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Mennonite influencer Marcela Enns shows a video on her cellphone in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc in northern Mexico
Mennonite influencer Marcela Enns shows a video on her cellphone in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc in northern Mexico AFP / HERIKA MARTINEZ

In an uncertain world that’s never short of a crisis, we can be sure of one thing; celebrities will continue to try and insert themselves in the discussion. Sadly, doing so proves just how disconnected from reality they truly are and how society continues to move away from celebrities as the “keepers of the culture”. From sickening displays of virtue signaling to sheer ignorance of the everyday reality of ‘normal’ people, celebrities are becoming a bug, not a feature of the modern media parade.

It’s time for us to officially welcome in the new era of the public sphere. It’s the YouTubers, the influencers, and the streamers who are admired by today’s youth, not the outdated movie stars. And they are succeeding where traditional celebs have failed, by genuinely connecting with us.

Internet stars get stereotyped as being vapid seekers of online clout. In general, this is both harmful and inaccurate; they are more likely to be authentic people with a talent for building global, online communities. And in an era where we need communities and support more than ever, they deserve our respect for that.

The fragmented world of ‘new media’ has reformed what the archetypal role model looks like. Given the behavior of various celebrities over the past two years, we should give a collective sigh of relief.

The pandemic spawned some toe-curling content from the old elite. Take Jennifer Lopez’s notorious ‘ We’re all in this together’ pandemic tweet, sent from the safety of her $ 32.5 million, Star Island compound. Similarly, cast your mind back to the bruising trauma of Gal Gadot’s star-studded motivational reworking of John Lennon’s Imagine.

Recently another celebrity, unwilling to let a perfectly good crisis go to waste, posted a weird poem about how if she was Vladimir Putin’s mother, things would have turned out differently. This celebrity, who has no children, wrote a poem about how her mothering skills could have prevented World War 3. It takes a special kind of disconnection to lead someone to think that was a good idea.

The current celebrity was forged through a concentrated and limited media ecosystem. A handful of television channels, record labels, and film producers decided who did and didn’t make it big. The system relied on a handful of handsomely paid gatekeepers who decided who and what was worth our time.

Thankfully the old model is dying. The sheer number of channels, apps and podcasts available today means there are many more accessible, and democratic routes to stardom. Ultimately, the people decide who becomes famous, not Hollywood execs.

Influencers can be easy to write off and often have a reputation for being vapid and vacuous people existing only for ‘the like’. In reality, the fragmentation of entertainment to every corner of the internet has allowed fresh new talent to sidestep the old need to prove themselves. Instead of, ‘do you have talent and can you get a gatekeeper to sign off on you?’ It’s become, ‘do you have talent, do you have community, and can you prove it?’

To be successful, influencers can build a community around them, and often a niche one. This can be literally anything; car racing (Cleetus McFarland - 2.8 million followers) witchcraft (Stargirl the Practical Witch – 817k followers) tech gadgets (UrAvgConsumer-3.6million followers), basket weaving, knitting, calligraphy, you name it.

Marie Kondo did this for tidying up, and is now a household name. All they needed to begin was a group of people who are interested and intrigued by what they had to say and the talent to convey their excitement.

Unlike aloof celebrities who feel above criticism, influencers react and respond to their audiences, often in real-time. This openness and accessibility shown through chat and comments have allowed talented people to make a career out of their skill, knowledge, and personality, often in subjects that no mainstream gatekeeper would ever open the door for.

Khaby Lame lost his job during the pandemic and took to Tik Tok where he reviewed and mocked life hacks, amassing 35 million followers in the process. Francis Bourgeois, meanwhile, turned his interest in trainspotting into a 1.4 million follower career.

Fundamentally, people need role models. Who would we prefer, a list of Hollywood-anointed demi-Gods, or normal people with a well-deserved following?

To succeed, these influencers have to be good at what they do. If they make cringe-worthy, insulting or tone-deaf content, a drop in engagement means their career will end. In the new era of celebrity, it’s engagement, not contracts, that determines fame.

Yes, there are superficial influencers, but there are far more to take genuine inspiration from. While some have been accused of promoting unrealistic standards, or encouraging body dysmorphia, this hardly started with them. Any glance at a 90’s ‘heroin chic’ fashion campaign will prove that. Kate Moss, anyone?

Sure, there are bad cases but there’s no need to blame influencers as a whole for them. Good ones are out there right now delivering new material all the time, with people listening and reacting to them in a way that most mainstream celebrities can only dream of.

We shouldn’t scorn this new era of celebrity but embrace it in all its weird, diverse, niche, and original beauty. It’s far better than what we had before.

About the author:

Bradley Hoos is the CEO of The Outloud Group, an influencer marketing company.