I’ve been pondering David Segal’s editorial in the New York Times, in which he argues that fame on the level of Michael Jackson’s, will never be the same again, and that, in the wake of digital culture, the superstar may have also died with MJ. Arguing that digital culture is much too fragmented to deliver a global star that can unite all of our interests, Segal predicts that we will never have another icon like Michael Jackson and that we may never see another global outpouring of grief as we have with MJ’s death.
While I think it’s very possible that the global superstardom of Michael Jackson may never be replicated, that he may have closed an era of iconicity (the kind that we saw with a Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley), I’m not sure I am ready to declare the death of the superstar. Most of these icons were transformed into superstars, thanks to radio, movies, televisions, and big ol’ posters and billboards. There is a reason why they became larger than life (their images often literally were) and why we seemed to know them so intimately: their voices or faces entered into our homes via TV and radio. That’s the paradox of superstardom. These celebrities seem so intimate, yet they are so far out of our grasp.
Enter digital culture to alter that perspective. Those of us who expect our stars to appear in the places we often expect, such as TV or radio, complain incessantly when David’s label seems to limit his presence in these media. Yet, David has kept up a constant, and I must say, very intimate correspondence. He tweets to us when he’s feeling sick or suffering from insomnia or when he’s eating Thai food. He leaves text messages or voice mails like a friend or lover would. He blogs, vlogs, and generally gives the impression that he and his fans are super tight.
I think of this relationship David has created with his fans and wonder how differently we might have interpreted Michael Jackson had he too kept this kind of digital communication. What if, like David, MJ tweeted to his gazillion fans (that is, before Twitter crashed)? What if he tweeted about his kids? What if he tweeted that he couldn’t sleep, which, apparently, he couldn’t? Would fans have been so shocked by his sudden passing? Would fans had tried to intervene?
I am saddened that with his global superstardom, Michael Jackson never did have something like digital communication when his star was on the rise. If he had, perhaps superstardom might not have frightened him as it eventually did, warping his relationship with the public that seemed to adore and ridicule him.
Last Tuesday’s memorial managed to humanize him for the first time in a very long time. I can’t help but feel twitter or blogging might have done the same thing.
It’s because of this interactivity of digital culture why I believe the nature of stardom will inevitably change. However, that certainly doesn’t rule out the potential for another superstar to unite the globe and take his talent through the stratosphere. David may be able to live up to this potential, already commanding the digital tools at hand.
– Hello Gorgeous