Radical Interactivity? The Impact of Twitter on the Construction and Consumption of Celebrity Identity
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART ONE: INTRODUCTION
1.1. Subject Area 5
1.2. Rationale and Background 5
1.2. Research Questions 6
1.3. Initial Thesis 7
1.4. Literature Review Outline 7
PART TWO: METHODOLOGY
2.1. Semiotics and Critical Discourse Analysis 9
2.2. Case Studies 10
PART THREE: LITERATURE REVIEW
3.1. Introduction 12
3.2. Celebrity Culture 12
3.2.1. What is a celebrity? 13
3.2.2. Attributed celebrity and media representation 13
3.2.3. Celebrity and fan 15
3.2.4. Celebrity, interpretation and ideology 16
3.2.5. The production of the subject 17
3.2.6. Summary 17
3.3. Celebrity and Developments in New Media 19
3.3.1. Convergence culture and interactivity 19
3.3.2. Social networking, community and sociality 21
3.3.3. The digital celebrity 24
3.3.4. Mass communication and consumption 25
3.3.5. The rise of Twitter 26
3.3.6. Self-reflexivity and performativity 28
3.3.7. Summary 29
PART FOUR: ANALYSIS
4.1. Introduction 32
4.2. Lindsay Lohan and Twitter 34
4.2.1. Immediate impact of the page 34
4.2.2. Lohan’s use of tweets 36
4.3. Ke$ha and Twitter 38
4.3.1. Immediate impact of the page 38
4.3.2. Ke$ha’s use of tweets 39
4.4. Twitter 44
PART FIVE: CONCLUSION 47
This work considers the impact of Twitter on celebrity culture. It sets out to analyse whether, and how, Twitter has changed the construction and consumption of celebrity images, and what effect this has had. It does this first of all through an in-depth engagement with existing work in the field of celebrity culture, extracting key issues around discourses of realism, fantasy, individuality, capitalism, agency and power and transposing these issues into a new-media context. It goes on to develop this engagement with existing literature through a focus on work in the field of new-media, extracting key debates around networked concepts of individuality and community, interactivity, convergence and the specifics of the Twitter experience. Bringing these fields of research together, it then makes an analysis of the representation and consumption of the celebrity images of Lindsay Lohan and Ke$ha on Twitter. The work concludes that while the experience of consuming celebrity has radically changed, the celebrity consumerist context has evolved around this, making factors such as interactivity a vital part of capitalist culture and image consumption, without radically altering the structured hierarchy of traditional celebrity culture. Potential ways out of this situation are proposed through a focus on the self-aware construction of identity with which Twitter forces its users to engage.
PART ONE: INTRODUCTION
1.1. Subject Area
The intersection of celebrity culture and social networking technology
1.2. Rationale and Background
The social networking microblogging site Twitter has, since its appearance in 2006, rapidly become a major cultural phenomenon, with over 100 million users worldwide (Reuters, 2010). It employs a simple format where users write 140-character updates (tweets), which are displayed on their page and consumed by anyone who ‘follows’ the user. The site allows anyone with an internet connection to log on and make their tweets visible globally. This open nature of Twitter has led to it being used in many different ways, including commercial promotion, filtering of news reports, forming communities around certain interests or events, or simply a mode of self-expression of the banalities of everyday life (Atkinson, 2009). One potentially interesting effect of the site is the possibilities of new relations it suggest between celebrities and fans. On one hand, celebrities, and their promotional teams, have been quick to adopt Twitter as a mode of publicity, using it as a media-channel, which operates in different ways to media such as newspapers, magazines or TV. On the other hand, fans have found a new way of accessing and engaging with celebrities, hence the prevalence of sites such as celebritytweet (2010), where users are encouraged to “stalk celebrities on Twittter!” Two initial research questions emerge from this context. Firstly, does the site offer the potential for celebrities to construct their identities in a different way from in traditional media? Do they have more control over their image, for example? Secondly, how is the celebrity/fan relationship reconfigured within this networked relation? Does the fan have more agency of interpretation and more direct access to celebrities, for example? This project sets out to address and develop these questions in detail, considering how the nature of celebrity image production and also the nature of fan consumption of celebrity image are changed in the context of Twitter. In order to address these questions, it will consider what key points can be taken from research into the field of celebrity culture and new media, and then assess these points in relation to two relevant case studies.
1.3. Research Questions
Main Research Question
– How has Twitter impacted on the discourse of celebrity culture?
– How do celebrities use Twitter in order to performatively construct an identity across this new-media platform, and how could this potentially be different from other forms of identity-construction online or across other media?
– How is this identity consumed in a different way from other media representations? How does Twitter differ from other social networking sites in its representation and consumption of celebrity?
– How has Twitter developed or challenged notions of the active construction of fan identity, and also of networked fan communities?
– How does fan Twitter use relate to, or differ from, other celebrity consumption, online or in other media?
– How do the developments of interactivity and participation inherent to Twitter use, as well as the development of mobile technologies, affect, challenge or develop existing modes of relation between celebrity and fan? Does this affect power relations between media producers and media consumers?
– Can Twitter be analysed as a space which radically challenges existing modes of celebrity representation, or it more accurate to read it as a continuation of existing modes?
– How does Twitter affect issues such as power, representation, gender, performativity, community and capitalist ideology, which have emerged as vital concerns in the discourse of celebrity study.
1.4. Initial Thesis
Twitter, through its focus on interactivity and participation, has challenged traditional consumer/producer relationships within celebrity discourse. This has led to the production of new forms of networked community, political organization, and new forms of identity, managed and played out across the site.
1.5. Literature Review Outline
This will be broken up into sections and sub-sections in order to critically engage with literature relevant to the proposed title. The first section will focus on celebrity culture generally, drawing on research such as Marshall (2006) and Rojek (2001) to define a field of popular celebrity culture within which to situate the research. This section will also consider relevant theoretical frameworks and cultural theory to form a background for the research. This will include for example Adorno and Horkheimer (1944) and on popular culture, ideology and hegemony. It will look at Barthes (2006) on myth and semiotics, and also Parker & Sedgwick (1995) to understand how a concept of performativity could be useful in this context. Foucault (2000) will be useful to consider in order to study his theories of the relation of the individual to disciplinary institutions.
The next section will look more specifically at work in the field that relates to the intersection of new media technologies and celebrity culture. This will start with work such as Geraghty (2007) that considers how social and cultural theories play out in celebrity representation. It will consider how Twitter use compares to previous work on the image and identification such as Dyer (2006). There will then be a more specific focus on new media and celebrity (for example Burns, 2009), and on audiences and Twitter use, including Atkinson (2009) and Jenkins’ work on participation and convergence culture (2006a; 2006b). This will then lead to a consideration of how, within the context of celebrity discourse, sites such as Twitter have enabled the production of new and different forms of community (Kendall, 2002; Senft, 2008; Thurlow, Lengel & Tomic 2004), and also new forms of production of the self (Flanagan, 2007; Hillis, 2006; Nayar, 2010). Further work specifically on Twitter and celebrity culture will then be analysed and assessed.
PART TWO: METHODOLOGY
2.1. Semiotics and Critical Discourse Analysis
The dissertation will adopt the methodology of theoretical semiotic analysis, using tweets, and the framework of Twitter as a whole, as texts to be ’read’ and analysed in relation to the most relevant theoretical discourses to emerge from the literature review and research questions. Such a methodology draws, firstly, on Roland Barthes’ study of culture as a set of signs to be decoded. Barthes’ work, in Mythologies for example, shows how texts of a culture can be interpreted in order to show their relation to the dominant ideologies of that culture (Storey, 2006a, p.95). His method, and the way it has been taken up in semiotic readings of popular culture, provides one way in to approaching methodology here. Twitter is a discourse of contemporary society and it can be interpreted as a text in terms not only of how it encodes dominant ideologies but also how it could operate as a challenge to them. Another important methodological context is that of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). This is a method which has attempted to explore relations between discursive practices and wider social and cultural processes (Locke, 2004, p.1). It emerged in the 1990s and has diversified much since then, although, as Meyer and Wodak (2009) argue, it still retains common elements, including “common interest in de-mystifying ideologies and power through the systematic and retroductable investigation of semiotic data (written, spoken or visual)” (p.3). It is relevant here for an understanding of tweets as discourse, or language in use, with a social function. Locke outlines some of the key assumptions and aims of CDA, including a belief that social order is socially constructed and relative, sustained by discourse, which is shaped by and productive of ideology, and views power and subjectivity as an effect of this discourse (p.1). CDA then goes on to understand human discourse as a way of shaping and making sense of the world in a specific relation to such ideologies. This is again relevant to the Twitter context, which, as an example of contemporary ‘language in use’ in a new media social networking situation, is both relevant to be analysed as critical discourse, and can add to redefinitions of CDA in this context. The main questions of how Twitter affects the representation of celebrity, and the construction of fan community and identity, as well as how it affects the relationship between producers and consumers, will be assessed in relation to analysis of these texts. Rather than using Twitter simply as an example to reinforce theoretical positions, it will look at how it may challenge, undermine or develop theoretical work in new directions. On the other hand, theoretical research will be considered, which may support or may challenge user’s experiences of Twitter.
