Evan Heitkamp Boucher is a WRITER AND POLITICAL SCIENCE LECTURER BASED IN GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA

Intimacy and Celebrity Culture

Over the past twenty years new interaction discourse between content producer and content consumer erodes a sense of self relative to culture consumption. Instead of consuming a piece of media, you’re consuming the personal brand of the players in that media.

Probably the best example of this situation is through the gossip media’s rancor about Twilight actors’ Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. In the aftermath of an affair between the film’s director and Stewart while the latter was dating Pattinson, it was a relatively normal thing for random individuals on the street to refer to themselves as “team Edward” for Pattison or “team Bella” for Stewart - please kill me - and then constantly reevaluate who you choose in your Manichean world of necessary animosity and feverish support. The fans became part of the unfolding drama as their support helped them feel an agency in the media as the gossip rags published additional material to encourage people to change sides.

On the other side of these relationships, content producers starve or thrive on their capacity to engender a seemingly intimate relationship with content consumers: Jennifer Lawrence is just like the rest of us; she gets drunk and trips up stairs! PWR BTTM is about inclusion in the music industry! Lena Dunham speaks to the ennui all of us feel in our New York lives! Ben Shapiro perfectly encapsulates my oppression as a conservative at college!

The consumer-producer relationship is toxic on many levels.

On one hand, having consumers of your work constantly dictate terms about how you should live your life is obviously unhealthy. Somehow, fame, regardless of how minor, transforms basic human social norms for those who enjoy the creator’s content. No one - okay, most people - wouldn’t demand random people on the street conform to a certain set of values and opinions, but apparently once enough people have listened to your music, you forgo those rights. Who the fuck demands a stranger decades older than you to go to a secondary school dance with you?

On the other hand, there is a yawning gulf between how much fans care about the creator and how much the creator cares about his fans. Twitter and Snapchat are so popular with celebrities and media people over Facebook for a reason: these programs are unilateral. Facebook, with its mutual friendship and messy engagement requirements, is hardly conducive to crafting a personal brand. Still, whenever a critique comes out about a musician, writer, businessman (in the case of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk), or actor, there is a horde of fans at the ready to go after the offending critic. As the fan identifies so strongly with the content producer, the content producer is entirely unaware of the fan, absent severe invasions of privacy.

The personal brand is the natural social extension of a rended capitalist social structure as income and relationship security deteriorates, but that doesn’t mean people need to participate.

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