Tag Archives: multimodality

Betty Who?: Social Media and the Construction of New Pop Celebrities

Link to project: Somebody loves this.

Overview: The basic premise of my digital essay is to explore the intersection of social media (specifically YouTube and Twitter) and proto-celebrities—those artists that are still relatively unknown but who already have a well-established, committed fanbase and the talent necessary to be “the next big thing.” On a more analytical/theoretical level, my digital essay explores how fans use social media and engage in digital participatory culture to construct celebrities from the bottom up—how we interpret, synthesize, produce, and disseminate texts, images, and meanings that surround our proto-celebrities of choice. I use Australian-born singer Betty Who as a case study to highlight how the digital mechanisms of participatory culture actually work by providing a close-reading of two specific online events related to her music: the viral video “Spencer’s Home Depot Marriage Proposal,” which features Betty’s debut single “Somebody Loves You,” and the release of her second EP Slow Dancing because of how her fans—the “Who Crew”—reacted to it on Twitter.

Process: This project developed, unlike some of the more “traditional” essays I’ve written as a graduate student, out of my passion for pop music, which I always thought didn’t have much of a place in the academy. I first began by collecting and synthesizing a wealth of scholarship that proved quite the opposite: that popular culture could very much be a valuable source of inquiry. The second part of my essay, entitled “Convergence Culture and Redefining Fandom” is essentially my trying to work through all of that source material and to create a theoretical framework.

Moreover, unlike most of the other essays I’ve written, the peer review process had a considerable impact on how I drafted and revised this project. Having to go through multiple peer review sessions forced me to take a more proactive approach with my writing process, whereas I normally would have left most of the drafting until very near to the final deadline.

Affordances: Although I would like to think that most of my digital essay could easily translate into a more traditional form(at), the fourth part entitled “The Twittersphere and the Who Crew” would not because of its reliance on the use of embedded tweets. By embedding those tweets into the body of the post, they become a much more participatory aspect of the essay, in that they provide important visual and verbal cues as well as enable readers to actively form a network between my blog and Twitter with a simple click, like so:

If I were to have written part four in a Word document, I would have had to reduce these tweets to static screen shots or worse, to summarize their content, neither of which would have had the same rhetorical impact.

Constraints: The one aspect of this project that I struggled with the most was, as Naghmeh aptly called it, its “digital flexibility.” I knew that a blog could be multimodal very easily, but I wasn’t sure how to achieve such multimodality without it looking contrived. In a way, then, I became overwhelmed by the sheer amount of the web’s affordances, feeling like I needed to include as many of them as I could. But as the “final” version of my digital essay shows, I decided to use multimodality sparingly and to concentrate it mainly in my case study of Betty Who, which I felt was the place that needed it the most (rhetorically speaking).

After reflecting on my digital essay in this post, I want to try to offer some semblance of an answer to Joe’s question, “What changes when you write for the screen rather than the page?” As I stated above, I believe that writing for the screen enables us as writers to create projects that have a liveliness to them that writings for the page do not. Likewise, we can more (pro)actively create a network among our projects and the work of other scholars, bloggers, users, etc., in a digital environment, whereas simply citing or quoting in a static essay cannot or does not.

But I also don’t think that everything has to/does change when we write for the screen rather than the page, that we don’t have to adopt huge fundamental changes just to “fit in” with digital aesthetics and values, or to “look cool” as if we “get” what everyone is trying to do. To me, that feels incredibly disingenuous. We can write as academics on the web and use very few of its affordances (as I showed with Henry Jenkins’ blog in my post last week), or we can choose to be more conversational and creative—something I think Tumblr is really great for; it all depends on what each of us is comfortable with. And if a work is sound (read: effective, compelling), then why should it have to include multimedia just to grab our attention if that media isn’t going to add anything?

I’d like to conclude my post with the official music video for Betty Who’s song “Somebody Loves You.” It not only feels more apropos, given the subject of my digital essay, but watching it will also (hopefully) give you all a feel for who Betty Who is as we anticipate our arcade on Friday.

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