2.2. Case Studies
Two case studies from Twitter will be used in the analysis. These studies will present well-known figures who are established in their use of Twitter, and who are celebrities with high visibility within the field of popular culture. This will allow a more relevant analysis of popular celebrity consumption, as well as providing a direct comparison with representations in tradition celebrity media such as Heat magazine. The first choice of case study is the American actress Lindsay Lohan. She is selected as she is already well established as a celebrity Twitter user, and as she embodies a particular type of contemporary celebrity, one who is famous primarily for being a celebrity rather than for any other reason. The second case study allows for a point of comparison to be made. For this study the American singer Ke$ha has been chosen. She is also well established in her use of Twitter but she provides a contrast with Lohan as she can be seen as part of a new generation of celebrity Twitter users whose fame has come largely through social networking sites. The success of her first single for example was created largely through the use of sites such as Myspace and Twitter (Edgcliffe-Johnson, 2010). For this reason, Ke$ha provides an example of someone who has had an image constructed via Twitter, rather than, as is the case with Lohan, using the site to challenge a pre-existing celebrity media image. Both of the celebrities have a similar number of followers (around 700-800,000) but will also provide a contrast in the way their images are produced. The analysis will, after sketching out background information, focus on visual analysis of the pages – drawing on elements of visual semiotics, and then a more in-depth analysis of the tweets used by the celebrities – drawing on critical discourse analysis. The tweets available on the Twitter homepage of each celebrity will be categorized into different functions and analysed in order to address the research questions. The content, language, style and form of tweets will be analysed in depth, in relation to the production of identity and negotiation of fan/celebrity relationships in a networked space. Research will also include an element of fieldwork, joining Twitter and following celebrities or their followers. It must therefore be aware of the ethical implications raised by this kind of research, including the maintenance of anonymity. The comparison of user experience (consumption) with the representation and construction of celebrity on Twitter (production) will allow conclusions to be drawn about the media-specific relations between celebrity and fan. This textual analysis will then be used to contribute to the theoretical debates to emerge from the literature review, testing the initial hypothesis and considering Twitter as a whole. A concluding section will summarise arguments, make conclusions, adopt a position and suggest directions for further research.
PART THREE: LITERATURE REVIEW
This part is split into two main sections in order to effectively address the contexts and specifics necessary for engaging with the proposed research questions. The first section focuses on drawing out key elements from the field of celebrity culture generally. This starts with the question of what exactly is a celebrity? It then moves on to consider the ideological function, political value and social role of celebrity within popular contemporary culture. It focuses on theorizing of the relation between the celebrity and the fan, considering how varying degrees of agency of interpretation have been proposed by different theorists. It then goes on to consider in more detail processes of construction of the self, and the self’s relation to society, at the heart of the celebrity-fan relationship. The next section develops these questions, arguments, discussions and concerns through a more specific focus on how the discourse of celebrity has been affected by shifts and developments in new media technology. This includes a focus on how notions of selfhood and community have been impacted upon by new media platforms. It focuses on the development of interactivity in the celebrity-fan relationship, asking whether this has led to shifts in the balance of power and agency, or whether traditional media hierarchies are maintained. It also considers the relation of these developments to their consumerist context. Other aspects of the Twitter experience are also analysed in depth, considering the production and effects of concepts of liveness, intimacy, vividness and spontaneity specific to relationships formed through Twitter, and their relation to discourses such as realism and fantasy that have been fundamental to traditional celebrity image constructions.
3.2 Celebrity Culture
3.2.1. What is a celebrity?
An initial question to be addressed in the research is simply ‘what is a celebrity?’ The celebrity in contemporary culture is understood and consumed primarily as a media representation. While they may be, and generally are, a real person, they can be understood more usefully as a site, where they play a symbolic role in culture. Turner (2004, p.6) argues that “the celebrity is a key site of media attention and personal aspiration, as well as one of the key places where cultural meanings are negotiated and organized”. The celebrity, then, functions as an image, occupying a specific space in culture, where ideas, attitudes and social roles can be replicated, challenged, re-affirmed or contested. This relation between, on one hand, consuming passively celebrity image; and, on the other hand, its radical critique, is key to this research. It raises questions not only of how representations are produced and maintained in a new media context, but also how relationships between celebrity and fan, producer and consumer, are affected and altered through media such as Twitter.
3.2.2. Attributed celebrity and media representation
Rojek (2001, p.17) defines celebrity according to three categories – ascribed, achieved and attributed. The ascribed celebrity is one who is born a celebrity without doing anything. The achieved celebrity is one who achieves celebrity status through perceived accomplishments in a particular field (p.18). The attributed celebrity, on the other hand, is a figure largely created by the media. Their celebrity status is “largely the result of the concentrated representation of an individual as noteworthy or exceptional by cultural intermediaries” (p.18). Rojek’s ‘attributed’ celebrity can be interpreted as the dominant form of celebrity in a contemporary media-saturated context. The concentrated representation by intermediaries that Rojek describes is the dominant mode of creating and consuming celebrity image, whether via celebrity magazines, newspapers or internet sources. Considering the context of Twitter however suggests a slight shift in the category. While Twitter itself could be read as the ‘intermediary’, one striking aspect of the platform that differs it from other media representations is its focus on supposedly direct or personal communication. This suggests a shift away from a focus on celebrity being attributed to figures from an outside or intermediary force, and, potentially, a form of self-definition necessitating new categories of definition as well as modes of interaction. In Rojek’s definitions, the power of defining celebrity rests largely with the media who produce concentrated representations. While a figure such as Lindsay Lohan could be understood primarily as an attributed celebrity, her presence on Twitter can disrupt Rojek’s categorizations. The notion of ‘cultural intermediary’ needs to be re-considered and expanded in this context. Twitter also allows for a different form of celebrity, a sub-category of Rojek’s ‘attributed’ definition perhaps, to define one who achieves fame through posts on Twitter.
Within the field of celebrity discourse a lot of attention has been paid to the media construction of the attributed celebrity and the social effects of this. Marshall for example argues that celebrity is a vital component of contemporary politics (2006, p.4). In his analysis he discusses the importance of concepts of realism and authenticity in media representation of celebrity creating what he describes as a ‘reality effect’ (2006, p.3), which is fundamental to creating a specific ideology and seduces an audience with the promise that you too could become a celebrity. This lure, of course, disallows for any social reality, where it may not be so easy to transcend social position, lack of talent or ability. The concept of celebrity, in other words, is produced in a double way. In one sense it is impossibly fantastic and glamorous, but in another sense it is promoted as close to hand and available. This realism of the celebrity has been discussed not only by Marshall but also by other writers such as Bradley (2007, p.162), and also Rojek, who argues that media presentations of celebrity are used to sell a certain image (2001, p.13), the celebrity is a modulator and intensifier of consumer desire. Some important points can be drawn from the work of Rojek, Marshall and Bradley. The celebrity is a media construction, but it is also one constructed in a certain way, and this has traditionally functioned in a particular way in relation to the dominant ideology of capitalism. By producing celebrity images as both fantastical and real, the celebrity industry is able to manipulate consumer desire, not only encouraging consumption but also legitimating certain identities while demonizing others. Celebrity plays an important ideological role. This then raises the question of how these ideologies, in terms of their propagation or negotiation and their relation to the political landscape, have altered in the context of Twitter. While many writers have analysed celebrity culture in terms of ideology and consumerism, as well as in terms of identity, individualism and capitalism, developments in new media mean that their assumptions need to be reconsidered. Marshall discusses how celebrity has become so important within TV and magazine culture, for example, and most of the writers on the subject discuss celebrity in terms of such media. Twitter, on the other hand, provides a good platform for such a reconsideration, which will be explored more fully in the second part of this review.
3.2.3. Celebrity and fan
Other writers, rather than focusing on questions of defining celebrity have focused more on the relationship between the celebrity (as media produced image) and its consumer – the audience or fan. Stacey (1994), for example, discusses how female audiences of the 1960s were able to become ‘more like’ the stars by buying the clothes that they wore, making a direct link between consumption habits and the effect of celebrity discourse on spectators. There are interesting parallels with her work and a more contemporary situation. In one sense she is describing a different social context and a completely different phenomenological experience. In the dark of the cinema, surrounded by other audience members, with the giant image of the star beamed down to you, it is easy to imagine how one may identify with the exotic fantasy presented by stars. This is very different to, say, the experience of reading a contemporary celebrity magazine, where, rather than offering idealized images, images of celebrities in ‘bad’ situations – i.e. looking fat or silly, is far more common. Twitter provides a whole different context altogether, and it must be assessed here whether theories of identification which are largely drawn from psychoanalytic film theory modeled on a specific traditional cinematic experience (in a community of people, in the dark, silent, watching the film and being absorbed in the narrative in a linear manner) are relevant to the ways that people engage with Twitter. The phenomenological experience of Twitter is very different, without any sense of linear narrative, usually private, domestic and perhaps distracted, while other things are going on. It does not provide the same sense of absorption that Stacey uses in her analysis. Whether it can still, however, have the same effect, will be discussed later. How, for example, is this ‘double’ (real and fantastical) representation created, sustained and consumed via Twitter? And how does this relate to the social and political contexts of contemporary capitalism?
3.2.4. Celebrity, interpretation and ideology
An analysis of the relationship between the star and the fan, not only in a cinematic context, can be related to more general arguments over the relation between media consumers and media producers. Adorno and Horkheimer for example have made strong critiques about the power of mass culture to embody dominant ideology and manipulate the people (1944). There argument is based on the assumption that the media consumer is a passive receiver of state power, which is communicated in a direct cause-effect relation against which the media consumer has no choice or agency. Against this model, others have argued that fans can have more of a stake in actively negotiating the dominant representations that they are presented with in the media. Richard Dyer for example (2006) has written of various active readings made by audiences, who interpret the meaning of stars and use this in their own way, challenging the media effects model proposed by Frankfurt school writers such as Adorno and Horkheimer. On one hand then, the fan has been represented as a passive consumer, manipulated and shaped by celebrity culture. On the other hand, the fan has been situated as a vital point of resistance, able to shift and change celebrity meanings in a radical way. This is particularly important here as it is now possible to consider whether, and how, this relation has changed in the context of Twitter. One of the immediate assumptions about the platform is that fans have more ‘interaction’ with celebrities, and this would seem to suggest, more agency in self-definition. How far this increase in interactivity adds to the debate over agency will be examined in detail here.
A further problematic to consider is to what extent ‘free’ interpretations of stars are actually radical gestures, and to what extent they are re-absorbed into the network of the capitalist economy. Marshall for example has discussed how audiences are free to interpret the meaning of celebrity, yet these interpretations themselves become part of the production of individualized selfhood, and supporting of cultural norms necessary for the continued functioning of the industry (2006, p.3-4). In other words, increased agency may not necessarily radically challenge dominant ideologies, and may instead still be part of the systems it attempts ostensibly to bring into question.
