Tag Archives: social media

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.

Betty Who?: Social Media and the Construction of New Pop Celebrities (A Digital Essay)

Greetings, whistle-pigs! Er…groundhogs.

I’ve created a WordPress site that will serve as the platform for my digital essay. The link is: popexaminer.wordpress.com

A. Brief Summary: My digital essay is not only argument-driven but also theoretically-based, meaning I’m trying to pull together various threads of scholarship into one “cohesive” whole: celebrity, media, and fan studies, as well as interdisciplinary work on social media. In doing so, I’m pursuing the question of how fans use social media to construct new pop celebrities, as the title of my essay implies. What is live on my WordPress site thus far is a series of five posts that serve as the theoretical framework for my project. What I have left to compose is my case study, which will focus on Betty Who. By the end of my essay, I hope to prove how a “proto-celebrity” no longer needs to rely solely on the machinations of a PR team to gain and sustain media exposure; rather, fans do much of the footwork these days out of sheer interest in the proto-celebrity at hand and in sharing them with the rest of the world in the hopes of creating a fan community.

B. Gaps and/or Problems: As I stated above, the most obvious gap is my missing case study on Betty Who, which I’m still working through. In terms of problems, I have two concerns: (1) how “multimedia” or “digital” my project is, and (2) how my tone translates onto a blog. I’m afraid of sounding disingenuous by pandering to what a “blogger” should sound like, but I’m also afraid of sounding too academic. At the end of the day, though, I’d rather sound academic (and risk sounding pretentious) than phony.

C. What Sort of Feedback Would Be Most Useful: Here are some guiding questions that way I can avoid micromanaging. How can I better include more “affordances” of the web to make my project seem more multimedia? Keep in mind, though, that my case study of Betty Who will be very multimodal. Are there any places where you think I could condense or pull back on some of my theorizing/frameworking? How well do you see my own authorial voice coming through (since I draw from the work of numerous scholars)? Additionally, I’m conceiving each post as both a separate entity and a part of a larger whole. Does each post achieve those criteria? If not, which ones could I improve, and how could I improve them? Finally, one smaller point: is it redundant to repeat the same, long title for each blog post? Would it be more effective if I just titled them “Part x of ???” or something that more accurately reflects the specific post’s argument, paired with the “Part x of ???” parenthetical?

Give Power to the Fans: Social Media and the Construction of Celebrity

For my digital essay, I’d like to try to combine my interests in rhetoric/composition and cultural studies and explore the notion of celebrity in the digital age—how the proliferation of social media and the growing number of fans using that social media dramatically alter not just how we think or talk about celebrities but also how we construct them in the first place. I’d like to address a specific trend I’ve noticed in the little bit of research I’ve done so far on the intersection of celebrity culture and digital media, which is the tendency to focus on how celebrities use social media to brand themselves, creating Twitter accounts or Facebook pages that act more like blatant PR than genuine fan interaction. Ideally, I’d like to work with David Marshall’s assertion in Celebrity and Power (1997) that audiences possess a creative and generative power in the construction of celebrity and examine how social media enhances that power. Although Erin Meyers treads similar territory in her book Dishing Dirt in the Digital Age, she focuses specifically on celebrity gossip blogs, arguing that gossip bloggers occupy the paradoxical space between insider and outsider. But gossip bloggers like Perez Hilton are a special breed, in that they don’t necessarily provide the best way to look at how the “average fan” uses social media to construct celebrity, although they undoubtedly extend the information network for those fans.

But I’m aware that I couldn’t possibly tackle the entire scope of “celebrity” in the scope of this essay, so I’d like to focus on new or emerging pop stars like Betty Who and Lorde because, while their success varies in scope, they both owe that success to social media. Although Betty Who is still a rising star, she gained intense media attention after her song “Somebody Loves You” was used in the video “Spencer’s Home Depot Marriage Proposal” that went viral recently. Likewise, Lorde has gone from relative obscurity to selling out 40K+ concert venues all by herself in the span of a year largely because of how her song “Royals” went viral. (It might also be worth noting that both females come from “Down Under”—Betty Who from Australia and Lorde from New Zealand.)

To help foreground my topic, I’d like to describe a very curious phenomenon that was, and still is, occurring on Twitter as I did some preliminary research last night. Betty Who was “livetweeting” the release of and subsequent fan responses to her new EP “Slow Dancing,” which hit the digital shelves of iTunes around 8:45pm last night. One major component of this livetweeting is the series of screenshots Betty has been taking to express her happiness about her EP’s sales, the last and most recent of which she posted as I began writing this blog (although now much time has passed due to revisions):

Going from #13 to #1 in less than 24 hours is pretty much the opposite of “slow dancing,” wouldn’t you say?

However obvious it may seem, it’s worth reiterating that chart positions on iTunes are based on sales and that the people most responsible for those sales are, well, the fans.

