Becoming a celebrity used to be primarily reserved for the wealthy. It was based in nepotism and California. However, social media has fundamentally altered the way that celebrities are created.
Now, anyone with a phone can become famous. Even in North Carolina. Even at UNC.
For example, UNC first-year student Briggs Edwards is one such TikToker that has come into stardom. Some of his videos have reached more than 7.5 million views. UNC senior Rachel Dean is another TikToker that has amassed a significant following. She has over 700,000 followers and has culminated over 55 million likes across her content.
The impact of this content exceeds TikTok. Different social media platforms and outlets cover the stories popularized by the app, and when an individual becomes famous on one social media app, their popularity on others is almost inevitable. Their stardom becomes a real, tangible thing that influences other areas of their life.
Oftentimes, this happens due to TikTok's fast-paced trend cycles and short-form content. TikTok lends itself to the creation of unique subcultures. And the app's algorithm perpetuates this media to an interested audience, encouraging creators to produce similar content.
Nearly anything and everything has become a TikTok subculture, from Emily Mariko’s salmon rice bowl to the infamous interaction between “Couch Boy” and his girlfriend. When a TikToker becomes involved in one of these algorithmic jackpots, their content is shared and perpetuated by other creators in an exponential way.
This fast-paced fame is unique in that it is different from how we have historically consumed digital media. In the past, a television show or film would be produced over a period of months, or more likely, years. Consumers would view the content, and wait for the sequel.
Fame as a result of this content was more stable and less fleeting. Now, media content can be generated within minutes and avalanche overnight, launching an average person into stardom and, potentially just as quickly, launching them out.
Due to the only increasing impact that social media has on our lives, celebrity culture is shifting from including only industry-raised artists such as actors and musicians to including everyday influencers.
This democratization of celebrity culture is perhaps positive. It allows more people to succeed in the entertainment industry and diversifies the voices we hear. However, the impact of this fame potentially has some damaging effects on individuals and consumers.
Consumer culture is when the consumption of goods or services is so ingrained into a society that it is a central focus of daily activity. The United States is one of the biggest examples of a nation with consumer culture. And social media seems to be inflating such an emphasis — except instead of items, we are consuming digital content of the creators it features.
Because fame is now so accessible, everyday people are encouraged and occasionally expected to “brand” themselves and their content. Hashtags and trending concepts only help to further the viability of blowing up online. The landscape of digital communication is one where even young children are trained to produce consumable content to an audience, with the promise of potential fame. And if one falls out of stardom, it can harm their self-image, even though the drop in popularity often has nothing to do with them.
Ultimately, people are not meant to be consumed or branded and doing so can yield unhealthy expectations for what mundane life looks like. Unlike consumable goods, people are meant to be malleable.
While everyday people continue to become more and more popular, it's important to recognize that at the end of the day, they are just people. Treating celebrities of all origins with humanity and grace is critical, and refusing to put individuals on a pedestal benefits everyone.
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