3.2.5. The production of the subject
An example of this can be seen in the process of ‘self-policing’ pointed out by Bradley. She argues that is not just the case of ideals of the perfect female body being forced upon readers by the celebrity magazine industry, but rather, in order for the beauty industry to continue to circulate female-celebrity images as objects of desire and increase consumer desire in buying their products, then the processes at play must be more subtle, and women must self-police their own body images (2007, p.161). Rather than making a binary opposition between the imposed ideology of media producers and the resistance of media audiences, such internalizations and modifications of desire upset this simple relation. This idea of self-policing can be seen as relating to Foucault’s theories of how the individual subject constitutes itself through surrounding discourses, including those of the media (Strozier 2002 p.141). In Foucault’s later work he suggests the possibility of self-definition outside of the limiting confines of the disciplinary institution (1996, p.306-7). Whether this is given more potential through the interactive mode of Twitter will be considered here.
This section started with an overview of celebrity culture theory, in order to consider what key issues would have most relevance for this research. It began with considerations over definitions of celebrity. Although the celebrity is of course a real person, it has been argued that once they enter into media representation (the only way we have access to the celebrity), they are more accurately understood, as Turner proposes (2004), as a site of multiple and competing discourses. The celebrity comes to embody certain roles or act as an image for aspects of culture, operating as the medium for specific dominant cultural representations. The fan’s interaction with celebrity then becomes a way of relating to these representations, which can be embraced, negotiated or contested as part of a relational self-definition. This raises the question, for this research, of whether, and how this interaction changes when the fan-celebrity relation takes place through the platform of Twitter. Does the fan, for example, have more freedom to negotiate with the cultural discourses embodied by the celebrity? Does the celebrity come to represent something different when they use Twitter as a mode of identity-construction? Rojek’s (2001) distinction between achieved and ascribed celebrity was drawn attention to, raising a further question of whether Twitter necessitates extending or adding further categories to his definitions. While cultural intermediaries are vital to Rojek’s definition of the ascribed celebrity, Twitter redefines this relation by offering supposedly ‘direct’ access to the celebrity. Is this still a mode of ascribing celebrity or does it suggest a potentially different relation? It went on to explore how celebrities have been understood politically. The discourse of celebrity is inherently political as it operates as a powerful construction of norms of society (Geraghty, 2007), it promotes a discourse of individualism, where the self is a coherent and free entity (Marshall, 2006), and is intimately imbricated with consumerist capitalism (Stacey, 1994). It was discussed how celebrity images are constructed in order to have this impact. This led to an analysis of the importance of the double discourses of realism and fantasy. Celebrities offer up an ideal fantasy space to lure fans into self-improvements (Turner, 2004; Geraghty, 2007), yet also play an important role in the ideology of ‘it could be you’ sustained through careful effects of realism and authenticity (Marshall, 2006). How this balance between realism and fantasy shifts, if it is sustained, or if something entirely different is produced on Twitter needs to be considered in this research. Following on from this, the relation between celebrity and fan, or consumer and producer, was considered in more detail. While Frankfurt School critics (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944) have argued that the Culture Industry imposes its will on passive consumers, others such as Dyer (2006) have proposed that, actually, audiences, or fans, have more agency in the negotiation with received celebrity image, allowing, for example, that fans can re-appropriate celebrity images and use them in a different way. This relation and the key question of whether a fan’s agency is different from conventional media on Twitter will be addressed here. Others (Rojek, 2001; Marshall, 2006) emphasized that the fan and celebrity are both part of the same capitalist network so any re-appropriation would be unlikely to have radical political effect. Can one really challenge the dominant ideology when one is still part of that structure? Again, how these questions are affected by Twitter will be addressed here. The final section gave examples of how norms are supported or challenged in celebrity discourse through the example of gender (Geraghty, 2007; Bradley, 2007), and focused in more detail on theoretical research on definitions and constructions of the self through the work of Foucault (2000). His work allows a consideration of how much agency the individual has, and how much the self and its desire is constituted and shaped by discourses outside of its control, including notions of self-policing. The relation of Twitter to the production of subjectivity will be considered in this research.
3.3. Celebrity and Developments in New-Media
3.3.1. Convergence culture and interactivity
One of the key issues to emerge from research is a focus on how relations between individuals, and between individuals and technology have been changed in the wake of developments in technologies of social networking. Henry Jenkins, for example, has written at length about how shifts in technology have led to an increase in participation on behalf of new media users, and a state of what he defines as ‘convergence culture’ (Jenkins, 2006a). Jenkins analysis allows for a shift away from definitions that are purely technological, and a focus instead on the impact of technological development in cultural terms:
Convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek our new information and make connections amongst dispersed media content (Jenkins, 2006a, p.3)
This is where convergence culture becomes relevant for this project, as it provides a framework for starting to understands shifts in the relation between celebrity and fan, icon and consumer, as their modes of interaction are affected by shifts in digital technology. Jenkins’ definition encompasses not only how media content flows across various platforms but also the behaviour of audiences, which is affected through these processes. He discusses the increase in ‘migratory’ audience behaviour, consumers moving between different media forms, reading a celebrity magazine and then going to a website and updating their Facebook profile for example, as part of a shift from more passive ways of consuming to a more interactive mode of engagement. For Jenkins this affects the power balance between the media producer and the media consumer, who “interact in unpredictable ways” (2006a, p.2). Rather than an ‘old-media’ relation between fan and celebrity such as reading a story in a gossip magazine, new-media developments such as Twitter are key elements of what Jenkins defines as ‘convergence culture’ leading to a increase in the interactivity of relationship between fan and celebrity. For Jenkins, this gives more power to the media consumer. He discusses how a ‘top-down’ model of media content is replaced by an increase in user-generated content and so, in this context, increased stake for the fan in production of the celebrity identity. Others agree with Jenkins’ analysis. Lawson-Borders for example imagines a “world of possibilities” opened up by the increased interactivity of social networking sites (Lawson-Borders, 2006, p.6), radically redefining relations between active readers and constantly shifting and modulating texts. Such empowerment can, however, seem overly optimistic. It is questionable whether the fan really gains any more actual power in relation to production and maintenance of celebrity image. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek for example has written about the concept of ‘interpassivity’ to describe activity that seems active but is actually passive. He gave the example, in 1999, of caring for the tamagochi Japanese digital toy pet:
In interactivity, I am passive, while being active through another. In interpassivity, I am passive while being active through another (Zizek, 1999, p.105)
Although the technology has since changed, his analysis seems more evident to contemporary popular culture, consumers are constantly encouraged to vote on shows like The X Factor in order to actively express their personal desire, in such a way that is actually very limiting and, of course, acts mainly in the interest of telecommunications and media industries. This provides a less optimistic analysis of the relation of Twitter to celebrity culture, that fans seem to be acting interactively, engaging with celebrities, while they are actually as passive as if they were reading the latest lifestyle description of a celebrity in a magazine. This key opposition between interactivity and interpassivity will be returned to throughout this analysis, as it is fundamental to analyzing whether and how the role of the fan has changed in the wake of the increased interactivity of convergence culture and social networking experience.
3.3.2. Social networking, community and sociality
Some theorists have written on how concepts of community or sociality have been affected by social networking websites. Senft (2008), for example, writes about the compensatory role played by online social networks in a contemporary context where existing social networks, for a variety of reasons – including processes of multinational globalization (Stalder, 2006, p.63) – are increasingly dissolving. She argues that online social networks “reframe loss as growth experience” (p.98), or offer a potentially productive replacement of offline social models. The form of community that does emerge she defines as ‘networked individualism’ (p.99). Such network is formed around connections to people rather than geographical places, “the person has become the portal” (p.99), as she argues. Twitter then, can be proposed as producing a form of network sociality, where community is detached from location and becomes a self-oganised dynamic and self-evolving structure (Gerbe, 2007, p.2). The celebrity, the fan, and any information are all part of and inside the same network (Stalder, 2006, p.2). Rosa Braidotti’s conception (2006) of ‘nomadic subjectivity’ is relevant here, as the self becomes detached from location and part of a networked flow of information. Braidotti defines this as “a contested space of mutations that follow no technological directives and no moral imperatives” (p.4) which leads to an ethics that rests on “a non-unitary, nomadic, or rhizomatic view” (p.5). The rhizome, as outlined by Deleuze and Guattari, contrasts with a model of hierarchy. It is a system where any one point can connect to any other point, allowing for a multiplicity of possible outcomes (2007, p.8) In other words, rather than a rigid hierarchy, the movement and connections between fans, celebrities and information offers an alternative mode of producing identity, a way of opening up spaces where forms of subjectivity not necessarily based on existing relations can be explored. Senft focuses on how this leads in turn to a new system of ‘vouching’ for others as systems of ‘friending’ on a site like FaceBook come to replace the role of the neighbourhood in providing systems of reputation. The networked community formed is impulsive and instinctive and it necessitates the development of new forms of ethics (p.100). These ethics Senft formulates as ‘tele-ethicality’ (p.98), an ethical system, which requires the taking of risks in mediated communities. In the context of celebrity, Senft’s argument that the ‘person becomes the portal’ seems particularly valid. A celebrity can function as the locus around which an online community is formed, and this can take place at greater pace and scale as networked technologies develop.
Lori Kendall (2002) argues that online communities are important in creating a sense of contact with remote others and also in creating a vivid sense of place (p.6). The sense of place that is created is always layered. When online, in other words, we are always split in our attention, shifting between different ‘spaces’ real and virtual, never only immersed in cyberspace (p.8). Her work leads to a number of conclusions relating to this research. Firstly, she argues that the increase in interactivity and simultaneity (tweeting live for example) makes online interaction seem more ‘real’ than experiencing TV or magazine consumption (p.7). Putting aside questions of what does or should constitute reality, it can definitely be argued that the celebrity image on Twitter is different from that in a magazine or television broadcast. It could also be proposed, drawing on initial research into celebrity culture that these features of simultaneity and interactivity, which are fundamental to sites such as Twitter, add hugely to the ‘reality effect’ of celebrity, which is vital for producing the kind of identifications and seductions necessary for the efficient functioning of the celebrity image in consumer culture. A second point that can be taken from Kendall’s work is the multiple and performative sense of identity that is created online, “online participation enables the creation of multiple personae, facilitating varying presentations of the self” (p.8). While the celebrity image may be more regulated and controlled, there is space online for increasing multiple identifications on behalf of fans. The simple presentation of a male as female fan for example, serves to construct a notion of gender as constructed rather than essential. While Kendall argues that norms of gendered behaviour do persist online (p.11), there is still an increased sense of contingency, that it could just as easily be otherwise.
