My article ‘Watch the Birdie: The Star Economy, Social Media and the Celebrity Group Selfie’ is published this month in the Meccsa online journal Networking Knowledge, who have produced a special edition on Identity, Aesthetics and Power in Digital Self-representation entitled Be Your Selfie.
My essay explores some of the broader implications of celebrity group selfies, through the example of Ellen DeGeneres’ star-studded group shot, taken during the 2014 Academy Awards ceremony, Joan Collins’ 2014 Prince’s Trust Award selfie, just days after, and Collins’ subsequent ‘view from the other side’ tweet; exploring notions of authenticity, performance, intimacy, self-promotion, public visibility, identification, imitation, vicarious consumption and audience participation.
Engaging with existing work upon celebrity tweeters, Twitter and other online fandom, photographic theory, star studies and, in particular, Bourdieu’s theories surrounding cultural capital, taste formation, and cultural distinctions, this work not only explores some of the reasons behind the frequently negative judgements of celebrity group selfies, but also seeks to identify some of the very real social functions and more personal gratifications, both for celebrity and fan, that the celebrity group selfie, as a communication and a self-promotional tool, may actually satisfy.
More specifically, it is this paper’s contention that selfies offer an ostensibly unmediated, accessible and virtually instantaneous means of articulating and disseminating a coherent, identifiable, aspirational (yet bizarrely, also, seemingly ‘ordinary’) and eminently marketable star image, via a popular and up-to-date medium. With celebrity group selfies this is also the case, but here the photographer subject presents an image of themselves to the world, in relation to a specific group of peers (who themselves also function as signifiers and commodities); perpetuating the notion of a pantheon of star ‘gods’ and the myth of a coherent celebrity community; reinforcing the divide between ‘famouses’ and ‘normals’ and participants and observers; prompting an exponential rise in fan/public interest as more stars enter the equation and allowing the celebrity participants within the image to either borrow some of the greater ‘worth’, ‘status’ or cultural capital of other, more eminent, celebrity subjects also pictured or alternatively, lend their superior cultural capital to less successful celebrities within the image.
As such, in this this essay I seek to move beyond a hasty dismissal of such images, their subjects, and their audiences and instead, hypothesise a coherent set of reasons why the most-photographed individuals on the planet (not just film stars, but heads of state and religious leaders) might feasibly choose to create, appear in and/or disseminate such images (or, indeed, decline to participate as did Prince Charles in Joan Collins’ group shot) and why the public may find these images of such interest.
Watch the Birdie: The Cultural Politics of Twitter and the Celebrity Group Selfie
Volume 8 Issue 6
Special Edition – Be Your Selfie: Identity, Aesthetics and Power in Digital Self-representation
Guest editors Laura Busetta and Valerio Coladonato