What it means to be a celebrity in the digital age

Amit Khanna
Amit KhannaMar 19, 2018 | 11:16

What it means to be a celebrity in the digital age

Andy Warhol once famously said that everyone in the world would be famous for 15 minutes.

The statement was perhaps a hyperbole but in a digitally connected world, fame and notoriety are in focus like never before. From the earliest times, humans have looked up to social leaders. Even today you will find a band of "elders" whose opinion matters among some of the most isolated tribes.


Every historical period has had its own heroes and heroines. Various emperors and kings had bands of exalted advisers who were looked up to. Chanakya, Kalidasa, Aryabhata, Tansen, Birbal, Mirza Ghalib, Raja Ravi Varma, Swami Vivekananda were among the first stars.


Mythlogically, there have been characters, who are revered as gods today.

As modern means of communication developed and media expanded, artistes, scientists, writers, creative people and fashionistas joined statesmen and political leaders in the new pantheon of celebrityhood. The advent of films and broadcast media brought these larger than life characters right into our lives. Admiration gave way to cults and stardom.

The early newspapers and magazines thrived on news about people and events. Contrary to popular opinion, the Page 3 culture is not a recent phenomenon but goes back to the earliest days of print media. One can safely say that as the human need to get noticed in society grew, newer avenues of expanding reach developed.

Books like the Guinness World Records, Who's Who and Almanacs became new ways to stardom. State awards such as Knighthood and Padma Shri and popular award ceremonies such as Oscars, Grammys, Filmfare (and now hundreds of others) were all applause generating events.


First radio and then TV evolved on the same premise. Reality shows nowadays create their own stars proving a fertile ground for newer celebrities to be born.

Shows like Big Brother, which inspired Bigg Boss, helped stars like Shilpa Shetty become popular in ways that films couldn't.

Similarly actors and singers or musclemen and women, who have won such contests, have turned overnight celebrities.


With the onset of the digital age newer stars are created every nano second merely with tweets.

Some became famous for no other reason other than being celebrities. The Kardashian sisters are the shining examples of this phenomenon. Social media is a yardstick of celebrityhood. The number of followers one has on Twitter determines one's popularity.

Celebrityhood is now an industry in itself. What is manufactured is an ephemeral miasma of love or hate. A non-stop machine building or destroying phantom images.

Writer Aleks Krotoski says even in the not too distant past people drip-fed carefully constructed nuggets of information to a roster of approved outlets. "It's because the web works outside the consent of the business.

The audience is in-charge, armed with a smartphone and a wi-fi connection. This makes us potentially more dangerous to the celebrity than ever before," Krotoski says.


According to sociologist P David Marshall, the media apparatus that bolstered the ascent of particular personalities to public recognition was highly structured even 15 years ago.

The recent frenzy around actor Sridevi's tragic demise is a case in point.

As we move to a bots and artificial intelligence driven world, it will become all the more easy to manufacture myths.

The news media or merely a tweet, a Facebook post, or an Instagram photo can spread like a forest fire. Public figures and stars (showbiz, sports, music or any other field) are the most obvious igniters. An innocent video clip featuring Malayalam actress Priya Prakash Varrier winking went viral and made her an instant star.

Media feeds on celebrities and in turn also goes on to make them look bigger and better. We are now an event based engagement economy where even a name is monetised.

Often we hear voices against government's attempts to breach our privacy but only rarely do we hear about media or other public figures complain about their privacy being breached when they themselves seek publicity by hook or crook. Or by careful design, as was the case with the way Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma organised their wedding.

In hyper-networked society, noise levels are so high that celebrity hunters are going to the extreme to attain their two minutes of fame.

As a society our round-the-clock online presence is like living on the edge. We are easily susceptible to hurt, anxiety, depression, or euphoria.

No one has yet figured out the safeguards or the perils of stardom. Modern-day celebrities are hot air balloons who often reach dizzy heights but also quickly fall ingloriously into deep abysses of oblivion.

Nothing, therefore, is more transient than a celebrity today.

Last updated: March 19, 2018 | 11:16
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