Ken Hillis (2006) has discussed how contemporary visual culture has created an image culture that “encourages people to identify as commodities and images”, and has a significant effect and impact on reconceptualising subjectivity and self identity (p.347). He argues, however, against the ‘utopian desires’ of the Western world to ascribe technology s a space of neutrality, where the body can be cast aside and reconfigured any way at all (p.351). He insists instead that user experiences with technology are always connected to the institutional interests of those technologies. Interactivity, rather than offering a form of freedom, scope for self-definition and rebalancing of the producer/consumer relationship is actually a way of inscribing the self more firmly into the economic interests of the industry, “interactivity operates as a strategy that increasingly directs people to speak through technologies and it sutures users more firmly to the economic interests these technologies represent” (p.351). Interactivity is not necessarily a form of empowerment, but is imbricated with the demands of consumer capitalism. It functions as a way of adding to the ‘vividness’ of promotional experience (p.351) and therefore functions as a way of producing more susceptible consumers.
3.3.3. The digital celebrity
Mary Flanagan traces the specific genealogy of the entirely digital star (computer game characters such as Lara Croft for example, who have been created as digital images but become celebrities in their own right), although her work can be expanded to include the celebrity in general within its realm. This in itself raises the question of what the difference between a celebrity such as Lindsay Lohan and one such as Lara Croft really is. It could be proposed that a connection to indexical reality bears no power in the definition of celebrity leading to a collapse in distinctions between what Flanagan defines as virtual or real stars. Flanagan argues, of the virtual star, that “the cinematic star as culturally produced body has evolved into a digital star system in which signifiers, identities, and bodies themselves are called into question” (p.298). She focuses on how processes of interactivity have changed the voyeuristic relation between celebrity and fan. With Lara Croft for example, we do not just watch her, but we control her. This, according to Flanagan’s argument, blurs definitions of subject, object, audience, director, viewer, participant, creator and user into such a new shape that new definitions must be found (p.298), creating “a unique axis of complex identification with the audience” (p.305). There are interesting parallels between Flanagan’s work and research on Twitter. On one hand, the representation of celebrity on Twitter has similarities with her virtual star, which is all ‘persona’ and nothing else. It raises the question of how forms of interactivity affect the relationship between celebrity and fan. On the other hand however, there are also important differences. Flanagan emphasizes how the absence of history and biography is vital for virtual stars. Celebrities on Twitter, on the other hand, are constructed from an excess of such information. Biographical information is taken to a level of detail unprecedented in other media forms, creating not a virtual star but an excessively real one.
3.3.4. Mass communication and consumption
Kelli Burns (2009) has written on how social media affect our consumption patterns in such a way that the very nature of popular culture is radically changed (p.ix). As discussed previously, Adorno and Horkheimer discussed popular culture in terms of the culture industry, which imposes its will on passive consumers. This contrasts in their definitions with ‘popular art’ which emerges from the masses (Burns, 2009, p.x). For Burns, however, with the rise of social media, this distinction can no longer hold, “although consumption and production are easily distinguishable within traditional media (hence the terms consumers and producers), a digital culture blurs the two processes” (p.x). As mass communication becomes more centralized, Burns argues, agreeing with Jenkins’ analysis above, users become more involved in both production and consumption, there are smaller and more intimate settings for the production of culture, and power swings away from large organizations and into the hands of the public. She discusses blogging, video sharing and social networking as examples of this shift in power (p.x), although it remains to be discussed whether this shift is really a huge change in power relations or merely another mode of exploiting consumers.
She goes on to analyse specific effects of new media on celebrity culture. In contrast with the traditional representation of celebrity in newspapers and magazines, blogging culture has created a more irreverent relation to stars. Bloggers may not have the same access as traditional magazines but they are able to cut out publicists and add personal commentary, creating a sense of increased ‘authenticity’ or ‘personal’ relation to celebrity (p.9). This can clearly be seen to have had an impact on modes of celebrity consumption on Twitter. Another factor pointed out by Burns is the collapsing of distinctions between media forms as increasingly traditional media come to realize the value of social networking and incorporate it into their own systems and websites (p.6). Burns discusses the fascination with the ordinary and mundane that has been fostered in an online environment. She gives the example of people taking photos of celebrities involved in mundane business such as using a restaurant toilet, and instantly posting them online, “the subtext of the mundane celebrity photos may be that the stars are just like us” (p.11). As discussed earlier, this is a vital effect of the discourses of realism and authenticity constructed around celebrity. What Burns’ research suggests is that online developments, including blogging but also Twitter, have intensified this fascination and desire for the mundane. She argues that while tabloid newspapers sell illusions of ideal stars, the internet adds to the reality myth, “the internet eroded the relationship between celebrity and entertainment media that has existed comfortably since the beginning of celebrity coverage” (p.12). While it could be argued that is not possible to make such a black and white distinction – magazines such as Heat are certainly implicated in the reality myth as much as they are implicated in selling ideals (Burn’s research suggests a US-centred focus here, where celebrity magazines are generally not as critical as those in the UK) – the internet certainly provides a space for constant and rapidly updating banality. This will be considered in more detail in the analysis. Burns makes reference to Twitter in terms of how its constantly updated reports are part of the reality myth of celebrity (p.13). Her research also suggests that increased interactivity is not always necessarily empowering, giving the example of fans used as citizen paparazzi (p.13), providing a way for the celebrity to achieve some free publicity while playing on the desires for ‘interaction’ of the fan.
3.3.5. The rise of Twitter
Cliff Atkinson has written specifically on Twitter, pointing out another feature of Twitter celebrity discourse in terms of how the site and its character restraint has shaped language and modes of communication, “Twitter text posts are so constrained in size they demand a certain writing style that gets to the point quickly” (p.3). This can be seen to impact on the form and language of media publicity, and so interaction and subject formation. He also points out the rather obvious, but useful, point that Twitter is used in different ways by different people. It is not only a case of updating the daily details of one’s life but the site can also provide a framework for linking to or discussing other news issues, as reflected in the site’s own decision to change the text in its input box from ‘what are you doing?’ to ‘what’s happening?’ (p.3). Such multiplicity of uses should be considered in the analysis. Another aspect Atkinson draws attention to is the importance of ‘liveness’ in Twitter (p.4). He gives the example of live-twittering when someone updates Twitter live from an event, but this point can be expanded as a general observation regarding the distinct form of celebrity produced by Twitter discourse. Liveness is an important element of identity construction across the platform. Atkinson argues, in the context of a fan live-twittering from an event, that it allows a more active way of engaging with media content , while also, however, leading to instantaneous and emotional Tweets, which can be regretted later (p.14). How such liveness can operate at the intersection between fan and celebrity will be explored more fully in the analysis section. The ‘backchannel’ he refers to in his title is a proposed way of challenging conventions of audience passivity and a platform for ‘speaking back’ to authoritative discourse. It is spontaneous, self-organised and can be destructive as well as enabling. How relevant this analysis can be to the relationship between fan and celebrity on Twitter will be examined further.
Not everyone sees Twitter as a radical shift in power relationships between producer and consumer. Colgan (2010) discusses how Kanye West’s choice to follow a fan inverts the expected hierarchy of celebrity Twitter use, which is not so different from other media forms, “Twitter is not a democracy. There are stars, and they have acolytes, which is pretty much the relationship we have with them on TV, or in magazines: they talk, we listen” (no page references). The distinction between passive consumers – ‘we’ -and the celebrities with their image controlled – ‘they’ – is maintained in her analysis, even though West’s move suggests that the relationship can be shifted and modulated. Others have written on how interaction on the site itself has affected people’s sense of self. Peggy Orenstein for example writes of being split between experience and documentation of experience, creating a constant sense of self-awareness:
Back in the 1950s, the sociologist Erving Goffman famously argued that all of life is performance: we act out a role in every interaction, adapting it based on the nature of the relationship or context at hand. Twitter has extended that metaphor to include aspects of our experience that used to be considered off-set. (Orenstein, cited in Kiss, 2010, no page reference)
One effect of this, as pointed out by Orenstein, is the breaking down of distinctions between public and private life. Another effect is a highly attuned sense of self-consciousness. In using Twitter, one becomes increasingly aware of the public production of the self in a conscious and self-aware manner. As Orlenstein argues, “each Twitter post seemed a tacit referendum on who I am, or at least who I believe myself to be” (2010, no page reference). Such state of perpetual performance may be one of the most important effects of Twitter in relation to the discourse of celebrity. The constant framing and staging of experience that Twitter use demands may not necessarily shift the balance of power between celebrity and fan, but it can create a greater self-awareness or self-consciousness of the playing out of identity through everyday routines. The fan, become part of this environment can gain a greater understanding of the performative constructed identity of the celebrity.
3.3.6. Self-reflexivity and performativity
In a sense, this increase in self-awareness over construction of identity encouraged by Twitter recalls Hutcheon’s (1998) analysis of ‘historiographic metafiction’ as a political potential within the postmodern for “problematizing the possibility of historical knowledge” (p.108). According to Hutcheon’s argument, strategies in fiction writing such as self-reflexive meta-narrative awareness, and the intermingling of fiction and history, can draw attention to the processes whereby histories, like fiction, are produced as narrative. This distances the reader, ‘denaturalizes’ or “de-doxifies”(p.75) the objectivity of history and allows for a critical focus on its modes of construction and the power interests involved. In relation to Twitter, it could be argued that an increase in self-awareness creates a similar critical awareness of narratives of identity, which can no longer be seen as natural and given in this context. This is an area of Twitter use, which remains largely theoretically unexplored.
