When you think of what constitutes a celebrity, you might think of a well-known name, a large fanbase and/or a public image. Although some people don’t consider popular YouTubers to be celebrities, the truth is the famous content creators share many of the defining characteristics of a celebrity.
YouTubers like Shane Dawson or Jenna Marbles, among others, have millions of fans and have played a large role in pop culture. Just like any other famed name, not everyone knows who they are, but they are still recognizable figures for tons of people.
And yet, very few would readily call big YouTubers “celebrities.” Why are they so often considered “lesser” than traditional celebrities? Ironically, the aspects of YouTube stardom that people scorn are the very parts that should earn the online influencers more respect in the world of celebrity-hood.
1. Any schmuck with a Wi-Fi connection can post a video on YouTube.
Obviously, nobody needs to audition to be on YouTube. All you need is functioning video equipment and access to the internet before you’re on your way to viral stardom, right? Well, not exactly. It’s true that anybody can post pretty much anything on YouTube despite production or content quality, but low standards should not invalidate big YouTubers’ success.
In fact, it’s quite impressive that famous video creators were able to make their work stand out on a platform saturated with content. They learned what people wanted to see, they invested their time and money to cultivate a channel that people would want to watch and now they continuously work to keep their subscribers interested.
2. Content can’t possibly be genuine if it caters to the fans.
Since YouTube is such an interactive platform, it’s easy for subscribers to express what they hope to see from their favorite channels. Creators can see how their videos are received by checking the comments, the thumbs-up versus thumbs-down ratio and the number of subscribers lost or gained after a video has been posted. Of course, the virtual world is a numbers game, so YouTubers are bound to adjust their content according to what will gain them more views and subscribers.
What people tend to forget is that all entertainment revolves around concrete results. The point of entertainment is to, obviously, entertain. If a television show isn’t receiving adequate ratings, the writers will throw in a plot line they think will make more people watch. When musicians become popular they often “sell out” and begin writing songs that are sure to earn them more radio-play. Pandering to the masses is certainly not unique to YouTube.
However, web celebs don’t necessarily face the same pressures as other entertainers. Whereas TV shows can be cancelled or musicians can be dropped from their record labels, YouTubers have a certain security in that they are not going to be booted from their platform if they lose viewers. They have the chance to experiment, to figure out how to balance what their subscribers want from them and what they actually enjoy producing.
3. YouTubers have complete control over their work, which means it’s probably not good.
I didn’t understand this perspective for a long time, but it began to make sense when I thought about how people view self-publishing versus traditional publishing in the literary world. People assume that because someone doesn’t go through the more prestigious outlets, their work is inherently worse than those who choose the path more traveled. Movies and TV shows have entire writing teams, so the writing must be better. They have professional editors, so the productions must be more polished.
Truthfully, though, the traditional route isn’t right for everyone. Sure, the big companies typically have more resources and financial capital, but that doesn’t mean they have more skill or creativity than someone who puts their work on YouTube.
The reality is that YouTubers maintaining total control over their work is admirable and beneficial to their fans. Though some big YouTubers do have entire creative teams behind their videos now, online content creators are typically responsible for the creative elements of their videos as well as the technical side. They are responsible for the ideas, the performance, the interactions with their subscribers, the scheduling, the editing, the marketing. YouTubers are creative forces. Plus, they have the option to put out content more frequently than those who star in movies or TV shows.
4. Posting stupid videos is hardly celebrity-worthy.
Admittedly, some YouTubers have more serious or thought-out content than others. Some creators are known for their pranks, some for their in-depth discussions, some for their clever skits — different strokes for different folks.
What some people might not realize is that many online personas are using their success to branch out of the virtual realms. Some YouTubers have written novels, have gone on international tours, have earned their own television shows. Online creators are doing more than “just” posting videos (though, as illustrated in the previous point, a lot goes into posting videos).
There’s a definite stigma attached to those who have found their fame on the internet, but that negative outlook needs to hit the road. Big-name YouTubers have worked hard to achieve their notoriety and should not be considered lesser than celebrities who have earned their fame through more traditional routes.
Anyone who allows their work to be seen by the public is an intensely brave soul and should be applauded. There’s no need to shame anyone for finding success, and there’s no need to compare levels of success among passionate, hard-working people.