Part one in my two-part series on Social Media in my life, which originally ran in GeekMom on May 12 2016.
After months of speculation, my boys of W. Chump & Sons, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, have finally settled on a real bonafide, official name for their new Amazon Prime Motoring Show, The Grand Tour.
To provide the background:
Clarkson, May and Hammond’s announcement came at a good time, with BBC’s new Chris Evans-led Top Gear cranking up the trailers for their premiere on May 29.
Their simple name, Grand Tour, (which is perfect for their new “no studio tent tour format”) has been met with, as expected, a flood of social media hits, especially they are looking for more stops on their “grand tour,” an announcement made via their individual twitter accounts and the newly-created show’s Facebook page.
“So, the Grand Tour (GT for short) will come from a tent, which we will put up in a different location every week,” Clarkson announced on his Twitter page. “Your town?”
Within three hours of posting this, Clarkson got more than two thousand “likes,” and nearly 500 responses from “please come see us,” fans worldwide. Both May and Hammond had similar responses. Yes, I told them to come to Texas, but hey, I always need story material, and I’ll let them drive my dad’s Mustang GT, a family heirloom of 50 years.
Of course, they’ve also been staking their social media deck in other ways. All three individual hosts announced their own official Facebook pages within the past month and those now join several already-popular “former Top Gear hosts” fan sites.
But wait, there’s more. On almost the same day this trioannounced their Facebook pages, they announced their longtime collaborator, television Executive Director Andy Wilman, first official partnership with the “ambitious new digital media platform that will connect global audiences with motoring content,” DriveTribe.
The concept of the site is to structure car enthusiasts into “tribes,” depending on their own unique personalities and characteristics.
“Gamers have got Twitch, travelers have got TripAdvisor and fashion fans have got, oh, something or other too. But people who are into cars have got nowhere,” Hammond said in the site’s official press release. “There’s no grand-scale online motoring community where people can meet and share video, comments, information and opinion. DriveTribe will change that. And then some.”
They won’t be running the site themselves, as it will be under the leadership of tech savvy mavericks Ernesto Schmitt (founder and CEO of Beamly), and Jonathan Morris (previous CTO of Financial Times online). This news didn’t matter to fans. They are already vigorously glomming onto the site, which officially launches this fall, just like the newly christened Grand Tour.
Whether you love or hate these three, you have to admit, they are covering a lot of social media ground. Having followed this saga, I’ve begun to realize how much social media has become the quickest, most efficient, and sometimes most disturbing way of celebrities connecting with the public.
When I was a young teen, the information about a favorite actor or musician was limited to whatever read in magazines, saw on the television or movie screen, or heard on the radio. I kept my favorite station on all afternoon to hear the news of the latest single coming out. We didn’t have cable, so I found my music video fix weekly via Friday Night Videos, or when I visited friend’s house who had MTV. MTV, when you think of it, was kind a precursor to Twitter. We really didn’t want to watch anything, but that awesome video might come up next. Better keep tuned in just in case.
Today, with YouTube, we can see our favorite video anytime (and again and again, if we wish), be it music video, movie trailer or clip, or recent interview. This, in addition to a celebrity idol’s (or their “personal assistantsP) “insta-posts” on social media, make it way, way too easy to keep up with those famous folk who at one time in our world seemed so much further away.
This is the type of easy-access information current I like to refer to as the “big bowl of M&Ms” communication method (no product endorsement intended). These fingertip means of finding about — and reacting to another person — are just so tempting. You’re not really hungry, and these little tidbits of fun aren’t particularly good for you in large doses, but what’s one little handful here and there? We just want to see what our favorite celeb is up to. We’re not obsessed. Right?
We just check a Twitter feed in the morning, a Facebook exchange a little later on. Have they posted anything on Instagram? We take one “small handful” after another, and next thing we know the bowl is near empty, (along with the time we’ve had allotted for actually productivity), and we’ve successfully (albeit unintentionally) cyber-stalked a few high-profile strangers.
