Fame and fortune has reached lengths we’ve never imagined.
Credit to Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” — Andy Warhol, possibly
The sixties. Warhol is believed to have uttered these famous words in the sixties.
When we think of the sixties and think of celebs, we think of the greats: Elizabeth Taylor, Sidney Poitier, Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, and Barbara Streisand to name a ‘small’ few. The era of the sixties and the elements that make it a notable period both culturally and politically can not be overlooked.
When discussing the realm of entertainment specifically, the Bell-bottom era was dominated by icons who had spent a significant portion of their lives crafting their talents and hoping to be discovered.
Fame and fortune in a time when it took the backing of major corporations were hard to come by. We know the golden story of a hopeful, stardom-chasing talent who decided to take a leap of faith and leave their small-town lives behind to chase success in Hollywood.
There was also an incredibly slim chance that you could be discovered given that you were at the right place at exactly the right time. After finally finding someone with just enough connections and resources willing to take a bet on you, it was time to aim for the stars.
With an immense amount of dedication, talent, luck, and hopefully a little nepotism, people could make it from “rags to riches.”
It would be hard to believe that one day, fame was only a button away.
After all, the first smartphone wouldn’t be invented until 1994. The internet wouldn’t become popularized until this year as well. Facebook came a decade later.
In the years following the sixties, a great evolution of pop culture and technology would be underway. Media has always been the channel through which we consume pop culture, albeit TV, Film, Books, Magazines, Radio, etc. As time went on, the advent of the internet became a revolutionary figure in the way we consume information in a way that no one could’ve predicted. Outside of entertainment, we are kept abreast of the latest in News, Politics, Sports, and anything else we please.
In a world where we’ve become so connected, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the title of ‘celebrity’ has become much more accessible as well.
Let’s start from the Beginning
What is an influencer? What is a content creator? Is there a difference? Why do people want fame?
As defined by Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries (that’s how legit of a term and job it is now), “a person or thing that influences somebody/something, especially a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by recommending it on social media”. According to Wikipedia, Content creation is the contribution of information to any media and most especially to digital media for an end-user/audience in specific contexts.
No matter how you define it, it can be agreed upon that both terms are often used interchangeably to refer to someone with at least a sizeable social media following. Or in other words, an internet celebrity.
The term “influencer” has been around for centuries but has recently adopted a new meaning in regards to how it is often used in conversation. How we use it today became mainstream in the mid-2010s. This was around the time it was added to Dictionary.com about the profession.
Celebrities one time ago had an allure to them. They were mysterious. Their lives were an enigma. Access to them and their personas were very rarely allowed even after getting past a full management team, publicists, assistants, etc. It was an event to be able to witness them in their glory displaying their talents. The concept of the traditional celebrity was a much bigger deal back then because many celebrities often played up a grandiose image of their authentic selves.
No matter who they were and what they were trying to sell, there was an entire brand that was crafted around who they were created to be.
But today? Well. Anyone and everyone can be a celebrity through social media. And trust me, the idea of becoming a social media personality is becoming more and more popular by the day.
CBS News published an article in 2019 entitled 86 percent of young Americans want to be a social media influencer. It’s a career that has a massive appeal to our younger population.
The first true social media platform is widely regarded to be Six Degrees. It was close enough to what we consider social media today. It was launched in 1997 and amassed nearly four million registered users. It was branded as a site that brought people closer together since it was inspired by the six handshakes theory. Anyone you could think of was theoretically connected to you via a network of six people. After a short-lived three-year life span, the site fell off in 2000. To get more of an in-depth idea of what Six degrees was, you can read Fahim Arsad Nafis’ Medium article here.
The origins of the influencer as we know it can be traced back to the 2000s and Youtube. Back when Youtube was founded in 2005, being an influencer wasn’t the primary agenda of people starting Youtube channels. People wanted to connect with family and friends and show them what they were up to. Content on the platform was far from the product-sponsored, ad-sense-filled, micro-celebrity hub we know it to be today.
There were skits, parodies, cat videos, and other one-time viral sensations. Pretty wholesome content.
The first influx of influencers also referred to as “The Influencer Phenomenon”, began four years after Youtube had been established. Many of the biggest creators at the time — some affectionately referred to as part of the ‘British invasion’ — included Casper Lee, Jenna Marbles, Ryan Higa, Michelle Phan, PewDiePie, Zoella, and so on.
