unhealthy amount of fervour. And it turns out, these things are not interesting to all of us (makes sense). They start to mean a lot more, and do mean a lot more, to people who generally suffer from low self-esteem issues. It allows us to live a life vicariously, outside of our own lived experiences. This form of celebrity worship also starts to mean a lot more when we are going through major changes or periods of uncertainty in our lives.

No wonder this form of entertainment became the behemoth it did during the pandemic. Anyway, I’m going to get back to the debate on whether or not that celebrity’s kid deserves to be prosecuted. Talk soon.

Why am I on Instagram all the time…

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

I’ve had an Instagram account since 2013. I was 18 when I started my page on Instagram. At the time it was just something people used to post pictures on and the concept of an influencer did not yet exist. In fact, some of the first accounts I followed were just random accounts of photographers posting pictures of nature, or interesting travel destinations. I had, I think, about 32 followers within the first year – all from people I knew from school. I also remember that I thought I had stumbled upon a fairly unknown app that I could use just to scroll through pictures for ideas (something like Pinterest maybe). I wasn’t an active user of the app for many years – logging on only once in a couple of months to post pictures of something truly momentous (like weddings, graduation or travelling to exotic destinations). I never used hashtags for the first couple of years, kept my account private and couldn’t care less what people thought of my account or how many (or few) followers I had. I didn’t feel compelled to follow people I knew in real life on Instagram and I didn’t use it as a comparator to see everything that was wrong with my life – especially when compared to the glossy perfectness of other people’s lives.

But a few months ago – October of 2020 in fact, I decided I want a change in life. A very dramatic one, in fact. I had a bit of a mortality crisis and thought about how I really did not want to spend all my time sitting behind a desk. Every morning I woke up with the conviction that I would quit my job and become a full time artist. I started reading all these posts about artists who had risked it all and made it big. But in addition to this brand of ‘all-or-nothing’ preaching, I also came across something that resonated with me. I’m sure all of you have heard of the artist ‘Banksy’. If I ever become a renowned artist and have to talk about my influences, his name would definitely make it to the top three (I’ll probably write about my artistic influences later on). He’s notorious for never revealing his identity, and never taking money for his art works (even though they almost always sell for millions in second hand sales). His opposition to the commercialisation of art is the stuff of legends. If you don’t know much about him, and have even a fleeting interest in the arts, I suggest you google him. I promise you, it will not be disappointing. Anyway, Banksy says that because of the internet, for the first time ever, we don’t need snooty and highbrow art gallery people telling us if our art is worth anyone’s time or not. The internet is free, and everyone has access to it. So go ahead, post yourself.

And I did. I decided I would use Instagram as my artistic outlet. I would make art – physical, digital, whatever I could – and post it online. It took me sometime to get over my fear of judgment and social anxiety to start posting my art. I even made an anonymous account on Instagram and posted some art on that page, and when I saw that people didn’t completely hate it, I shut down that account and started posting under my own name. Yeah, it was a whole journey.

Now there are two schools of thought at play here – in any field really, but more so in the creative field. One is what I like to call the ‘Lonely Genius’ trope. Where your creativity and artistic skill is a gift straight from god (or whatever other higher power you believe in) and you should toil for the sake of it. Your intentions have to be pure and limited to bringing your wonderful art into the world without caring about where it gets you. The second idea is that being talented is all well and good, but it won’t get you anywhere if you don’t adequately market yourself. So, as mortifying as it sounds, make sure you get out there and promote your own work. There is no point in being a great artist if no one knows you are a great artist.

I went the first route for some time. Then I got tired of not getting enough attention. I got tired of trying to act like I was too cool to advertise my own work (I think I was just too shy to do it). That is when I started researching how I could grow my presence on Instagram. If you have ever googled the words ‘how do I grow my Instagram account’ or some variation of it then you know that the internet is full of advice. And I mean, full of it. I poured through articles, sat through tons of youtube videos and even signed up for a free newsletter course just to try and figure out the secret to getting internet famous. As a side effect to all of this, I became hyper aware of my Instagram account and how it must appear to outsiders. I developed a social media addiction – but of a slightly different kind. I wasn’t logging in to check up on my friends and family or to compare myself with others. I was logging in to pour over my own account, to see how many people had viewed my stories, to see the kind of likes my art was getting. I also made the mistake of switching to a business / creator account on Instagram. Just to clarify, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with the creator / business accounts – I just don’t think it helped me a lot. I was obsessed with my own online presence, a sort of convoluted modern day Narcissist who couldn’t stop looking at her own reflection.

I did everything the articles told me to do. I posted consistently. I kept a track of the right time to post. I made my captions long and explained (or at least tried to explain my workings and the idea behind a piece in the captions). I put in the relevant hashtags. And in all these months – I think it has been roughly 11 months since I first got started with my Instagram obsession – I have managed to grow my account by only about 200 people. Now to any weathered Instagram user, these are rookie numbers. And I agree. You have pages online dedicated to bursting bubble wrap with millions of followers. How insulting must it be to put in all that effort, to make art, to do everything by the book and still not be entered into the upper echelons of Instagram fame. But here is the thing, I couldn’t be happier with my growth.

Firstly, these are 200 people. Can you imagine 200 people in real life? Hosting an art viewing in person and 200 people show up – that is a huge success by any means. The idea that real life people live behind their Instagram handles often gets lost on us sometimes. We are so obsessed with numbers and statistics, that we often forget that behind each username there are actual people who made the effort of going through your work and thought to themselves, “hey this isn’t so bad, I think I want to see more of what this artist has to offer.” Ok so maybe some of them might have been bot accounts, but you get the idea. If you stop thinking you are entitled to internet fame just because you showed up and played by the app’s algorithm, then you will realise what a privilege it is to be supported by each and every person that shows up.

Secondly, even if there was no one looking at your work or where you have come, it wouldn’t matter. And I know a lot of people are going to read this and roll their eyes. But it’s true. It really comes down to a simple question I ask myself every time I want to post something or if I do post something and it doesn’t get any likes (or as many likes as I would want). Will I stop making art if other people stop liking my stuff on Instagram? No. So, I stopped caring about the statistics and just put myself out there.

I also like the idea of having in place a ‘legacy’. This is a concept I got from a YouTuber I love – Ali Abdaal. The notion that if you have a body of work and you post it online, you create a repository for yourself even if you never blow up. You have something to look back on and something to show for all your effort. I couldn’t agree more. I may not have had an astronomical growth online, but I love looking back at how many pieces I have created and put out.

I know this post went to a lot of places, and even though it dipped a little in the middle it ended on a good note. I want to spend some time in the future talking about how becoming obsessed with my social media affected me in bad ways. I know that there is already a lot out there talking about the ill-effects of social media addiction, and I may not have anything new to add to that. But still, I’ll try just the same. Having said that, if you are also starting to put yourself out there, I hope this is helpful.