In another sense, it also highlights the performative construction of identity across the platform. In one sense, this suggests that ‘interactivity’ is nothing new in new media dissemination of celebrity image, as all reading is inherently interactive anyway. In another sense, it could suggest new ways of interpreting interactivity as it is deployed in technological discourses. Gender, for example, could be re-negotiated in the networked context of online social media. The concept of performativity comes originally from the philosophy of language where J.L. Austin analysed language not purely in terms of what it means but also in terms of what it does (1975, p.6). In a marriage ceremony for example, to say the words ‘I do’ is not to describe something that is happening but to make it happen through the act of saying the words themselves. This would be, according to Austin’s definition, a performative utterance. His concept has been taken up within cultural theory mainly to describe how identity is not something given but is played out through everyday acts of ‘doing’ identity – i.e. performatively. Parker and Sedgwick for example (1995, p.2) have discussed ways in which identities are played out day-to-day and also potentially challenged through performative rituals. This can clearly include something like interacting with Twitter. Through the act of interaction, one’s identity is constructed. Celebrity is a vital element in how such performative identities are constructed, but it could be argued that Twitter, by self-consciously drawing attention to these performative processes offers a critical shift in their use and awareness.
One potential conclusion to be drawn from this collision between Hutcheon’s search for politics within the self-reflexive discourses of postmodernism, and Butler’s (1997) focus on the importance of performative process in the construction of gendered identity, is that, while all behaviour, following Butler, may be performative, there is a level of meta-performativity to Twitter use which Orenstein hints towards. While users may not necessarily be radically challenging existing structures, it could be argued that increased awareness of the performed nature of their social roles and interactions with others, in itself, suggests a critical space within the networks of consumerist-saturated celebrity culture.
After considering celebrity in general in the first section, this section has considered how developments in new-media specifically have affected celebrity culture. It started with an analysis of media convergence and its cultural impact, defined by Jenkins (2006a) as ‘convergence culture’. For Jenkins, developments in media technology have led to a shift in the balances of power between media consumers and media producers, challenging the traditional ‘top-down’ model of media consumption. Audiences are more migratory and have a more interactive experience than with traditional media forms, actively interacting and creating content to a far greater extent than ever before. This leads to the emergence of self-organised models of media community such as citizen journalism, which can act as a challenge to the authority of media organizations. Jenkins clearly sees this as a potentially radical development, and others have agreed. Lawsons-Borders (2006), for example, proposes that it opens up radical possibilities for redefinitions of relationships within the sphere of media. Developing this research to consider its impact upon the world of celebrity culture, oppositions can be seen between writers around notions of interactivity. There are those, on one hand, who see it as a radical shift. Flanagan (2007) explores how traditional roles are broken down in new media contexts, blurring traditional lines between producer and consumer. For Burns (2009), technological developments lead to a critique of the Frankfurt School model of the passive consumer and give more power and agency to the public in the construction and maintenance of self-identity. Kendall (2002) has also focused on how, in the context of new media and celebrity, the self is multiple, performative and split, allowing for greater variety in the modes of interaction between celebrity and fan. Atkinson (2009), writing specifically on Twitter, argues that it provides a space for audiences to ‘speak back’ to authority or to celebrities. On the other hand, however, there are those who are critical of reading too much or too hopefully into developments in interactivity. Colgan (2010) for example, proposes that on Twitter the same hierarchy as old media forms persists. There is no radical shift in the balance of power or agency between celebrity and fan. Zizek (1999) introduces the useful term of interpassivity, which can be taken to define activity, which seems active while actually functioning as passive. This can also be traced to its capitalist context, as Hillis (2006) does. He argues that interactivity adds to a sense of vividness in consuming celebrity, further encouraging susceptibility to consumption, rather than challenging the foundations of capitalist exchange. Interactivity is then a key concept to emerge from the research and its definitions, impacts and effects will be considered closely in this research.
Another key issue to emerge is shifts in definitions of the individual and community in the wake of social media. Concepts of network sociality (Gerbe, 2007), networked individualism (Senft, 2008), or nomadic subjectivity (Braidotti, 2006) were considered as an important context for relations on social media platforms. They suggest a model of networked community where both fan and celebrity ate part of, and contributing to the dynamic evolution of, the same network. This suggests that, structurally, there is an important shift from traditional hierarchies of consumption. This led to a focus on the celebrity Twitter experience itself, and the ways in which celebrity image is constructed on this specific platform. Realism becomes increasingly important leading to, as Burns (2009) proposes, a fascination with the mundane. While discourses of realism and authenticity were discussed as important in the first part of this review, they have accelerated and become something quite different in the context of Twitter, leading to new levels of mundanity. Other key aspects of the online relation to emerge, relating to redefining modes of realism, are vividness (Hillis, 2006), liveness (Atkinson, 2009), spontaneity and, as against Flanagan’s (2007) analysis of the digital star as simulacra detached from any indexical reality, an excess of biographical information leading to a seemingly more private and personal relationship. Twitter, as Atkinson points out (2009) also demands a new style, and so a new way of shaping the self and relating to the world. This is picked up by Orenstein (2010) in her analysis of the increased self-consciousness and self-awareness created by Twitter use. This has led to the proposed relevance here of discourses of self-reflexive meta-narrative awareness and performative construction of identity, suggesting potential ways in which Twitter experience could radically shift user experience.
PART FOUR: ANALYSIS
It is appropriate for analysis to focus on celebrities who are widely known and recognized primarily as celebrities, people whose celebrity status has, in Rojek’s terms, been ‘ascribed’ by the media, and who are familiar in the conventional celebrity media of gossip magazines such as Heat. While the construction of celebrity in fields of politics, culture and sport would provide an interesting topic and directions for further research, it will keep this research focused on its proposed research questions by focusing on such examples, allowing more of a direct comparison to be made between Twitter and conventional celebrity media. This methodology will also allow for more depth and focus of analysis, avoiding repetition of points, within the available scope and word limit. It also suggest potential for future development of research, drawing on the conclusions made here to see how Twitter has impacted upon other fields. As argued in the first part of the Literature Review, the dominant public perception of the celebrity is the ‘ascribed’ celebrity, rather than one who has achieved fame through sporting or political success. It is therefore the most valid type for analyzing impacts upon public interaction, interactivity and relation to ideology. This section, then, will take the questions and issues raised in Part Two and discuss them in relation to two case studies in this field. The first study is the American actress Lindsay Lohan – While Lohan gained initial fame as a child actress and continues to appear in films, she is most well known for tabloid and gossip magazine exposes of her personal life, which has included drug addiction, rehabilitation and jail (Siddique, 2010). It can therefore be argued that Lindsay Lohan’s celebrity image is primarily as a celebrity rather than an actress, making her an interesting choice for analyis. The second study is the young American singer Ke$ha. She provides an interesting point of comparison with Lohan as she comes from a younger generation, and her success has largely been achieved through the tactical use of social media networks (Edgcliffe-Johson, 2010). Her image can be seen as emerging from her Twitter profile, as well as her presence on other sites such as Myspace, rather than having a previously existing image which is then extended or modified through social media sites. In this sense she is part of a new generation of ‘Twitter natives’ who were born into the technology rather than later adopting it. How this affects her use of the media and the image constructed will be considered here. This section is split into three more parts – The Lindsay Lohan case-study; the Ke$ha case-study; and then a concluding section drawing the analysis together to make some comments on Twitter as a whole.
4.2. Lindsay Lohan and Twitter
4.2.1. Immediate impact of the page
At the time of writing, Lindsay Lohan had 926,856 followers on Twitter, and was following only 227. This seems to immediately confirm Colgan’s (2010) point that the same hierarchies of old media persist, with many people following one celebrity, who in turn does not follow many back. The immediate effect of her page (Lohan, 2010, all references here are to this site) is that of a stereotypical childish femininity. The colour scheme is mainly dark pink on light pink, signifying traditional femininity, and the background is made of a tiled image of a dreamlike kitsch painting of a fluffy animal and a little girl, suggesting innocence and relaxation with a vaguely surreal edge. The impact of first viewing this page marks a fundamental difference with consuming celebrity image on Twitter than in traditional print media. In, say, Heat magazine, the design scheme of each page would be subordinate to the overall magazine design of excess and sensation – constructed through bright colours, brash shouting slogans, collages of overlaying images and jagged edges. Here it can immediately be seen that the page acts as a space for Lohan to impose her ‘personal’ look and style on the page, and, interestingly, it is one in direct contrast with the brash sensationalism of Heat. The soft colours and soft edges provide a direct contrast with other representations, which may seem more out of her control. Looking further, there is an emphasis on creating an effect of authenticity. The top right of the screen is dominated by a sign reading ‘Verified Account’ with an accompanying logo. The effect of this is to guarantee that this is the ‘real’ Lindsay Lohan, adding to the reality effect (Marshall, 2006) in a very different and specific way to that created by traditional celebrity media. It also creates a sense of the ‘vividness’ discussed by Hillis (2006). One feels that a portal is being opened into a form of direct contact and interaction with the celebrity, in a far more intense way than through a magazine, which always creates the effect of being more filtered through different institutional agendas. Interestingly, this section also includes information on ‘location’, which is represented as a set of co-ordinates. On one hand, this seems to challenge Kendall’s (2002) point of the detachment from location and multiplicity of the self in cyberspace. On the other hand, by reducing it to a series of co-ordinates, it suggests a shift away from traditional understandings of locationality through being in a specific place. Also, it does not necessarily bear relation to where Lohan actually is located at any given moment. The emphasis on location really serves to support Kendall’s argument that we are never fully in one space – real or cyber – but split across different and overlapping spatial zones. Locational information is followed by a link to a website advertising a range of make-up, seeming to support Hillis’s (2006) argument that Twitter celebrity images still function primarily to encourage consumption. Lohan’s ‘Bio’ however suggests a difference from traditional media in a shift towards the potential for celebrity self-definition. While a fan reading a celebrity magazine would be likely to define Lohan in terms of her personal relationships and private life which appears regularly in the media, here a line is given for a more carefully managed identity construction, “actress designer musician director/writer/producer artist of many things… :)”. The bombasity of the description is undercut by the smiley face emoticon at the end creating a personal, intimate and friendly mode of address. The profile section of the page is completed with a photograph of Lohan, again differing from the typical shocking tabloid exposes of celebrities in magazines such as Heat. A focus then on the initial impact of the page and its profile box allows for a number of observations. There is an intense focus on the ‘personal’ to the point of creating a sense of idiosyncratic individualism. This can be seen not to challenge but to intensify Marshall’s (2006) argument that the celebrity is vital to the legitimising discourse of individualism necessary for the functioning of capitalism. As with sites such as MySpace of FaceBook, the celebrity’s Twitter homepage is carefully designed as a mode of ‘self-expression’ of a sovereign, authentic (and heavily authenticated) individual. This image of the individual is then used as a portal around which a community is formed and as a way of directing this community to identity through consumption (through following the link to the make-up range for example). A sharp contrast exists on the surface between Lohan’s celebrity image as a wild party girl produced in a magazine like Heat and the contemplative artistic image produced here. However, it could be questioned whether they function any differently. Both use an image of Lohan as the embodiment of certain positive or negative ideals in order to form a community around the consuming of certain products. Whether this changes when analyzing the dynamic nature of Lohan’s Tweets will be considered next.
