Be Yourself: Celebrities and Social Media
Chris Evans is very good at Twitter.
There’s no reason why Captain America himself would need to run his own social media accounts. The public relations teams at Marvel probably sat down with his agent at some point and said so, possibly arguing in favour of handing the reins over to a lucky intern or one of the increasing number of people who do such things full time. It would be the safest option, certainly. Instead, we are fortunate enough to have a Twitter page where Evans, one of the most visible men in modern celebrity, tweets angrily at Donald Trump, shares adorable photographs of his dog, and verbally slaps down some actual Nazis. In other words, Chris Evans tweets like Captain America, albeit with a few added swears.
You reckless moron. Do you have any idea what you're encouraging? You think a 'joke' makes it ok?? ZERO societal awareness and understanding https://t.co/7a3Qf3bOcP— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) August 1, 2017
Nowadays, having a social media presence is close to mandatory. There are notable hold-outs - nobody expects Daniel Day-Lewis to join Instagram - but everyone from rising stars to power players needs to make themselves known to the people. How do you sit out this process when the primary occupation of the world’s most powerful man is tweeting? It would probably be healthier for us all if we could outsource social media to someone else, and it seems like one of the more relaxing benefits of fame. That’s what makes it so fascinating when you can tell a celebrity is running their own Twitter account. Well, most of the time you can tell. Even when it’s farmed out to an assistant, if it’s done well you never see the strings, and that helps to craft an image for a celebrity they never could have managed under the old system.
Even a mere decade ago, tabloid culture was king and celebrities could only harness so much power separate from a steady stream of publicists, paparazzi, gossip rags and the burgeoning blogging scene. Fame requires fans, and getting to that base couldn’t be done alone. You need exclusive interviews, flashy photoshoots, carefully crafted candid shots, and if you were really cool, an occasional Myspace post. The more legitimate gossip publications (People and Us Weekly) would never risk access by pushing an unflattering or false story, so the relationship remained special. It had that power because the internet hadn’t quite become the beast it has now. It would only take a couple of years to change, as TMZ emerged as a legitimate source thanks to the Mel Gibson arrest, and Perez Hilton brought unfettered snark to the table.
When Twitter started, it wasn’t an A-List beacon by any standards. Ashton Kutcher became its de facto Hollywood spokesperson just by being on the site and using it frequently, and Stephen Fry emerged as an early fan, but neither were the catalyst for the site becoming a celebrity hub. That took a couple more years, and there were already advisors and groups waiting in the wings to harness that for maximum efficiency. Companies like theAudience specialise in social media management for major brands and celebrities (on their website, the brands are named yet the celebrities are not, although with one of the company’s co-founders being uber-agent Ari Emanuel, the chances are they deal with a lot of William Morris Endeavour talent).
There are immense benefits to reaching your audience above and beyond the expected realms of the celebrity-fan relationship. Everyone loves the possibility of being able to directly communicate with their idols, even if it’s through a mere like. The boundaries are more liminal than ever, which is exciting as well as terrifying. Imagine being the actor who tweets innocuously about the weather, only to find the mentions saturated with Pepe the Frog memes and teenage girls calling him ‘daddy’. For up and coming talent, the size of their social media following can mean the difference between landing a role or languishing in auditions for a few months more. YouTuber Jake Paul spun his online fame into a starring role on the Disney Channel (he has since parted ways with the show).
This is what drives me…— Jake Paul (@jakepaul) July 30, 2017
Love the Jake Paulers to death
Even for bigger stars, there’s much to be gained from signing up. Elizabeth Olsen, an award-winning actress with a Marvel contract who probably isn’t desperate for money, admitted that she joined Instagram partly because ‘financially, it’s a brilliant opportunity. Like, I’d really love to be a brand ambassador… I was only hurting my opportunities by not participating.’ Sponsored content used to be the denizen of the C-lister, the pseudo-celebrity who would do anything for a quick buck. Now, it’s just good business. People roll their eyes at Kim Kardashian, but you can’t argue with earning $300,000 for shilling detox tea in one post.
Social media’s a good option for many of these women too. Twitter is a toxic cesspool, but Instagram can be easier to manage (and a lot easier to ignore the comments section). The site is all about aesthetics, and actresses like January Jones and Naomi Watts have wielded that potential to impressive results. With Instagram, Watts can do anything: She can drive down the paparazzi price of photos of her children by posting the pics herself; she can lighten up her aloof image with cute snaps of holidays and charity work; she can get ahead of any gossip about an acrimonious split with her partner Liev Schreiber by focusing her account on his constant presence as a great father; and she can promote her projects to 820k followers who hang on her every word. It’s overshare engineered to an extremely precise degree. Then again, if you were good friends with David Lynch, wouldn’t you share your texts with him to the world?
