Reality TV and the ‘Insta Celebrity’

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There’s no denying it: social media is absolutely everywhere. But perhaps its biggest influence has been in how it has completely changed the way we view celebrity culture. Just like asking somebody which actors, musicians or comedians they like, we now have barmy YouTubers, funny Twitter accounts and fit Instagrammers. These people are celebrities in their own right with, in some cases, larger followings than Oscar winners. Some of them simply started out through social media and have seen their audiences grow massively over time, such as Zoella or Lele Pons, but many have found online fame following stints on the marmite of television: reality shows.

Reality television has become a staple in our TV schedules, and seems to be experiencing some kind of renaissance. Love Island, for example, broke ITV2 records in 2018 as their most watched programme ever, with a peak of 4.1 million viewers tuning into the final. Approximately half of them were between the ages of 16-34, which is, crucially, also the demographic that uses social media the most. A recent BBC Panorama documentary, ‘Million Pound Selfie Sell Off’, explored the concept of the ‘Influencer’: social media users with such large audiences that brands pay them to advertise their products. These influencers are so persuasive because they feel like a friend. Constant posts make followers feel like they’re involved in the day to day life of an influencer and that they’ve gotten to know them personally, so they trust the products they are seen to be using. Zara McDermott, a 2018 Love Island contestant, admitted in this documentary that she had been offered up to £3,000 for one advertisement in an Instagram story. The ‘Influencer’ industry as a whole is worth around $4 billion worldwide.

Reality stars like the Love Islanders use their social media as a continuation of their temporary television career, and it allows them to generate a hype akin to the more ‘traditional’ celebrity. Therefore, for many people, the obvious question seems to be: if they don’t have any specific talent, can they truly be a celebrity? Some would argue that they can’t – having no real career, as such – because they simply post photos and videos for their legions of fans. Actors and musicians, for example, would likely go through years of training and experience serious setbacks throughout their career, and earning money just from Instagram may seem like cheating, somehow.

However, others would disagree.  A Cosmopolitan journalist recently attempted to become Instagram-famous in a week, and found that there is a lot more skill to this than meets the eye. Obtaining and maintaining a following takes lots of time, and the ability to work out the most effective way of getting ‘likes’ isn’t easy. Despite the controversy surrounding it, there is no denying that people are drawn to the idea of perfection, and it can often involve putting on a front to create this illusion. Similarly, reality TV is known for creating a ‘scripted reality’ in many cases, in which stars create a new version of themselves that is likely to translate over to their social media in order to appeal to their fanbase. Does this, therefore, constitute as a form of acting?

The social media celebrity still has a long way to go before they are regarded in the same way as the more conventional celebrity. However, their popularity among young people and the incredible influence they have as a result is indisputable. The way we consume media and our perception of stardom has changed massively in recent years, and it seems that this industry will only get stronger, so perhaps it’s time to finally accept them.

Love Island is available to watch on iPlayer now.

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First year English student, usually found listening to the same playlists and watching the same films over and over.

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