4.2.2. Lohan’s use of tweets
Lohan’s Tweets break down into a number of related categories, suggesting the careful management of what is, to an extent, a multiple image. There is, firstly the image of Lohan as caring, working for animals and charity. She retweets a call for shelter to help pets affected by the BP oil spill for example (5:03 PM Jul 19th via web). This suggests a particular personal relation to the political – one centred around the emotional pull of domestic pets – that both adds to the effect of ‘personality’ (as an opposite to ‘impersonality’) and creates an image for Lohan as a morally ‘good’ person. This image is developed in other Tweets, “thank you @thebritishladyv from lindsay lohan’s team for being a part of working w/children in need today #makeadifference” (12:15 PM Jul 16th via web). Such an image, on the surface, seems to offer no difference from one constructed through industry press releases, and a contrast from the usual expose style of tabloid representations, developing Lohan’s caring image through the references to charity work. It is given another dimension however through the Twitter-specific nature of the construction. While appearing in public, on Lohan’s feed of Tweets, the message is directed to an individual ‘follower’ – thebritishladyv. This creates a strange relation between public and private, where the personalized effect of an individual message can create the effect of a stronger relationship from the perspective of one fan, but the message, along with its individuated focus, is staged as part of a broader public image. Whether or not this has a radical effect, it can be concluded that barriers between public and private forms of communication are broken down in Twitter, leading to the necessity of new definitions. The style of the Tweet, using abbreviation and lower case spelling of her name, adds to the effect of conversational intimacy as well as instantaneous ‘off-hand’ communication. These signifiers of off-the-cuff personal conversational chat are then mixed with the signifiers of public image on the page as a whole, creating a sense of the public self as a staging of the accumulation of a mass of fragments of more intimate moments. This is certainly a radical shift in notions of celebrity selfhood from that of previous media – in direct contrast with the gloss and sheen of tabloid magazine representation, the self is staged as a dense mass of personal networks. This leads to a form of ‘interactivity’, not necessarily in the utopian sense employed by some theorists, as discussed, but perhaps more as an extension of the ‘it could be you’ ideology’ into a mode of seeming empowerment in having a stake in construction of celebrity image. Anyone of the followers could join in the conversation and, crucially, as in this example, have their call acknowledged and returned, increasing the sense of being involved, not only in the project, but as being represented on Lohan’s page, their subjectivity confirmed as a ‘fan’ rather than as a shout into a void. Another element from this Tweet is its use of the hashtag ‘makeadifference’, a way or ordering Tweets into relevant topics. This provides an alternative ‘portal’ for accessing information, and creates, in a far stronger sense than other media, the impression of the celebrity image being one in a network of many portals of access. Lohan is one filter of information, traces of which coalesce into her promoted image, yet she is one filter among many – human or non-human, creating a shifting, mobile and modular redefinition of community. This community is developed through further discussions by fans, and by Lohan, via Tweets on her site, “@ilikeueilat you should just ask @bennjae what he thinks of the “rivers” of no return..”(10:02 AM Jul 13th via web). This networked flow of information is important as it suggests a system of which both Lohan and her fans are part – she does not stand outside of it in a transcendental position. This, actually, seems to be a fundamental distinction between Twitter and traditional media. A sense of ‘distance’ between star and fan, is, or appears to be, abolished. This then leads, developing suggestions from the Literature Review, to forms of ‘self-policing’ clustering around certain issues. This Tweet for example, “RT @Nortononline: Great that @lindsaylohan protects her fans and reminds them not to be fooled! Here’s more on (cont) http://tl.gd/2hpkc6” (7:17 PM Jul 15th via Twitlonger) is interesting in a number of ways. It intensifies the discourse of authenticity that seems so important on the site, creating an opposition between the falsity of ‘being fooled’ and the presumed ‘authentic experience’ offered by Lohan’s page. It also shows how modes of self-organisation do not necessarily lead to radical breaks with the categories and classifications of before. While the conversational tone and inclusive network nature of the conversation acts to break down barriers between ‘celebrity’ and ‘fan’, this barrier is re-established and affirmed by the fans’ use of language, situating Lohan as the ‘protector’ of reality.
This relationship between community and personal celebrity image is further developed in a different category of Lohan’s Tweets. These provide a way of filtering news information, and in her case, provide a personal relation to news items in which she is involved, “the only “bookings” that i’m familiar with are Disney Films, never thought that i’d be “booking” into Jail… eeeks” (4:49 PM Jul 19th via web). Here she refers to her time in jail for violating her parole. The story is also presented in other media forms. Siddique’s article in The Guardian for example is largely critical of Lohan for missing the required classes of her rehabilitation programme, as well as discussing social factors such as jail overcrowding in the US which aided her early release (Siddique, 2010). Lohan’s account, via Twitter, is of course completely different. Appearing as it does in a long ‘flat’ list of Tweets, the story receives no hierarchical positioning or fanfare, giving it the same weight as advertisements for perfume, or links to stories about pets. Lohan’s tone seems flippant, giving no sense of the presumed gravity of the situation. On one hand, the instantaneousness and personal nature of the Tweet can be seen as offering a more direct and immediate breaking of the news, yet it is questionable whether this necessarily signifies in any sense honesty or ‘reality’. The ‘dumbness’ of the Tweet seems as carefully staged as Lohan’s caring for animals image, a vital part of her celebrity ‘dumb-Blonde’ image and part of her ‘it could be you’ appeal for some fans, or her ironised ‘not like me’ appropriation by others. Making a parallel with a Disney film and concluding “eeks” is exactly what would be expected of Lohan according to her pre-established image in traditional media. Twitter, then, does offer an alternative take on news events, but it seems her, that celebrity image is not necessarily altered or affected by this.
A third category of Tweets includes the banality, “the beach is gorgeous today” (9:02 AM Jul 13th via web), and bitchiness, “in the words of 50 cent.. “You shouldn’t throw stones if you live in a glass house and if you got a glass jaw, you should watch yo mouth (8:51 AM Jul 13th via web) that creates an image of Lohan, as ‘just like anyone else’. A fourth category is primarily used for self-publicity, “Finally!! RT @iamMarkRonson: Yo Our song is finally out in the U.S.- http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/bang-bang-bang-feat-q-tip/id380675466” (4:18 AM Jul 13th via UberTwitter), while a fifth category is reserved for advertising, presumably refleting various corporate sponsorship deals that have been made, “Ok, last thing I want to say about FashionBay. Best, Site, Ever! http://bit.ly/9oak6G Ad” (4:00 AM Jul 19th via CelebTweetAds); “If you haven’t checked out FashionBay yet, you gotta do it!! It’s super awesome!! http://bit.ly/ahZ3FE Ad”. (10:18 AM Jul 16th via mobile web).
4.3. Ke$ha on Twitter
4.3.1. Immediate impact of the page
The American singer Ke$ha is less established as a celebrity than Lohan, but has achieved a high level of fame since 2009 with debut number one album and singles. She is an interesting case-study to analyse because it has been argued in the media that her rise to fame is due mainly to her strong social media presence and viral marketing campaigns including sites such as Twitter. Edgcliffe-Johnson (2010) for example discusses Ke$ha’s success as unique in the way that her single Tik Tok reached number one with no radio play, suggesting the importance instead of social networking sites and viral campaigns. The single was given away for free on MySpace for example, before it was released to buy. Edgcliffe-Johnson also reports how the ‘buzz’ about the single on social media sites was allowed to increase by the intentional delay in giving the single radio-play. The timing of release of the album for just after Christmas, in time for new ipod owners to upload new content, was another key factor in its success. He suggests that 18-22 yr old females are her target demographic, although it could be argued from the intense focus on activities such as illicit drinking in her songs and videos that the actual targeted demographic is much younger.
Unsurprisingly then, for a celebrity who has been so carefully managed in order to allow for the development of fans networks and appeal to a target demographic who are familiar and comfortable with the use of new technologies, Ke$ha has a strong presence on Twitter. With 711, 351 followers, she has nearly as many as Lindsay Lohan. Again, she follows only a very small percentage of this number – 65, suggesting again the validity of Colgan’s (2010) point over the persistence of old media forms of hierarchy. There are also other similarities, mainly due to the uniform elements of the Twitter interface – There is the tick icon signifiying ‘verified account’ for example, a link to Ke$ha’s own website and a tiled background. The choice of dinosaurs as tiles however suggests a difference from Lohan’s page’s design style, and the overall design of Ke$ha’s page, using mainly a range of blues, creates a far less ‘girly’ or feminine impact than Lohan’s. The combination of dark colours, masculine imagery and her publicity photo showing her smeared in dark eye make-up creates a different aesthetic, one that is more macho and ‘hard living party girl’ than Lohan’s intense femininity. While Lohan and her publicity team may wan to use her page to direct attention away from her image as bad party girl, Ke$ha’s, on the other hand, strikes as an attempt to actively create such an image for an up and coming celebrity.
