Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269).
Youtube has spawned many “celebrities” since its inception in 2005, but how many of them do you actually remember? Do you remember their names, or what they did in the first place? The obvious answer is Justin Bieber, there is also OK Go (who I had forgotten about until it was mentioned in Burgess and Green), and on an Australian level – the Chk Chk Boom girl and the boy who took revenge on his bully are the ones I remember. That’s not a whole lot really, and I’m generally someone who keeps up on useless celebrity gossip. All of these examples definitely have found fame though the “system” of celebrity that is “controlled by, the mass media.” (Burgess and Green 2009:23).
What I have noticed though, is that these people are making cultural productions that are already valued by and covered in mass media. Music, acting and the weird and wacky are what the mainstream media cover. I just watched another Netcommer’s video answer to this question and she talked about people who are famous only within the Youtube community, and how their fans are annoyed if they “sell out” and cross over to mainstream media.
So this got me thinking about the millions of videos on Youtube and the millions of people uploading them. It reminded me of Sean Cubitt’s assertion that “the great thing about the internet is that it allows every minor interest, every academic specialism, every rare and refined hobby a place, so the numbers really don’t matter in the same way as the old media.” (Cubitt 2008:45) It’s all these specialisations and hobbies that are ignored by the mainstream media in the first place that thrive online and have online celebrity-status and a certain degree of power and influence within their communities.
So the example I’m going to talk about is a guy calling himself Day9. Here’s his video autobiography (I haven’t had the chance to watch it all yet, It’s 1 hour and 50 minutes!)
Over 2 million people have watched that video alone (It’s so long that really is true dedication!) and his total views are over 18 million. So what does he do that makes people care so much? He commentates his games of Starcraft 2 and uploads them in order to help others improve and entertain them as well. He is a Starcraft celebrity and contributes his cultural productions via Youtube and his website. He is outside the mainstream media, because gaming has really always been outside the mainstream media. His story demonstrates Burgess and Green’s idea that “Youtube has its own, internal system of celebrity based on and reflecting values that don’t necessarily match up neatly with those of the ‘dominant’ media.” (2009:24)
It shows that Burgess and Green are right – to a degree. Celebrity and power in areas that are already valued and controlled by the mass media is only powerful for Youtubers when they “pass through the gate-keeping mechanisms of old media” (Burgess and Green 2009:24) but for areas and interests that have always bypassed the mainstream, they will continue to do so and have their own celebrities without needing to be validated by anyone outside their communities.
Burgess, Jean and Joshua Green (2009), ‘YouTube and The Mainstream Media’, in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture (pp. 15-37), Cambridge: Polity Press.
Cubitt, Sean (2009), ‘Codex and Capability’, in Lovink, Geert and Sabine Niederer (ed.) Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube (pp. 45-51), Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.