Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269).
Burgess and Green suggest there are two types of DIY celebrity that become successful over YouTube (2009, 22-4). One is the ‘ordinary person [who] gains access to the modes of representation of the mass media, making the transition [from their ordinary world] into the “media world”’ (22) and the other is the internally-based YouTube sensation. YouTube is certainly a realm of its own in which amateur video often becomes famous.
It is easiest to describe the typical YouTube home movie as a genre of its own; it is neither the type of footage seen on television (production and length are scrappy, to say the least) nor seen in the cinema. Yet it is these characteristics of YouTube videos that seem to attract viewers- perhaps the sensation that the privacy barrier has been broken down and that the person in the video could be your neighbour. Or the fact that comic relief doesn’t have to be professionally presented- it is found in everyday life, in your bedroom or your kitchen. As quoted by Kornblu, it’s ‘spontaneous and natural…it makes people remember when they were young (and danced in front of the mirror)’ (in Burgess & Green, 2008, 26). A perfect example of this is the ‘Hey’ clip, of two young girls singing in their bedroom.
It is also true that, as mentioned above, YouTube sensations have ended up in the wider world of the mass media. These clips are usually the type produced in a more professional style, in which the talent of the identified “star” is more of the attraction, rather than the video itself. Singer, Susan Boyle, who sold over 9 million copies of her first album after a Britain’s Got Talent clip went viral over YouTube, is one example.
It is not true, however, that all celebrities remain within the YouTube sphere. Stephen Downes argues that YouTube has helped launch political careers. The following video helped launch a successful career, too, NOT in the realm of the mass media.
In January of this year a local news reporter in Columbus, Ohio, posted a video on YouTube of 53 year-old, Ted Williams, a local homeless man with a distinctive, refined voice, appropriate (if not ideal) for radio.
The video gathered 5.3 million views within 48 hours and Mr Williams received numerous job offers as a result- one such offer was a two-year contract from the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers which included living expenses. This was a great turn-around for Mr Williams who had been homeless as a result of drug abuse and whose mother was able to get in contact with him again after many years of separation.
The video is produced in an amateur style. There is clearly no adaptation of the available lighting, there is no tripod used (the camera shakes and Williams is not positioned within the frame at any particular spot– in fact the top of his head is cut off at times) and the sound quality is nothing extraordinary, although good enough for the viewers to hear the man’s voice.
I attribute the success (over 13million views as of 4th May, 2011) of the video to the following factors:
1) It surprises the audience: Williams embodies the stereotypical characteristics of a homeless person; unkempt hair, gaps in his rotting teeth, shabby clothing, and with this image comes the assumption that he is hopeless, dirty, uneducated and associated with drugs or violence etc…
So when Williams begins to speak, with a voice much clearer and
more refined than those of even well-educated citizens, the audience is not only surprised but encouraged to think about the flaws of their prejudice.
2) Williams addresses the audience directly. The camera-man stays behind the camera (never revealing his own identity) and films Williams completely alone, face-to-face. The consequent effect is that the viewer feels like it is he or she who is on the opposite end of the conversation rather than the camera-man. This heightens the intimacy the viewer has with the video. 3) It is no surprise then, that the clip moves people more than an interview in a formal setting or with a host might. The video appeals to sympathy. Williams is portrayed as grateful and gracious to the camera-man (or the viewer), his manners, like his voice, completely unexpected.
YouTube produces stars in two genres: the YouTube genre (the amateur star who, in most cases, is willing to make a fool of him or herself) and the professional genre (the star who is noticed on YouTube for his or her genuine talent). It may just be coincidence that many of the latter stars are interested in an area that constitutes the mass media. But it is not true that YouTube only produces stars who stay within the media realm. Ted Williams is an example of this.
Downs, S. ‘Places to Go: YouTube’ in Innovate (http://innovateonli
ne.info) 2008, 4 (5) http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=633
Youngs, Ian (18 January 2010). “Why Susan Boyle was snubbed by the Brit Awards”. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8466868.stm. Retrieved 19 January 2010.
Burgess, Jean & Green, Joshua, ‘YouTube and The Mainstream Media’ in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009, pp.15-37