by Lekan Olanrewaju
Back in 2006, a brainstorming session by board members at podcasting company Odeo took place, which eventually resulted in the creation of twitter. Of course you already know this, as you’ve been undoubtedly subjected to article upon article analyzing either the pop culture influence of this online social network or the business aspect of it.
Fast forward to today and its growth is, to be fair, awe-inspiring. Twitter has grown from less than 20,000 to over 200,000,000 tweets per day from over 200 million users, around 12 million of whom follow the antichrist, Lady Gaga. But this isn’t about the followers of the much-touted “pop culture phenomenon” or the fact that my eyes practically roll out of their sockets when I see her referred to as a phenomenon of any kind beyond the embodiment of sheer desperation. It isn’t about second-most-followed-on-twitter, Justin Bieber or his crazed teenage following. It isn’t about celebrity twitter fights either, although those are, admittedly quite interesting on occasion. In fact, this isn’t really about twitter at all. Well I suppose in some ways it is, but as with pretty much everything in the world, it depends on how you look at it.
One of the most important things about twitter, apart from how instantaneous it makes communication, is the number of people who are privy to whatever information is put out. Once it’s tweeted, no matter how fast you delete it, somebody’s seen it, and, it’s going to spread with a speed directly proportional to how sensational it is. Celebrities and public figures have “suffered” this the most.
Take Usher’s estranged wife, Tameka Foster for example, who accidentally tweeted a direct message to her public timeline, bitching about her lawyer, Star Jones. One too many times, celebrities have expressed opinions through Twitter which have led to them being taken apart by the media. Beyond Twitter though, everyday we’re bombarded with images and souns tailored by the media to tell us who to be, what to say, what to wear, what to feel as well as how to do all those things. Beyond the supposed protection of young minds from the corruption of art forms which a group of middle-aged executives in MTV boardrooms have deemed offensive, these celebrities seem to have to surrender the right to any opinion of their own.
The death of Princess Diana was literally due to media attention. It’s an all too familiar concept which has filtered its way into various forms of expression such as music videos by musicians, some of the most subjected to such attention. Most recently the 2009 VMA performance of Lady Gaga and the S&M video by Rihanna have had elements of the negative effects of celebrity obsession. But beyond the array of pretty colours and flashing lights which fill the latter, dark undertones are present, which end with an allusion to the death of a celebrity due to media suffocation. Said video ended up being slapped with bans in various countries, only serving to underscore the fact we’re in an age where public figures have to be devoid of a voice beyond that which the media has determined to be suitable for the youth to be influenced by.
Lyndon Johnson was rumored to have once said “I’ve gotten more ass by accident than he ever did on purpose” while speaking on John F. Kennedy and his playboy reputation. Such a comment by a public figure in this day and age would result in him being torn apart ruthlessly. Take Madonna in the ‘90s who said of Mariah Carey, “I would just kill myself if I woke up as her” or Whiney Houston who once said she found Madge “particularly revolting” and she would kill her children if they grew up to be like her.
These divas had bitchy, larger-than-life personalities which we either loved or hated, because we were allowed to see them. If that had happened today they would be criticized for being “bad role models”. A recent spat between pop icon Rihanna and ex-pop star Ciara resulted in the former’s statements being shown as proof of anger issues. Some even went as far as saying this was probably the reason she got attacked by her boyfriend back in 2009. We’ll leave the domestic violence discussion for another day.
Of course, not every politically incorrect comment is met with outrage. Take Obama’s recent mockery of Donald Trump which was met with collective hearty laughter from the whole world. Then again, he’s Obama. We all kinda sorta love him (it’s not like we could ban him from TV if we didn’t anyway) and hate Donald Trump. Not to say, of course, that some celebrities couldn’t do with being silenced. Take Chris Brown, for example, and his obnoxious rants which we’ve all had the misfortune of being subjected to.
In some ways it would seem overall, that perhaps it would be better if these celebrities just shut up and stuck to the work they’re known for, but I’m sure some would agree that it’s nice to be reminded that these people we elevate to god-like status are at the end of the day, just people. Or maybe I just derive some sick pleasure from knowing not all celebrities are nice and well-mannered media trained robots like Beyonce.