Celebrity: Case Study Of Kim Kardashian West
In the late summer of 2016, reality tv star and business woman Kim Kardashian West was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint whilst on her own in her hotel on a holiday trip with family in Paris, France. Her robbers took millions of pounds worth of jewellery from her over the period of time they restrained her and taped her mouth to stop her screams, as well as taking her newly gifted $4 million diamond ring from her husband Kanye West. Kim Kardashian had recently posted a photo on her Instagram flashing the new ring and her whereabouts in Paris from previous and future tweets and Instagram posts letting followers and fans know she was in Paris the day before the attack took place. Kim Kardashian, her Kardashian family and close friends of theirs are popularly known by millions for updating their social media with life updates, luxury lifestyle and their whereabouts. Although the role of social media in the attack hasn’t taken full blame as there is not enough evidence to support this fully (Rorke, 2016).
During the hours leading up to the robbery, Kim Kardashian West posted multiple videos on snapchat and updates on her Instagram updating her fans and followers of what she was doing in real time, allowing followers to see exactly what she was up to, where she was and who she was with. The constant updates through videos and picture posts on the Kardashian’s social media, flaunting expensive jewellery and whereabouts, with her current 163 million followers on Instagram alone, made her prime target for this dreaded crime. This made it easy for her attackers to track her every move without much effort needed to find this information, knowing she was in Paris as well as being able to know when she was alone and what she had with her (Rorke, 2016).
The attack on Kim Kardashian sent fear globally on celebrity safety on social media. Overexposure of real-time life updates, as well as content consisting of luxury goods, inevitably provoked the robbery and therefore opened people’s eyes to the dangers of this. Social media is used by celebrities’ fans to keep them connected, however its platform to connect was abused in this instance and caused harm instead. With the Kardashian having millions of followers, the content shared on social media was feeding valuable information to her attackers unexpectedly. This constant pressure from managers and other demands, for celebrities to keep fans updated on their lives in real-time (revealing locations, who they are with and share their lavish lifestyle) and gain the necessary attention needed to grow and succeed, weakens that barrier of security and safety (Rorke, 2016).
Celebrity culture, although more recently come to be known as a new era, has in fact been a feature of social life dating back to the late 1980’s/ 1990’s, whereby global figures were acknowledged primarily through the entertainment and sporting industry. Rather than introducing a new era we have in fact evolved through the technological advancements over time which have created new opportunities for people to gain public attention as well as several new variation of celebrities remaining under the same conceptual term (Cashmore, 2007).
Attention economy and micro-celebrity culture on social platforms
Digital media is a space made to effectively allow individuals to connect which is a constant demand daily, especially on social media platforms. Individuals actively and freely pick out the information and areas they are more interested in and therefore links to the idea of self-branding, whether done consciously or inadvertently. In this new digital era of constant reliance on media demand, where individuals are saturated with options, is where distinctiveness and visibility grow online. Due to this, marketing specialists share this connection even more so with the ‘attention economy’, where the growth in competitiveness for an online presence is the highest it’s been, communicating online for increasingly distracted, dispersed and privatised audiences. According to Fairchild, “Regardless of its sociological vacuity or validity, the attention economy is by now an established reality for advertisers. It has inspired new thinking about how to create lasting, flexible, and evolving relationships with consumers” (Fairchild 2007 cited in Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2017). With this in mind, with the ability to go from an ordinary social media user to having a high public profile and having strong identities, self-branding or the ability to self-brand makes online influencers, celebrities and/or fame in general much easier to achieve. The way in which celebrity status or fame was achieved before the digital age was not as easy as it is today, it was in fact a rare experience, generally only regarded by those who had achieved something of great talent such as elite sportspeople, innovators and actors, as well as musicians and those within cinema, or those who were of royal legacy. Additionally, there lies common ground between the two whereby such individuals could easily attract audience’s attention dependent on their fame and share the best content suited to their character in order to gain their audiences (Khamis, Ang and Welling, 2017).
Although advocates of attention economy continue to excel in the business sectors of the web, critics argue against the idea of entering a new sphere of economic production and consumption that is arguably a dangerous platform of connecting (Senft, 2013). A recent debate with Goldhaber where Jonathan Beller argued that, “rather than generating new forms of ‘attention property, users of commercially owned social network sites toil as largely unpaid laborers in what Trebor Schultz dubs ‘the Internet as playground/factory’” (Goldhaber 2009 cited in Senft, 2013).
The world-wide web, beknown to us as technology we couldn’t imagine living without in today’s society, was invented in 1989 but properly introduced to the public in late 1990. starting as a space to simply search information, also referred to as the “read only web”(Spisak, 2019). Over more recent years of entering Web 2.0, 3.0 and the most current web 4.0 era which is classed as the mobile web, we’ve have evolved from a read only web through to a new digital age of accrescent internet applications that generates this constant available platform of connectedness (Motion et al, 2015).
“The notion of social media is associated with new digital media phenomena such as blogs, social networking sites, location-based services, microblogs, photo-and video- sharing sites, etc., in which ordinary users (i.e. not only media professionals) can communicate with each other and create and share content with others online through their personal networked computers and digital mobile devices” (Bechmann and Lomborg 2013 cited by Motion et al 2015).
For public relations professionals, engagement with networks that operate in mediated space requires an understanding of networked practises and how they fit into a wider societal context (Boyd 2007 cited in Motion et al 2015). Within social media spaces, users form and join networked communities to engage in social interactions and share and filter content such as textual information or conversations, photos, pictures or videos (Boyd 2007 cited un Motion et al 2015). Social media is fundamentally a space for connecting and conversing with people (Motion et al, 2015).