And as I followed my Twitter feed last night, the “Who Crew” (the charming name Betty Who has given to her fans, much like Lady Gaga’s “Little Monsters”) was in top form, tweeting furiously and plugging the EP as often as possible, insisting that their individual body of followers purchase the EP for themselves and become new members of the Crew. And the best part was seeing how many of these tweets that Betty has been retweeting (although she hasn’t retweeted any of mine, not that I’m bitter about that or anything…).

This lengthy story about the ongoing tweet-athon among Betty Who and her Who Crew hopefully gives you a sample of how powerful fans can be in creating and sharing new celebrities through word of mouse, a term I borrow from Jim Banister.

So, to co-opt some of Michael’s organizational principles from his post this week:

Key questions: how does social media afford fans the opportunity to actively participate in the creation of new celebrities? How does social media resemble, counteract, or enhance previous information channels within celebrity culture? What exactly are the contours, nuances, and dynamics of the participatory culture that exists among fans on social media?

My subjects: Betty Who and Lorde (although I’m open to additional suggestions!)

Texts: David Marshall’s Celebrity and Power, Erin Meyers’ Dishing Dirt in the Digital Age, Graeme Turner’s Understanding Celebrity, Jim Banister’s Word of Mouse, Paul Booth’s Digital Fandom, and plenty more (I’m also waiting to hear from the library on a few). I’d also like to incorporate close-readings of some of Lorde’s music to show how she references, explicitly or otherwise, her fans, digital culture, and celebrity culture.

Format: This is where I’m having the most issues. I initially was going to use WordPress, but I’m not sure if a single post or a series of short ones would adequately reflect my project, although I do want a medium where I’m able to incorporate links, videos, audio, etc. From an aesthetic perspective, though, I’d love to create something like the following page from Gee Thomson’s book Mesmerization:

He may think we losing our minds to popular culture, but the man can create a stunning image-word web/map/thingy.

My fear with this option is that I’m not sure if a program exists that does this kind of work. I think Prezi might be the closest tool? If so, how complicated is it for someone like me who is ridiculously feeble with technology?

Concept in 60 (collab with Callie)

Although Callie just posted the link to the video we created together for class this week, I just wanted to add a few thoughts.

As champions of the medium, Callie and I wanted to explore the ways that changing the context and manner in which we watch TV can transform it into a productive form of social media—one in which we can participate consciously, actively, and thoughtfully.

Also, the song we chose is from a band named Boards of Canada, the Scottish brother duo whose music consistently draws from television elements: VHS-quality sounds and motifs, as well as actual sound clips from television shows from their childhood. The song’s title, “Constants Are Changing,” seems apropos for the project that Callie and I advocate, namely a shift in the way we think/talk about and use television!

reddit: The Virtual Coffeehouse

After finishing Writing on the Wall, my life’s new goal is to either locate or become the proprietor of a real-life coffeehouse that operates like the ones Standage describes in Chapter 6.  Whether or not they actually existed, the idea of an “egalitarian new intellectual space” (104) where all can exchange new knowledge in diverse fields and imbibe my favorite caffeinated beverage sounds like heaven on earth.  In the words of Liz Lemon:

Liz Lemon always knows what’s up.

Sadly, I can’t think of a single real-life commercial establishment that functions as such.  I have never in my life been in a chain or independent coffee retailer that fosters the actively social “speculative environment” of their predecessors; they are more often filled with people glued to their technology, books, or other distractions in an otherwise social and public place.

Where I do find those environments, or at least analogous cultural structures, is in the virtual world.  Like the alleged coffeehouses in the days of Samuel Pepys and Christopher Wren, certain online communities function as networks driven by discussion and transactions that are based around knowledge sharing.   As the resident reddit enthusiast, I have to admit that upon reading the chapter on coffeehouses, the self-professed “front page of the internet” was the first comparable website that came to mind.

In June of 2012, redditor /u/Dapper77 described reddit as “a place friendly to thought, relationships, arguments, and to those that wish to challenge those genres.”  Subreddits, or topic/theme-based forums within the site, parallel the coffeehouses that developed a specific client base.  Like Jonathan’s, which drew seventeenth-century businessmen, /r/history attracts historians and history enthusiasts for questions, debate, and other content that is relevant to their interests.  The site has areas for users to talk about literally almost anything they can think of, and if a subreddit doesn’t exist, you can create it.  Best of all, it’s all free!

The diversity and availability of content options can mean different things for different people.  Personally, I like it for the opportunity to learn new things about any topic that strikes my interest.  Serial killers, suggestions for slowcooker recipes, adorable corgis, colorized historical images, and tips on skincare routines:  I can find information and communities immersed in each topic online.