January Jones has done wonders with her Instagram. The very private actress hasn’t even revealed the identity of her son’s father, nor is she under any obligation to do so. She’s lived under the Betty Draper banner for so long, with the assumptions that the characters’ frigid nature and aloof approach to life were simply an extension of her own personality. But online, she reveals herself to be very funny, highly self-deprecating, excited by pop culture, and cannily aware of how people view her, and all on her own terms.
‘Authenticity’ remains the trap of our society. It’s a concept we can seldom define but instinctively know it when we see it, yet we still deny the label to so many, or move to goalposts too often to make the game fair. Hillary Clinton’s social media team were brilliant during the 2016 election, but it opened up too many questions about how ‘real’ a representation it was of the candidate herself. Trump’s tweeting is certainly authentic to his repugnant personality and lack of empathy, but that’s not supposed to be a good thing. Once again, the qualified woman with the right team was forced to play second fiddle to a bully with a magnifying glass over the ant farm.
Do you want to build a strawman? https://t.co/AoeNTJOGpo— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 7, 2016
Social media can be exhausting too. On top of the ceaseless barrage of abuse coupled with a failure to clamp down on harassment, Twitter is the megaphone to the world that can have supremely messy consequences. When us mere mortals are a misjudged tweet away from harassment or major real-life fallout, how does that play out when millions are watching you, coupled with the pressure of a billion-dollar franchise bearing your name? Social media is supposed to be about authenticity and spontaneity, but that game requires strategy, which inevitably robs it of much of its charm. How many people really care about Tom Cruise’s publicist-approved promotional tweets?
That’s part of what makes Chris Evans’s Twitter so genius. He gets to do all the things us regular people do on the site, and he gets away with it because that’s exactly what we want to see Captain America doing. Twitter won’t clear up its Nazi problem, so Evans will have a go at it himself. The world is dark and we want cute dog photos, so Evans pays up. We need heroes, and the Marvel ensemble are happy to reach out, be it Mark Ruffalo’s liberal conscience or Brie Larson’s enthusiastic feminist shine, or the unbridled joy of Lupita Nyong’o.
Celebrity social media is about giving the people what they want. Taylor Swift’s fans want the impeccably manicured illusion she presents on Instagram, girl squads and all, because that’s her brand. Kim Kardashian’s fans expect the tell-all glamour and she delivers it in droves. Beyoncé doesn’t use social media often, but when she does, it’s engineered to make an impact. Their real lives and public images are far more complex than the cute package delivered to us, but it’s still enough to spark excitement in the fans who care.
So what happens when social media makes the celebrity? Internet fame is par for the course now, from the early days of blogging to the new era of YouTube millionaires. Insta-models, fitness gurus, make-up tutors, and everything in between can be found making something out of nothing on Instagram. Fame is closer than ever before for a whole new generation. Just turn on your webcam and talk (or scream over video games). These people became popular through that perceived authenticity, but hanging onto that under increased pressure and visibility is a major task unto itself. We naturally change over time, so imagine going through that shift but facing millions of tweets angry that you’re not who you used to be. Major stars can face this conundrum too, but they don’t usually have to answer to the fans themselves when it happens. Now imagine doing that when you’re 16, and without a publicist or manager to tell you when to stop, because all your fans are your age and they think you’re their best friend.
I am genuinely shocked and disgusted at the amount of racism that has been infecting my account the past week.— FKA twigs (@FKAtwigs) September 28, 2014
The ownership social media brings with it can have insidious consequences. How many times have you seen the mentions of a celebrity filled with irked fans who claim they’re ‘owed’ something? There’s also the wildly discomfiting trend of people trying to publicly goad celebrities into being their prom dates via Twitter. The story will get picked up by news organisations and spun as something cute, rather than a creepy invasion of boundaries. Turning them down, politely or otherwise, risks the accusation of publicly shaming the individual asking the question they never should have bothered with in the first place. It can be easy, especially if you’re young, to confuse a quick reply from a celebrity to your tweet as something far more meaningful than intended, and if your fans hang onto that assumption, detangling yourself from that web will always be messy. Choose any celebrity with a sizeable Twitter following, click on a random tweet, and see how long it takes for you to find a reply that makes you wildly uncomfortable. No wonder so many celebrities quit the site.
Twitter remains in the midst of a professional crisis. They’re operating at a loss, cannot convince anyone to buy them due to the toxicity of their brand, and, according to Gizmodo, the site has basically had no new sign-ups for months. This is a bubble that will eventually burst, unless the powers that be take on the major overhaul and force change to what an insider once referred to as ‘a honeypot for assholes’. In the meantime, there are glimmers of hope out there, waiting to be retweeted. If the Twitter President wants to let the world crumble, at least we can watch Captain America get as angry about it as the rest of us.
'Excuse me, are u busy? Could I interest u in chasing squirrels with me outside? Or perhaps u could toss the frisbee? I have no plans today' pic.twitter.com/zj4AOfnFHJ— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) July 15, 2017