Why Social Media is the End of Celebrity as We Know It (R Kelly, Barack Obama Edition)
I've got a new column up at Time that brushes past the Duck Dynasty flap and argues that something far more important (and fun) is happening: Fans and citizens are finally able to talk back to their idols and leaders in ways that just weren't possible even a few years back.
Earlier this month, for instance, the controversial and quite possibly criminal singer R Kelly released a new album (Black Panties) and went on Twitter to get real with his immense audience. Almost immediately he was pelted with questions about his revealed preference for jailbait:
To celebrate Black Panties, Kelly hosted a chat on Twitter for his fans and followers. "Getting ready to answer some of my favorite #AskRKelly questions!!" he wrote, "Start tweeting!" Almost immediately, the singer was deluged with snarky comments related to his past indiscretions and scandals. "My lil cousin jus bout to finish 10th grade … Seems like she ready?," wrote one correspondent. "What's your favorite bedtime story to read a date?" read another. "So @rkelly only answered 16 questions,the perv really cannot do anything over 18," summarized one commenter while another asked, "Were you high off something when you started this hashtag? Where tf is your PR team?"
Being able to mock singers in open view is one thing but the same dynamic is at work in political discourse too, such as when President Obama tweeted out the pic of "pajama boy" sipping some cocoa and girding his flannel-clad loins to #GetTalking about health insurance over the holidays:
Almost immediately, the image went viral, though not in the way Obama meant. "PajamaBoy" became its own hashtag and countless parodies and reappropriations spread across the Internet. "Mommy Said I Could Stay Up Late," read one, while another attested, "Why Yes I Am a Thought Leader," and a third asked, "How did you know I went to Oberlin?"…
Power is shifting from the top of the pyramid down to its lower reaches, where anyone with an opinion and an Internet connection can at least speak her mind and circulate that opinion to an audience that is potentially in the millions.