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Book Review: Internet Celebrity - Understanding Fame Online by Crystal Abidin

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Have you ever wondered where meme culture came from? Or how social influencers have come to be a big brand in themselves? What makes a celebrity? Crystal Abidin answers these questions and more in her new book Internet Celebrity - Understanding Fame Online.

Image courtesy of Emerald Publishing

I found this book by Crystal Abidin extremely interesting as well as informative; I didn't put it down once. The book filled my brain with information about the media industry, fuelling internal debates about the morality of 'celebrity' in modern society. This is a great starter for those just beginning to interrogate media or without much prior knowledge of celebrity culture, other than what we are fed through mainstream media.

Internet Celebrity has four main chapters: 'What is an Internet Celebrity Anyway?', 'Qualities of Internet Celebrity', 'Internet Celebrity and Traditional Media' and lastly, 'From Internet Celebrity to Influencers'. The book outlines key topics in short snappy chapters meaning it’s not a hard read, and there is no need for expert knowledge in this area to be able to understand and enjoy it. 

One of the most interesting concepts this book explores is the idea of Meme Personalities. Abidin defines them as “Ordinary people who can be (unwittingly) captured in compromising circumstances or with notable expressions or gestures and become iconized as memes”.  Readers today are highly aware of memes as we are bombarded with meme after meme, day after day, but we often take them at face value without analysing and understanding the impact and background of a single image.

Abidin gives an overview of the Three-stage model of the meme culture life-cycle, compromised by 'Faces of Memes', 'Meme Personae' and 'Meme Celebrities'. Abidin then goes on to explore those who reject their meme, known as “unwilling memes”.

All of this is fascinating, as it strips away the public image and personae of say ‘Success Kid’, ‘Grumpy Cat’ and ‘Ridiculously Photogenic Guy’ to unveil the backstory of the meme and the structural journey the meme has taken to become so infamous online.

Abidin also speaks of “The Ellen Factory”, a multitude of famous children created through the featuring and promotion by Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show, such as Kai Langer, Greyson Chance and probably most famously Sophia Grace Brownlee and Rosie McClelland, who have become representative of the Ellen Show on various red carpets and interviews. Abidin highlights this as a form of Commodified Childhood and explains more deeply this notion, something that would not come to mind immediately when watching two young girls dance to ‘Super-Bass’ by Nicki Minaj live on television.

This book really highlights the impact of new media on society, so much so that it might shock readers into thinking about how they use and consume modern media and so-called ‘internet celebrities’. For example, Abidin talks of influencers, YouTubers, bloggers and vloggers, streaming culture, Instagram stories and consumer/creator relationships, amongst many other interesting and gripping topics that don’t ordinarily have much light shed on them.

For anyone studying media or simply just interested in social media and the celebrity phenomenon, this book is a great starting point. It covers various themes, issues, and topics in brief and simplistic language, perfect as a base of knowledge for further investigation and research. I would highly recommend this book to not only enjoy but to kick-start conversations about what actually constitutes a celebrity when we are bombarded with varying versions all over social media on a daily basis.

Internet Celebrity - Understanding Fame Online can be bought from the Emerald Publihsing website here.

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