4.3.2. Ke$ha’s use of tweets
Her use of tweets also provides an interesting contrast. There is more of an emphasis on general communication with fans for example, “I luvv my fans damnit u guys rule” (8:08 PM Aug 28th via Twitter for BlackBerry®); “Funfunfunfunfun tonight funfunfun thanks u crazy party animals u guys went mental!!” (9:59 PM Aug 26th via Twitter for BlackBerry®). Although this does exist with Lohan, it is more common with Ke$ha’s communication. Her colloquial tone and personal mode of address, describing the fans as “u guys” for example, as well as her exaggerated enthusiasm for ‘craziness’ serves to create a more coherent sense of community for those addressed. An identity is formed around the repetition of ‘guys’ and terms like ‘crazy party animals’ serving to re-enforce a group identity for those following her. By making the assumption that “u guys” refers to both Ke$ha’s followers on Twitter, and to the people attending her concerts, those who are following her yet not attending the concerts are made to feel excluded – not genuine ‘fans’ or part of the group, and therefore maximizing the increasing of consumer desire for gig tickets and merchandise. This shows a more subtle use of the media to promote the brand and sell objects. Rather than a direct link to a page selling linked products, which can easily be ignored or dismissed, Ke$ha’s page serves to create a community of ‘fans’ from a group of neutral ‘followers’, and allows the definition of how the fan should or should not behave to be asserted and maintained on the page. This is created not through direct injunctions but rather through creating an affective sense of what it feels like to be a Ke$ha fan.
This definition also includes the relation between the fans and Ke$ha herself, the intimacy of which is emphasized through the focus on revealing, as with Lohan, items of personal quirky information, “About to play the exact ballroom I took a 13 hour greyhound bus to when I was 15 to see the darkness play at. Same stage. Crazy.” (5:08 PM Aug 26th via Twitter for BlackBerry®). The effect of such details is to create a friendly sense of intimacy between the celebrity and the fan. She is represented here as simultaneously ‘just like you’ – riding the Greyhound bus to go and see a band, and ‘what you aspire to be’ – now playing on that same stage, suggesting that the importance of intermingled fantasy and reality in celebrity image has continued in the Twitter context. What has changed however, are the codes of realism and the different levels to which it is taken. Twitter may play on the same streotypes of celebrity, yet it provides a new platform for developing these stereotypes in a more immediate, mobile and intense-seeming way. Ke$ha also uses other strategies to create intimate relations between herself and fans, adding photographs of where she is at the time for example, “http://twitpic.com/2jkhgy – There’s a bird in the airport” (9:22 PM Aug 29th via Twitter for BlackBerry®). This photograph is particularly interesting. As a blurry snapshot of a bird, it signifies reality and authenticity, suggesting an off-hand non-constructed capturing of a moment, and producing a marker of connection where you are actually seeing exactly what the celebrity just saw. It also communicates elements of Ke$ha’s celebrity image. The focus on the overlooked detail for example signifies a sense of quirkiness and independence. The attention to the bird itself acts as an image for her caring nature and ‘cuteness’, while the mise-en-scene of the airport communicates a sense of the megastar, bored while jetsetting between international engagements. In other words, it is another mix of reality and fantasy. ‘It could be you (the fan)’ as it’s just a bird in an off-hand not very carefully composed composition, just like a photograph you may take, yet at the same time it is what you aspire to. The photograph doesn’t really challenge these codes although it does add an extra dimension to them. Some writers have talked of celebrity in terms of religion (Rojek, 2001) and the sense of closeness created by the image, where the fan can almost touch the actual place the celebrity has been, suggests a fetishisation of the photograph-object in a similar way to the use of relics by religious institutions. In a multimedia visual screen-based culture however, the fan does not physically touch something that the celebrity herself has touched, but the fan looks at the same piece of reality that the celebrity has just looked at. With the increase in liveness that Twitter allows, it may even be the case that you can look at this piece of reality at exactly the same time as the celebrity. Twitter, then, can be seen to take existing uses and constructions of celebrity image, and adapt them to such a multimedia visual context, using all available strategies to maximize the effectiveness of Twitter’s unique capabilities. Ke$ha’s use of the photograph here is an example of where she has done this in a more sophisticated way than Lohan’s page.
Unlike Lohan’s page, products are mentioned only briefly and not directly, “Blue lipstick.the new shit.” (9:15 PM Aug 25th via Twitter for BlackBerry®). This may again be part of a more subtle use of Twitter, to manipulate mood and affect, and create identities around these moods, rather than making direct appeals to buy products. It could also reflect Ke$ha’s younger fan demographic. While they would be unlikely to buy expensive handbags, they may still feel inspired to travel long distances in order to see the celebrity live. The focus, rather than on other products, is primarily on self-promotion, “http://www.mtv.com/ontv/vma/2010/ VOTE FUR MEEEE!!!!!!!!!!! all my foxy lil wild animals xxx i luv u allxx” (11:30 AM Aug 28th via web). Here the fan community is invoked and mobilized with a specific aim, in order to aid a vote for the celebrity. This use of direct invocation is another element specific to Twitter. When one has so many followers who can be communicated to at the touch of a button, the possibility exists for such mass organizing of group expression, and the direction of this expression towards specific goals.
The other main use of her Tweets is in the construction and maintenance of a specific self-image. While Lohan’s page offered the chance for the celebrity to challenge the image of herself that commonly appears in the media, the image created by Ke$ha’s page is remarkably similar to that in other media representations (Parsi, 2010 for example). While Lohan’s page offered a clean-cut ‘alterbative’ to her already established rock n roll image, Ke$ha’s page can be seen as part of the same mechanisms that attempt to create that rock n roll image in the first place. She makes a lot of sexual or nudity references for example, “Makin panties drop! In a days work….” (5:54 AM Aug 29th via Twitter for BlackBerry®); “@TheLadyLloyd its all took off. Except some nail polish babyyy ::sexy time::” (10:46 PM Aug 28th via Twitter for BlackBerry® in reply to TheLadyLloyd). Here. By directly making reference to her own lyrics she makes the direct link between the persona in her songs and videos – foul mouthed sexually explicit party girl, and that of the ‘real’ celebrity, rather than trying to challenge this. Perhaps as she is less of an established celebrity than Lohan, the focus is more on the construction of this image, rather than attempts to contain it when it starts to go to far and work against the intended celebrity function. The ‘bad girl’ image is as important for Ke$ha as it is important for Lohan to try and, partly, escape. This suggests another aspect of Twitter which is different from traditional media. The constant stream of messages allow the possibility of images to change and alter much more rapidly than they have been able to conventionally. Whether or not and how this happens would require further study over a much longer period of time, but it is an interesting area in which to consider further research.
The image produced from her page then is largely one-dimensional, largely co-inciding with her media ‘persona’ as constructed across other media channels. She is portrayed mainly as a ‘crazy party girl’, “Lost a boot. And some drunk wierdo peed in my other boot. Ohhh man. Memory lane.” (5:10 PM Aug 26th via Twitter for BlackBerry®); ”Too fun.waaay too fun” (5:07 PM Aug 26th via Twitter for BlackBerry®); “@gnlstudios PARTY” (10:04 PM Aug 24th via Twitter for BlackBerry®). Her mis-spelling, phonetic spelling, slang and colloquial tone serve to create a sense of unedited authenticity, of spoken excitement and of instant communication, all vital elements of both her persona and of Twitter communication itself, suggesting that perhaps the very nature of Twitter encourages and produces a particular construction of subjectivity – one based on the amassing of moments of personal conversational insight. The abandonment of some norms of spelling and grammar is used to create ‘personal’ style and becomes important in communication. Twitter does, as Atkinson discussed (2009) demand a new style of writing. This style also adds to Ke$ha’s ‘youthful’ image, in order to appeal to her target demographic. As well as the opposition between realism and fantasy which has been discussed throughout this project, Ke$ha’s image is constructed as to encapsulate a simultaneous signification of naïve innonence and knowing sexiness. This formula has been successfully employed in the construction of other female stars such as Britney Spears. Ke$ha’s page adopts these signifiers – blond hair, pout, party attitude and skimpy clothes – and uses them in the context of Twitter. Such posts referencing the desirable ‘party lifestyle’ are combined with other ones, seeming to have no specific reference, “Fat baby animals” (about 11 hours ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®), serving to create a more ‘quirky’ side to her persona as well as make the posts slightly less generic.
Ke$ha has discussed her party girl ‘persona’ in media interviews in a way that correlates with the image constructed via Twitter. She goes on however to argue that this image is “ironic” or “a joke” (Parsi, 2010), suggesting an interesting relation to it. While there seems very little irony in the personal authenticity-screaming style and content of her posts, Ke$ha proposes that there is an element of distance between herself and the constructed persona, leading to self-awareness in the construction of identity. This allows a return to the point discussed in the Literature Review in relation to Orenstein’s (2010) observations. The effect of celebrity image construction on Twitter has so far been discussed primarily in terms of its shift in style yet continuity in effect or ideology from previous representations. This intense self-awareness however, perhaps suggests something different. The style of constantly updated streams of information, from the perspective of both the fan and the celebrity, does serve to create an increased awareness of the performative nature of identity, and this could be used as a standpoint from which to critique the consumer culture in which celebrity is immersed. Ke$ha alludes to this through her insistence that she is being ‘ironic’ yet in order to consider the full impact of such a proposition, more qualitative secondary research would be required. Again, this suggests a potential direction for further study.