The modern-day celebrity will generally have gained their status through sports or entertainment industries, their media presence will be well recognised and their private life will generally attract a considerably larger public interest than their professional life would. The modern-day celebrity will does not need to have achieved anything at all unlike public officials, their only focus and goal is to have the attention of the public, regardless of what it is they do to achieve that. Kim Kardashian being an example for this, might suggest, that the majority of media pundits conclude that contemporary celebrities a certain level of public interest that is to some extent excessive. While, other researchers in this field might argue the excessiveness is what adds to a celebrity’s unique audience appeal, it is also another reason why celebrities are, unfortunately, so often perceived negatively as inauthentic or as part of a construction of mass-mediated popular culture (Turner, 2013).
The media and celebrities come together, without the media, celebrities wouldn’t have their lives documented, they wouldn’t have publicity and they wouldn’t have as much fame. The traditional celebrity began through broadcast media, which would act as a platform for celebrities’ image sharing who they were and what they did far beyond what people would have originally imagined it would be like today. The contemporary transformation from only broadcast media to participatory media along with the growth of social media in popularity and everyday usage, has brought about two prominent changes in the idea of a celebrity. The ‘traditional’ celebrity such as singers and actors have now taken to social media to create their own personal platform, ultimately creating their own image if they choose to, allowing fans and people of similar interest to communicate with them and in doing so, creating more personal unmediated relationships or at least the idea of doing so (Marwick, 2015).
Creating their own image through their social media platforms rather than just through their managers or keeping to the traditional idea of a celebrity. Kim Kardashian, a popular celebrity icon who provides followers of her social channel’s snapshots of her daily life, upcoming events she will be attending and new released products of her own, interacting with followers by liking or responding to comments. One of the main features of who might fit into the category of a micro-celebrity, as opposed to the traditional or standard celebrity, is that the person in success of an act of audience engagement is associated with this through digital media (Alperstein, 2019). When referencing Kim Kardashian with this, she fits in with the microcelebrity concept and from this has obtained elements through her success that would allow her fall into the role of a traditional celebrity too by becoming a successful business woman with help of her family’s success.
This form of celebrity to fan relationship is often referred to as parasocial interaction, which is “the illusion of real, face-to-face friendships with performers that is created through watching television shows or listening to music” (Horton and Wohl 1956 cited in Marwick 2015). Parasocial relationships, also referred to as an illusionary experience are connections made by audiences with a celebrity, however the relationship formed remains one sided, sometimes without the fan even realising due to different way of being able to connect with this person. In parasocial relationships, fans of a celebrity or media figure interact with them as if they know them personally or like a real acquaintance rather than only through online connection. In a study conducted by Horton and Wohol (1956), it was concluded that the parasocial relationship between fan and celebrity goes further than just observing content, being able to interact online with them creates this connection, however it is still only a one sided connection which debilitates the authenticity of their connectedness due to the celebrity having others, such as their managers, manage their accounts and are more likely to already be separated from the typical connections made through social media by any usual person (Laken, 2009).
With social media advances now being interactive, this increases the connectivity between the fan and the celebrity, forming more emotional ties which intern is not reciprocated by the celebrity as it could be with someone other than a person of high public interest, therefore breaking this real connectivity away from the fan which is also inauthentic. Social media also allows celebrities that began through broadcast media alone to enter the microcelebrity world online. The microcelebrity that was only formed online through themselves or from another company e.g. collaborations, may or may not have a small fan following, but this platform still allows them to represent celebrity characterisations through their social platform, whether they may be a youtuber, Instagram influencer or online phenomenon (Marwick, 2015).
In the broadcast media era, a celebrity was known more for what a person was, whereas in the new digital era, a microcelebrity is a person known more for what they do. Modern day celebrities now have the ability to form an online presence whilst staying physically unknown and unidentified from mainstream media. For example, most popular youtubers aren’t spoken about through mainstream media, but keep a celebrity status online and so to a certain extent can go about their daily life as a ‘normal’ person without privacy invasion or the need to worry too much so about their celeb status.
The constant progression of the internet and social media in today’s digital age, and the reliance on this from celebrities to share who they are and influence their fans, keeps people online constantly with no time to switch off (Marwick, 2015). New media technologies don’t only provide us with new ways to explore and connect with celebrities, but also provides complications between celebrity experts, their fans/ audiences and those who occupy spaces in-between (Marwick and Boyd, 2011). As a result, celebrities and microcelebrities are in constant reliance upon social media to create content and therefore, are always under competition for the largest following and interaction. Sharing personal information and real-time content allows fans and those who are also against these celebrities to follow their lives with them. This is proving the danger celebrity’s posse when sharing online, also highlighting the seriousness of celebrity’s safety due to the amount of information people can gain from social media alone.
“The battle for attention is the first battle in everything, and those who have mastered the techniques of getting attention by all means necessary have a massive advantage” (Wu, 2018).
Digital media, especially social media, has given more opportunities than ever before for audiences to have easy visual access to celebrities lives regardless of how they came to fame or their status.
The phenomenon of celebrity endorsement is so prevalent that it has become a regulated component of the media and PR business. Celebrities have always had the opportunity to influence and connect with their viewers and consumers. For this reason, they are essential to the media and PR businesses, with their end goal being to generate brand demand and ultimately maximize sales. Celebrities are considered by audiences as people who lead a life of excitement, risk and a series of events. Thinking ahead, given the opportunity by the evolving new technologies, the internet is producing a new generation of ‘idols’, that could potentially give the PR system no relevance in leading this new digital generation. As well as this, the demand and expectations for celebrity lifestyle updates on social media by fans will always be what keeps their following and appeal, resulting in opportunities for future events similar to the Kardashians robbery to reoccur. However, there are alternative methods of posting such as not posting in real time or not revealing too much information about expensive good etc which will deter these traumatic events from happening in the future (Rojek, 2012).