The growth of creators was impressive, and Youtube itself was even more mind-boggling. When many of the creators we consider veterans on the platform began, monetization wasn’t a thing and fame was still a far-fetched concept. People just made content because it made them happy. It was about helping others, showing your passions/interests, and connecting with a larger community.
A year after Youtube was established, Instagram had been launched. It had the same organic beginnings and purpose — people wanted to connect. Our timelines were filled with casual posts from family and friends showing us their morning coffee, the scenery at the beach, and their holiday celebrations.
Nothing fancy, just the simple day-to-day life.
Other platforms that were earlier forms of social media like MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn were also quickly growing in prominence but weren’t the home of the social media star.
The Rise of The Influencer
The late 2000s to early 2010s version of social media platforms that we look back on in nostalgia are no more.
So what happened?
Today’s social media apps have become spaces that act as an advertisement goldmine that has an incredibly high consumer-to-customer pipeline. They are filled with carefully scripted, edited, and produced content.
Instagram and Youtube are no longer simple applications made with the intention of networking. They are the employers of millions of people across the world who have amassed a following that they can create a livelihood out of.
According to the Influencer Marketing Hub, Influencer marketing is estimated to become valued at $16.4b in 2022.
A profession that didn’t exist over a decade ago has now become a trailblazer in professional arenas.
What’s even better is that the barrier to influencer fame is relatively low. All you need is a cellphone, social media account, and an internet connection.
Fame and influence go hand in hand. The same reason people wanted to be celebs yesterday is the same reason most people want to become influencers today. Many people, regardless of specific traits, seek approval and validation from those around them.
In layman’s terms, it feels nice to be liked by people.
A sense of belonging and adoration is wanted by most people. It’s a natural desire that is hardwired into us.
There is also a number of others perks that are said to be closely related to fame. We want to be desired by others. Some want to give back to those in need. Exclusivity is also desirable because of its correlation to superiority. Financial security (or an excess of it) is also a very big driver in the reason why people want fame.
It comes as no surprise that there is a considerable amount of money to be made as an influencer.
On Instagram, creators typically make most of their money from sponsored posts. A major brand will reach out to an influencer whose content relatively falls within their product or service line, propose a collaboration, and then exchange products, services, or money with them for a post. You can also directly sell a product to a consumer, promote affiliate links or make use of the monetization tool Instagram seems to be launching.
It’s that simple.
Youtubers, on the other hand, additionally don’t only depend on the discretion of major companies to make a dollar. Youtube’s Partner Program is a project run by the company itself as a means of compensating its users for keeping the platform alive and people coming. Youtubers make money through Adsense. I understand this to be a system of the payment generated based upon views or interactions with advertisements.
According to Business Insider, one influencer who has a following of about 275k made about seven hundred thousand dollars within six months alone.
In addition to building a loyal fanbase of subscribers or followers, you can live a very comfortable life. Through social media, an entrepreneurial lifestyle is shown off like never seen before. You set your hours, no boss, no wake-up time, no restricted lunch breaks, and you can vacation when you want. Being an influencer doesn’t come with the traditional insurance benefits and holiday bonuses, but considering the money, they’re making, most influencers are on the path to fewer worries about economic struggles anyway.
Are there any downsides to such a comfortable lifestyle?
Unfortunately, all that glitters isn’t gold.
People all across the internet have seemed to come to a crossroads with influencers. While they adore their favorite creators, many of whom they’ve formed very strong parasocial relationships, some users seem to be experiencing a sort of fatigue with seeing so many people trying to sell them a product in a day.
Since the start of the pandemic, there has also been no shortage of influencer scandals. Some range from petty exchanges online to others that are legitimate crimes. But as seen by the world of celebrity, notoriety and wealth allow for many to skate by unscathed by their actions.
There is much more to critique about the influencer lifestyle, much of which could be attributed to the issue with the concept of celebrity, and I plan to write on that in a separate blog post.
Like many people my age, the allure of the influencer lifestyle is frequently promoted to me on various platforms. The nomadic, worry-free lifestyle can often serve as a form of escape from the turbulent state of the world.
Whether or not we are witnessing the redefining period of what it means to be a celebrity, it surely is an entertaining reel. I mean ride.