Considering the pages as case-studies in relation to Twitter a whole, it can be seen that there are certain elements that suggest a continuation with old-media models of celebrity representation and others that suggest breaks. The relationship of many following one for example, rather than a more open network with many people following many different people, is evident in both studies, suggesting that this relation is maintained throughout the Twitter celebrity network. The focus on authenticity and realism remains although, in both studies, this has changed in many ways. There is an increased focus on ‘personalisation’ in visual and linguistic style, serving to further create a sense of ‘individuality’ not subordinated to institutional structures. This personalized individuality, however, is then mobilized as a way of providing, in Lohan’s case, a portal to sales outlets, forming a community of consumers around it. In Ke$ha’s case, the community is formed more loosely, affectively and subtly and functions more around her own self-promotional activities. There have been changes from traditional media but these changes generally function in the same way to the same effect. This is true of much of both of the sites. There are changes, there is much more focus on liveness, on the intensity of experience, on direct contact with the celebrity and with interactivity, all of which have been discussed. There is an increased sense of mobility, and a surface breaking down of public and private distinctions. All of this serves not to challenge the traditional reality effect of celebrity discourse, however, but rather to create a new reality effect, which incorporates these elements. This is further emphasized in Ke$ha’s case through her use of photographs as discussed. Interactivity does not replace realism but becomes an important part of its definition, mobilized and set to use to similar consumerist ends as celebrity discourse previously. The main differences in the two examples are between Lohan’s attempt to challenge her existing media image and Ke$ha’s more active use of the site as a vital element in the construction of her media image. The Ke$ha example suggests more tendencies for future Twitter use within the celebrity field, as use increases and expands to reach more and more consumers. There is more variety in Lohan’s tweets, which vary in form and function a lot more than Ke$ha’s. This suggests that perhaps, as codes of Twitter communication become more established, the use of tweets will become more homogenized. Her page does seem more tactical, constructed as a vital part of creating, rather than just adding to, the Ke$ha brand It also makes it an interesting time to study the site now, however, as it is hugely popular yet there is no standard way to use the site, allowing for a multiplicity of uses and struggle over their normalisation. It was questioned in the Literature Review whether it is appropriate to adopt models taken from, for example, film theory, and apply them to what is essentially a very different phenomenological experience from watching a film, or, indeed, reading a magazine. It can be proposed that Twitter does provoke a specific mode of interaction – non-linear, distracted, interactive, or interpassive perhaps, and this mode of attention must be analysed in more detail, providing another level of depth to previous work on celebrity consumption. It was discussed here for example the use of images as ways not only of creating a sense of authenticity, but also of creating a sense of intimacy between celebrity and fan, allowing a look to be shared. This visual nature of social media could also be explored and analysed in more detail. A new language is also formed, as abbreviations and colloquialisms used either to fit within word limits, create a sense of speech, or challenge traditional written patterns, become more standardized. Whether or not this different mode of engagement changes anything fundamental in the celebrity / fan relation however is, according to this study, a questionable conclusion. Ke$ha hints towards the increase in self-awareness of performative identity construction discussed in the Literature Review, yet this is not evident from a reading of the page itself. Any real sense of critical or ironic distance, in both of the studies, is lost in the desire for an increase in liveness, closeness, authenticity, personal-ness and intimacy. It could be argued that, against the suggestion that Twitter provides a platform for critical distance of the construction of identity, it actually works to collapse critical distance further as the celebrity and fan disappear into the same network of reference. One way to develop these propositions would be a more in-depth analysis of how Twitter fans use the pages, whether they consider themselves as ironic consumers for example. In the wake of this analysis it is now possible to bring all the research together into a concluding section where the initial research questions will be addressed.
PART FIVE: CONCLUSION
It has been proposed throughout this research that the celebrity embodies certain roles, which operate as a medium for the proliferation of specific dominant cultural representations. The fan’s interaction with celebrity is a way of relating to these representations, which can be embraced, negotiated or contested. The question was then raised of whether, and how, this interaction changes when the fan-celebrity relation takes place through Twitter. The examples of Lohan and Ke$ha suggest that the celebrity image, in terms of the dominant cultural representations it embodies, has changed little over Twitter. Fan tweets suggest little negotiation of these representations, and, rather, forms of self-policing, to maintain the categories that are established. Certain aspects of the medium, as have emerged in both case-studies, are definitely fundamental changes. It creates a more interactive networked sense of community for example. This, however, does not necessarily lead to more freedom in negotiating or challenging cultural representations, serving rather to create a more vivid sense of realism and authenticity, which becomes a more intense part of an existing celebrity image. In this sense, Twitter functions as an intensifier of celebrity image, rather than a radical democratization of it. The potential of Twitter as a way of making instant remarks and links to other information is used primarily for commercial and marketing purposes, which are then internalized and reproduced (retweeted) through fans. The ways in which this is done differently in the two case-studies suggests that more subtle modes of forming communities of fans may be more effective than simply adding links to commercial sites. The answer to the question raised of whether the celebrity comes to represent something different when opened up to the public via Twitter would have to be, in this case, no. In terms of Rojek’s definition of ‘ascribed’ celebrity, Lohan’s image, for example, differs little from his analysis. The main way in which his categories could be expanded would be in terms of how the ‘ascription’ is given the veneer of ‘publicness’ rather than being represented as in the hands of an institution. The combination of internalized self-policing, and the selection and exclusion of Tweets on the site serve to ascribe an image that varies little from Lohan’s previously existing celebrity image. A difference does lie, however, in the way this ascription is presented. Rather than the media functioning as ‘other’ to fans, they exist as part of the same network, necessitating the incorporation of networked definitions of community individuality and sociality into concepts of ascription. The overlap between previous existing image and Twitter image is even stronger in the Ke$has example, where Twitter is used as the primary source of identity-production.
It was also argued that the discourse of celebrity is inherently political. It promotes the norms of society, a discourse of individualism and a celebration of consumer capitalism. Celebrities achieve this value, it was argued, through the twin deployment of realism and fantasy. With regard to Twitter, again, this situation has been taken into account without radically changing. Lohan still embodies, for example, the gender norms of femininity, through her discussions of make-up and image of ‘dumbness’. This could be interpreted as a challenge to feminism, encouraging female fans to focus on consumption of beauty products rather than independence or intellectual development. How this image is created has change subtly, mainly because the notion of ‘realism’ has changed in relation to the new-media context. Reality is, again, intensified, through the rapid accumulation of information, opinion, facts and opportunities for interactive engagement. The effect of this ‘reality’, however, seems little different than in print media representations. Ke$ha’s image may be seen on the surface to challenge this, yet it still occupies an easily marketable and commodifiable form. The ideology of ‘it could be you’ still exists, yet it is developed into a space where fans can have more access to virtually ‘touching’ the celebrity through modes of interaction. This is developed more in Ke$ha’s use of the page through, for example, her use of photographs. The glamour and sheen aspect of fantasy lifestyle prevalent in tabloid celebrity media is evident far less, reflecting a definite shift in the fantasy/reality balance. This can be seen to reflect a realization that the most effective way to mobilize a fanbase is not to distance them but to incorporate them into a more subtle system of control. This can be understood as the formation of communities rather than the disciplinary organization of regulatory rules. Topping (2010), for example, has discussed how the music industry is changing due to the rise of social networking websites such as Twitter. Self-organised communities of fans, she argues, now have more power than figures such as industry A&R men in making or breaking music celebrity careers. While it is certainly the case that, not only the music industry, but the celebrity industry as a whole is rapidly changing in relation to new media forms such as Twitter, it must also be considered how these ‘self-organised’ communities are formed, manipulated and put to use through the specific possibilities of sites such as Twitter. It is not necessarily the case that ‘fan power’ is a radical shift in the balance of power, but rather that it raises new and critical questions in relation to the media construction of celebrity image. It was also discussed how this can take place not simply by telling fans what to do, but often by creating an image which focuses on a certain feeling of what it is like to be a fan, and using this as a motivating factor.
Following on from this, the relation between celebrity and fan, or media consumer and media image, was considered in more detail. While Frankfurt School critics (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944) have argued that the Culture Industry imposes its will on passive consumers, others such as Dyer (2006) or Mayne (1993) have proposed that, actually, audiences, or fans, have more agency in the negotiation with received celebrity image, allowing, for example, that fans can re-appropriate celebrity images and use them in a different way. While Twitter seems to offer the potential for increased appropriation of celebrity image, this does not seem to have been the case in the Lindsay Lohan or Ke$ha examples. The claim made by others (Rojek, 2001; Marshall, 2006), who emphasized that the fan and celebrity are both part of the same capitalist network so any re-appropriation would be unlikely to have radical political effect, seems more relevant in this context. The modes of re-appropriation have developed and altered, yet the structure appears not to have radically changed. This seems to support the argument of Hillis (2006) suggesting that, while the Twitter experience is different, this very difference is used as part of re-articulating a form of celebrity identity which still operates within the same power interests as before. Zizek’s (1999) concept of ‘interpassivity’ is useful here in analyzing how fans feel that they are engaging in a more real, authentic and vivid way with the celebrity without actually having much agency or changing existing structures. The utopianism of some writers, as discussed, seems misplaced in the wake of the analysis. It could be further tested however, through further exploration, analysis and examples in future research. While key aspects of the Twitter experience, such as liveness, authenticity, closeness and spontaneity have emerged from the analysis, this presents itself as a new style and form of engagement rather than necessarily a new mode of engagement with the power structures at play in celebrity culture. One reason for this however could be in the mode of analysis employed. It may be difficult, from the perspective of ‘reading’ either of the pages analysed here to detect any more subtle shifts in consumer consumption. In order to analyse potential metafictional self-awareness of identity, for example, and any impact this may have on celebrity culture discourse, further research would be required in terms of interviews with selected Twitter users. This, again, suggests directions for further research. Interviews could be employed in order to gain more detailed information and knowledge on exactly how users are relating to the pages they engage with.
Finally then, it is possible to return to the initial thesis and research questions. Twitter has impacted upon the discourse of celebrity culture, but this study has been able to analyse this primarily in terms of a formal mode of interaction. This has led to the conclusion that, while the act of identity construction does take place in a different way from other media, its effects, and relation to capitalism and consumer society are the same. The active construction of fan identity is subsumed under a general sense of self-policing of community, and interactivity has ultimately become part of the commodified identity of the celebrity and its social effects, rather than a radical challenge to existing structures. It is still, however, an important development, which is itself changing as effects of social media impact upon the celebrity industry as a whole. The new forms of identity that are played out across the site have not necessarily suggested new forms of political organization, although potential does remain, through further study and research, to analyse them in more detail, and in differing contexts.
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