The Definition of a Celebrity

Internet influencers are just as valid as TV celebrities to enter mainstream media.

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“Our media is being polluted by the mediocre.” This sentiment has been some people’s response to influencers on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook making their way into red carpet events, reality shows, music videos, and even the Met Gala. These influencers are usually different from TV celebrities because they aren’t trained for the camera, leading them to appear more human or relatable. This imagined familiarity can lead to influencers being regarded as less “serious,” “talented,” or “deserving” than the celebrities we see on TV. Consequently, influencers feel constant pressure to prove their worth, which people are quick to dismiss as simply luck or privilege. This association may be partially true, as conventional beauty can be a deciding factor in popularity, but it doesn’t explain the generous attitude we have for TV celebrities who are just as lucky to be scouted and recognized by Disney, Netflix, or some major agency. The responsibility that people have in producing content should be addressed fairly, as both TV and Internet celebrities are capable of influencing the views of others, with influencers providing a unique perspective into our current media landscape.

The only real difference between the celebrities we see on TV and the ones we see on social media is that social media stars often do not belong, or did not originally belong, to an agency. Our difference in attitude when approaching Internet celebrities might be because of how accessible viewing and uploading content on the Internet is. The large platforms that influencers build seem achievable; becoming an influencer is an opportunity that seems readily available to everyone. The emphasis on relatability that influencers put on their content, combined with the frequency and larger amount of content, makes influencers feel closer to us and harder to idolize. This position makes it easier to see their flaws and point out small mistakes we would otherwise ignore in celebrities we respect more.

The inclusive nature of the Internet doesn’t justify the extensive criticism influencers receive. Rather, it shows how we aren’t used to relating to people we see on mainstream media. Movies and TV shows are refined and deliberately crafted, which means they don’t accurately reflect the lives of most people, especially when agencies specifically choose people the public thinks of as extraordinary. Influencers appearing on mainstream media and even at exclusive events like the Met Gala broadens our media spectrum to include a greater diversity of people. Influencers can fill the voids of media representation, and the Internet provides the chance to show off talents that would otherwise go unappreciated and lives that aren’t flawless. The argument that influencers produce content effortlessly isn’t true either; independent influencers need to be their own crews, cameramen, scriptwriters, and actors. To build a fandom, influencers need to be patient, consistently satisfy their viewers with new, relevant content, and accompany their social media careers with other jobs for steady income at the start of their journeys.

That being said, both Internet and TV celebrities can produce negative content that encourages sexism, racism, ageism, and other forms of discrimination. They can fetishize, objectify, and even commit crimes without losing their viewers, and it can seem infuriating that these types of people are allowed the chance to gain a fortune. These people should be punished and should not be allowed a platform that is especially saturated with young people. However, we shouldn’t direct this fury toward all celebrities, especially when they make an effort to leave a positive impact. For example, TikTok dancers like Charlie D’Amelio are mocked for rejecting their true dance style and dumbing it down for viewers, but the dance challenges they create are interactive trends that many people can participate in and enjoy. The values that celebrities contribute to the media may be different, especially when they come from different platforms, but these differences should be embraced and not rejected.

As the Internet’s presence makes its way outside of the digital world, our definition of a celebrity needs to change. Self-expression has always been one of the primary purposes for media, and as long as people have the passion and the patience, their content doesn’t need to be validated by an agency standing behind them.