Two celebrity relationship scandals went viral last week: a musician who’s been in the air for two decades and an internet star who rose to fame among the first class of a totally new and unexplored.
The way the public reacted illustrates the unspoken rules of what the public expects from celebrities.
Maroon 5’s Adam Levine represents a type of celebrity who feels so disconnected and unreachable to ordinary people that fans don’t expect access to him (although many will gladly accept any bit of confirmation from the drama that is given to them). And Ned Fulmer of The Try Guys on YouTube represents a new generation of internet celebrities who often don’t feel like they have the luxury of detaching themselves from public opinion. The people demanding answers – to what should perhaps be a private situation – are the ones who built them in the first place.
“While traditional celebrities are put on pedestals and adored by many of us, internet stars are somehow different because they’re much more accessible on those devices we stare at all day and might actually be any of us”, says Dr. Donna Rockwell, clinical psychologist specializing in celebrity mental health.
Trust-Based or Consciousness-Based Fame: The Psychology of Being a Fan
Fans have reacted to the news of each star’s cheating scandal differently because how they view their relationships with a celebrity like Levine versus a celebrity like Fulmer is very different.
A traditional celebrity can be famous in the sense that many people know and recognize them, it’s a one-sided parasocial relationship, Rockwell notes. An online celebrity is recognized because people “care about their opinions and trust their point of view”, according to Brad Hoos, CEO of influencer marketing agency The Outloud Group.
“If something outrageous happens to an athlete, actor or musician, it stinks but ultimately people love them because he’s a good athlete, actor or musician,” adds Hoos. “For an influencer, it’s ultimately a trust and understanding of who they are and their community that makes them truly powerful…but the downside of violating that trust is far greater because (their fame is) trust-based, as opposed to conscience-based.”
Of course, even the biggest A-list celebrities are people too. But most stars in the entertainment industry don’t have the same repertoire of communal back-and-forth with their fans that internet stars do, and therefore seem almost otherworldly to the average person.
“The life that (legacy media) celebrities live is so outsized, compared to the rest of us, from private jets to designer clothes to lavish homes, that we know we can never achieve such a opulence and such wealth. This high standard of living is definitely unattainable for us,” Rockwell adds.
These personal relationships, or lack thereof, may help explain public reactions to each of these scandals: Online responses to Levine’s breakup were overwhelmingly jokes and memes that used him as a punchline, while even former casual viewers of The Try Guys took Fulmer’s situation more. personally or expressed disappointment. “For not having watched the test guys for about 4 years I am absolutely DEVASTED by the news from Ned“, wrote a Twitter user on Tuesday.
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What do the people in the spotlight owe to the public?
When a musician, movie or television star faces a crisis, they often have a team of several professionals to help them through: a publicist, a manager, a lawyer, an agent, sometimes even an additional specialist crisis public relations. A social media star may have a similar number of fans (Levine and The Try Guys both have millions of online subscribers), but often fewer resources: perhaps a manager or agent, although everyone probably knows better branding and monetization than PR crises.
As the content creator and influencer industry has grown exponentially over the past few years, it’s important to remember that the roots of internet fame lie in the relationship between creator and viewer.
“Influencers have created a social community that is clearly led by one person – or a group of people in the situation of The Try Guys – but it goes back and forth, and then people want to know more about the individual. and they trust him and really understand him to be part of this community,” says Hoos – which makes it all the more disappointing when an internet personality deviates from fan expectations, whether it’s a product endorsement that clashes with the values expressed by the creator, controversial comments that don’t align with the brand they created, or a relationship presented as more perfect than it was IRL.
Both paths to fame will likely continue to exist in the future, industry experts believe. Each type of celebrity has its pros and cons, and ultimately it’s up to each star to decide what aspects of their personal life they’re willing to share.
“With the internet, people have the choice to let their audience go behind the scenes,” Hoos says. “As long as you’re an actress or an actor, a musician, an athlete…you can always choose to be known for that activity rather than being known for leading a community and sharing your whole being.”
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