Like the coffeehouses, most of our myriad social networking or information-sharing sites have been vilified as “distracting people and encouraging them to waste time sharing trivia with their friends when they ought to be doing useful work” (111).  At least with reddit, you’re (generally) learning something new, whether or not it is actually useful information.  Plus, the site hasn’t been overrun with irrelevant content such as ads and games, like the fictional “Friendface” from British Channel 4’s The IT Crowd.

While the environment of intellectual sharing and discussion is one of reddit’s strong points, there are certainly detracting factors.  For instance, there will always be people whose sole purpose in life seems to be posting responses that are rude, offensive, or generally irrelevant or irritating.  Often, these exchanges function like the one that Standage describes on pages 40 and 41, particularly the “comment thread” between Severus and Successus.

Additionally, instead of having face-to-face, real-time interaction, users are separated by time and space, which negates the socialization aspect that makes the idea of coffeehouses so attractive.  If you wanted to get really meta, you could go to a coffeehouse and use reddit from there!  As someone who is often most comfortable interacting with strangers through friendly, down-to-earth intellectual discussion, and assuming that they did actually exist, I look forward to the day when coffeehouses make a triumphant return!

Meeting Tom Standage at the Coffeehouse

After grabbing your favorite coffee drink from the over-worked barista, you sit down next to Tom in the busy Starbucks where he has saved you both a table and ask him a question about his book, Writing on the Wall. He starts going on and on about his research, just like he always does when you meet up for coffee:


. . .

. . .

. . .

Alright, just kidding.

Tom Standage wasn’t really in a coffeehouse when he said those things and neither were you when you heard them. I’m afraid the smell of espresso that still lingers in the air is simply your imagination.

But what a “meta” moment that has just occurred! This was a conversation in a virtual (audio-created) coffeehouse about the history of coffeehouses, accessible to you via what Standage might describe as a digital “coffeehouse,” the WordPress interface.

What can this weird listening experience tell us about the relationship between the historical coffeehouse and our digital play areas?

In his book, Standage describes online discussion and social-media forums just like this WordPress site as having the same “vibrant, freewheeling spirit of the coffeehouse” with “a free and open space for debate and discussion” (123). It is clear that he sees online discussion communities as analogous to those meeting grounds of the past, where class and social status were (in theory) discarded in favor of meaningful intellectual and social activity. In connecting these two spaces, he doesn’t go so far as to posit a wholly equal relationship; Standage is more interested in proving the concept of pre-digital social media than navigating the specific nuances between these different kinds of technologies.

Yet, as I read his chapter on coffeehouses and scientific journals, I was struck by his positioning of internet forums alongside the former in terms of content and quality of conversation. Scientific journals aren’t given the same “free and open” description as coffeehouses and forums are given.

But how “free and open” are internet forums, truly? Beyond issues of accessibility as well as economic and socio-political power structures governing interest and ability to participate (things that affect all forms of information-sharing across history), the short clip above points us to at least two issues that we should consider in relating internet forums to coffeehouses and scientific journals both.

First, though internet forums do seem to engender a conversational style not unlike those of the coffeehouse, their text is permanent in a way that face-to-face discussion could never be. It is not just its placement in the archive of the forum–messages can be saved and screenshot so that they remain even after the original poster has deleted it from the discussion board. Although the oral quality of Standage’s dialogue gives the appearance of immediate, easy (“free and open”) conversation, you are able to play it over and over again at your leisure. In this sense, the permanence of the text of online forums follows scientific journals more so than coffeehouses.

Second, just as scientific journals were prized in part because of their “geographical reach” (121), so too are internet forums able to reach even further and wider. As opposed to the close proximity of the coffeehouse, the internet forum is able to receive visitors and posters from disparate locations, many that we will never know even came. Because of this, it is often open to the same critique of credibility as scientific journals–a truth well-represented in the earlier audio clip, which featured my personal mash-up of a Standage interview and many different free atmospheric sounds (such as footsteps, coffee pouring, and relative background noise) instead of a true recording of him in a Starbucks. Although I think we are learning more and more to think through issues of credibility (and here I don’t mean issues of ethos as much as the ability to prove you actually are the person you say you are) in written online text and image, the presupposed integrity of audio and video still seems pervasive. In terms of proximity and the ensuing issues of credibility, then, internet forums are again more similar to scientific journals than to coffeehouses.

I think that Standage is doing good work in countering contemporary anxieties about social media by delineating its impulses throughout history. Having been given these broad strokes, however, we should think more in-depth about how to understand specific kinds of contemporary digital technology and social media, as they relate to previous information-sharing techniques and to one another. Though he readily admits that his “analogy between ancient (analog) and modern (digital) forms of social media is not perfect” (241), I think it is important that, if we’re willing to follow his conception of social media, we map out exactly what the differences are.

What other specific issues do you consider when trying to relate newer social media to Standage’s older examples? What do we make of their interaction and interference with one another? How can we extend or revise the kinds of connections Standage’s book has created for us?