Celebrity 2.0 – the greatest story never told September 19, 2008Posted by David Gillespie in philosophy, work/life.
Tags: Madonna, Michael Jackson
This is the third post in my series on the A – Z of 2.0.
The idea of being a celebrity is an odd one. Becoming so appreciated for something by so many people that your reality is cocked permanently at an angle is not something I can imagine too many people signing up for. But of course that’s not what most people sign up for; they generally sign up for the only thing that comes naturally to them.
Celebrities are invariably generated out of the mediums that are hardest to work in, but they’re also generated based on the potential audience for that medium. I imagine there are glass-blowers who go to industry events and are fawned over by the glass-blowing community and press; outside of that in their day to day lives they wait in line at the coffee house like everybody else.
The size of your celebrity is directly proportionate to the potential market. Which is why actors and musicians are the biggest celebrities; everybody loves music, and everyone likes a story.
Indeed story-telling is the most interesting part. We humans are nothing without our stories, without the narratives we impose upon our day to day lives under the guise of seeking greater meaning or understanding. The people we elect (via our retail dollar) to tell us their stories and to re-interpret our own are given tremendous power over the popular psyche, but it is within the story-telling that the downfall of celebrity comes.
Imagine two books; one taught and calculated at each point, a page turner if you will. The other is a combination of two things; the most incredible and fantastic first half of a novel ever written, followed up by a second half where the main character is unrecognisable from the one you fell in love with in the opening pages. The first book you savour the whole way through, somehow never quite managing to get closer to the end, the other you continue to read only out of habit.
The first book is Madonna.
The second is Michael Jackson.
Madonna’s celebrity has remained where it is because she never let you finish the book. You didn’t get to the end, and you never know quite what she is going to do next. She understands the power of the story and she knows for it to continue there have to be plot-twists that nobody saw coming. She crafts her story to never quite be complete, and the telling of it has been one of the great celebrity stories of our time.
Contrasted with Michael Jackson, whose story we ceased to care about as the main character became someone we could neither identify nor empathise with. In the greatest stories, or what Joseph Campbell wrote about in The Hero’s Journey, the notion of the everyman who rises above impossible odds to win the day is ageless and endlessly appealing because it taps into aspiration, one of the few things that doesn’t fade with age or money; everyone aspires to something.
Going back to our books, you have to make the reader care enough to want to see the next page. Always leave ’em wanting more the old saying goes. The issue with that in the 2.0 era is celebrity is a decidedly 1.0 idea. Clive James even argues in Fame in the 20th Century that fame as we know it wasn’t possible until the invention of mass media.
If indeed it is a product of the 1900’s and the broadcast industries, how does the idea of celebrity change when I can consume as much media as I can get my hands on, featuring the person I want to know about? Previously I would wait for their face to show up on the cover of a magazine or a TV show, now I google their name and gobble up anything I can find. This is where the line gets drawn between famous and celebrity; one is sought after, one is simply recognisable.
If we were to approach Celebrity 2.0 with the same notion of open beating closed, then we would have to accept shorter life spans for our celebrities. By opening up, the whole book is revealed to get through as quickly as you want. You can’t unread the words of pages already past, and once you know all there is to know, what’s left?
In 2.0, as in 1.0, necessity is the mother of re-invention. In 2.0 we don’t have interactions, we have micro-interactions, and each needs to offer a different part of the story. As in 1.0, you can never give complete access, although complete access can be given to a singe thing at a single time; multiple touch-points, music, books, TV, film, web, it is transmedia planning applied to a human being, all extending the celebrity touch without ever revealing the whole. A video blog that references a day in the studio for an album you won’t hear for some time to come, in a break from a movie you haven’t seen yet, housed on a personal site away from the official Hollywood presence. You don’t finish a book, just a small volume in a series numbered one to infinity.
The only question for Celebrity 2.0 is, with all that other stuff going on, who’ll have the time to tell stories anymore?