“OMG now after following Kim Kardashian’s Instagram and twitter, I honestly feel like we could be best friends in real life”. Does this phrase sound familiar? As ridiculous as it may seem, reality television programming has hit a new high in popularity over the last few years. Although there may be a number of reasons for this recent boom, many attribute the introduction of various social media applications that have brought us closer to celebrities through a new unfamiliar medium. The following blog will examine how social media has directly influenced how fans view reality television and its celebrities by creating a source of interconnectivity, living vicariously through these celebrities, and also through inspiration of society’s creativity of self-expression in order to be heard. The rise in social media has risen significantly since these outlets have been introduced and have given individuals in our society both an escape from our own life and drama and also a hint of hope that if we post similar material as celebrities that we might one day receive similar fame.
The two social media outlets that have primarily impacted this technology fandom source of interconnectivity with celebrities are twitter and Instagram. Since it was founded in March of 2006, Twitter has become a fundamental passageway into the thoughts of an unlimited amount of individuals around the world, including the minds of famous celebrities. Twitters ‘live feed’ makes us feel much more connected to these celebrities because of their ability to live tweet their experiences at events that most individuals are not able to ever experience themselves. Rather than watching these celebrity’s filmed interviews on television hours after, we are able to see exactly what they are doing or feeling at that exact moment. For example, after a heated episode of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta, we can go to each individual housewives twitter pages to see if they have posted any comments about their feelings about the recent episode. By doing this, as an audience we are becoming emotionally attached and even more invested in the show, whether we realize it or not.
Instagram, an online photo sharing, video-sharing and social networking service takes social media to the next level with fandom connectivity to their celebrities. Since it was introduced in 2010, individuals have been able to following their favorite celebrities through posted pictures, videos, and personalized captions. These personalized photos and videos allow fans to feel both connected to the celebrity that posts them while also allowing the celebrity’s fans the power and freedom to voice their opinions through comments posted on their photo. Additionally, celebrities can post photos of their material items, such as jewelry, clothing, etc., which allows their fans to go out and purchase the exact item showed in the photograph in order to be “just like” their favorite celebrity, thus, making their ties to that celebrity even closer than before.
The second reason that individuals claim to enjoy reality television is because of the fact that it provides an escape from their own lives by allowing them to live vicariously through the life of the reality stars. Steven Reiss and James Wiltz, two professors at The Ohio State University examined this phenomenon of reality television and why Americans enjoy watching these programs through a study conducted in 2001. Their study focused primarily on American’s attitudes towards reality television and the reasons behind their attitudes. Reiss and Wiltz results were not so surprising. “Reality TV allows Americans to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame. Ordinary people can watch the shows, see people like themselves and imagine that they too could become celebrities by being on television” (Reiss & Wiltz, 2001). Because of our recent social media boom with the introductions of various new applications like twitter and instagram, individuals are now capable of going beyond ironic viewing and can now express themselves through a medium that gives them access to both the celebrity themselves along with millions of individuals around the world. One example of this is when Khloe Kardashian tweeted to a fan answering a question about midterms. You can guess what that fan was talking about for the entire month after that happened! Kind actions like these give reality stars fan recognition, and by receiving recognition this recognition, they increase fan ratings, which is a very important component in reality TV programs.
This leads to my final point, which is that social media allows not only more opportunities for self-expression, but also a higher success rate into a type of reality or ‘social media’ stardom. Social media applications are becoming more and more like YouTube through its offering of video options, which gives individuals the opportunity to truly express themselves through their own type of “reality television” and self-promotion. Elite Daily writer Sydni Lewin-Epstein (2014) suggests, “Our generation is filled with YouTube personalities, Internet startups and style bloggers. The goal is to make your voice heard, your face seen and to make a lasting impression all over the world. People of our time are constantly pondering what the next big thing is going to be, and how they can be the ones to create it.” For example, pop star Justin Bieber got his start up simply by posting personal videos using a video-sharing website and is now one of America’s top-rated pop stars and also one of the most followed celebrities on Instagram with 8.7 million followers. Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe hit and Jenna Marble’s How to trick people into thinking that you’re ridiculously good looking video are examples of other YouTube sensations that went viral and ultimately lead them to stardom.
According to author Rebecca Blood (2002), the promise of the web is that “everyone can publish, and that a thousand voices could flourish and have their own reality show.” Although reality television is a distinct phenomenon from single viral video web celebrities or other forms of so-called online “ego-casting”, these forms do however highlight affinities and logics that are shared between reality television and social media. In addition, by creating and posting viral videos, we receive a sense of community and appreciation for reality television stars, therefore leading to our continued support for these types of programs.
As you can see, the launch and increased user activity of social media applications have made a significant impact on reality television by providing its fans with a new source of interconnectivity with their favorite celebrities. Through these close interactions, fans are able to feel connected to the show through the individual characters in a way that was not available to them prior to social media outlets. Social media additionally gives these fans hope that one day they might be able to be a celebrity themselves if they simply follow suit. It will be interesting to see what new technologies will be introduced in the future and the amount of access these technologies will continue to bring to us, both into the lives of our favorite celebrities and the additional access to making celebrities of ourselves.
Blood, R. (2002). Weblogs: A History and Perspective. We’ve Got Blog: How Weblogs are Changing Our Culture. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books Group.
Lewin-Epstein, S. (2014, April 15). The New American Dream: How gen-Y’s obsession with 15 minutes of fame should be used for good. Elite Daily. Retrieved from: http://elitedaily.com/life/new-american-dream-generation-ys-15-minutes-fame/
Reiss, S., Wiltz, J. (2001, September 1) Why America Loves Reality TV. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200109/why-america-loves-reality-tv