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New Media Celebrities

Illustration for article titled New Media Celebrities

If you're not familiar with what "Overly Attached Girlfriend" is, here's the Cliff Notes.

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The girl's name is Laina Walker and she's parlayed the viral success of a Justin Bieber joke video (an a subsequent meme empire) into her own little YouTube channel — which, through ads, allows her to post videos full-time. (How much does she make? Enough to live on comfortably but "less than a million dollars".)

In the midst of falling down a YouTube rabbit hole, I found myself watching this one video that shows her and some friends going to an amusement park: there's a part where she starts signing autographs for a group of middle school girls who seem very excited to meet her in person — just as if she were a "regular" celebrity!

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At one point, the guy shooting the footage says to the girls, "You're all going to be on YouTube, by the way." They're all pretty thrilled by this prospect. One girl exclaims, "I wanna be on YouTube!" A few of them wave at the camera. All, seemingly, without irony.

Okay. Let's stop right here.

It's fucking YouTube.

EVERYONE can be on YouTube.

Almost everyone IS on YouTube.

I feel like the exponential advancement of technology over the past two decades has prematurely turned anyone over 30 into a doddering, Andy Rooney archetype.

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That said, when I was growing up it wasn't that easy to get your face on television...! And now, almost anyone can be an overnight internet sensation. (Though not everyone gets the opportunity to monetize a patch of viral heat through a Samsung commercial.)

Everyone brings up the prescient Warhol quote. Everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame. But the concepts of "fame" and "celebrity" seem... different today. Kids have warped views of what it means to be famous and it almost doesn't matter what route you take to reach that goal. When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, big celebrities meant people who were actors in television/film. People who often spent years taking classes, auditioning, weathered a long road of rejection before breaking through. Today, a lot of people seem to be able to just stumble into celebrity.

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None of this is meant to specifically disparage Laina Walker. I was just a little stunned by the reaction she elicited from those middle school girls in that video. Of course, they grew up in a different world than the one I grew up in. I got my first email address during my sophomore year of college. There was no interactivity with what I watched at the movies or on television. Laina Walker's celebrity isn't just based on what she posts online: other people contribute to her ubiquity by using her image in meme generators. When some kid uses her likeness to create a popular post on Reddit, it alters the whole paradigm. To put it in terms that a 9-year-old me might understand, it's like the audience itself is writing the script to a popular television show. The audience, in a way, gets to share her celebrity.

Which is fine. It's different. It just somehow doesn't seem as cool.

Illustration for article titled New Media Celebrities
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