Now, before I sound like I’m wagging a judgmental finger at fellow computer-users, I need to point out I dip into that bowl often, as well. I’m an avid follower of this threesome. I’m also a writer and editor working from my home in my “day job,” which means that big, nummy colorful bowl of chocolatey candy-coated information is constantly right in front of me…and it is near impossible to ignore. I’ve had plenty of handfuls, believe me.
I follow all three of these men, and respond often, but I don’t expect a response. I do however, expect something else: I want people to read my work and make my little projects. I do this by constantly reposting my favorite posts. I don’t feel bad about doing this, since I’ve seen fellow writers and artists do similar. As a writer for GeekMom, I especially like to write about my geeky passions that I hope resonate with others of similar fandoms.
There are some great things about being able to connect with celebrities via social media:
• It is easier to get updates on the someone’s latest project, for example, we all now know about Grand Tour. Celebrities pushing a project don’t have to rely on the network or movie company to get the word out anymore. Sometimes, a simple “Watch for me tonight on BBC-Four” is all they need, and fans tune in. Often times, the fanbase becomes the best form as information sharing, since one good comment or interview will get retweeted, and shared countless times. Heck, I know what’s going on with people I don’t follow, because so many others retweet something. Twitter is the world’s largest informational ripple effect.
• It creates a “community” in a seemingly more isolated society. We read again and again about how people are plunging more into their own little isolated, narcissistic online worlds while becoming detached to those around them. I often worry about this. However, I’ve noticed a flip side to this issue. People who might otherwise have nothing in common are connecting via a similar “fandom” (often a person) via social media. I’ve made some “acquaintances” from all over the world, just because clicked “follow” on @MrJamesMay. Some people consider social media friends as one step away from “imaginary friends,” but really I’ve discovered it’s like having pen pals (which I did have as a kid, and no one said I was delusional). One “Twitter friend” direct messaged me about writing tips, and another read a Tweet about an online course I was taking, and offered to send me a book that might help. I will never meet these people in person, but it certainly is a treat to have them in my life. That’s pretty cool.
• It makes celebrities seem more like the humans they are. My mother used to lament that celebrities used to be “larger than life,” and had a mystique to them. I’ll admit some celebrities should take a lesson in decorum and poise from the past, but I do like the fact we can catch them “off the red carpet” sans make up and glamour. This is by their own accord, too, not through the lens of some paparazzi. They tweet pictures of their food, pets and family gatherings, which in reality are no more interesting then those of non-celebrities. Of course, like other human beings, people tweet or share Facebook posts to brag about something, and their “hey look where I am” tweets can be a little annoying to those of us with little disposable income. I’ve written before how I refuse to call myself a “fan” of any one person (I still do), because I don’t think people who opted to work in a pharmaceutical lab or run a family restaurant should ever consider themselves of lesser valuable than those who chose a career in front of a camera. Social media sites are pretty good levelers. A celebrity might photograph their feet overlooking the edge of their yacht, but their nappy toes are as ugly as everyone else’s.
However, there are also many problems with this quick-and-easy celebrity access as well:
• It’s a bit voyeuristic. There’s no “out of sight, out of mind” element, anymore. If a benefit of Twitter and Facebook feeds is making celebrities seem more, “human,” the dark side is they are inviting people too much into their lives. Is this a bad thing? Well, it is a little in the realm of “too much information.” Do I really need to see a crumb-covered lap, or every single view from a jet plane (often clouds)? No, but many of us feel we need to, and comment away. I even used Twitter to voice this concern in regards to one celebrity (okay, James May, dammit) who got more than three thousand likes for showing a picture of a half-eaten boxed dessert, and inquiring who took the other half.
“I can’t get enough people to read my stories, and this guy gets thousands of responses for bitching about a @#% pastry,” I wrote. I got a few likes, while that half-eaten pastry gained several more comments, not to mention a few invites from people willing to bring him a new one. Awww.
Also, it’s always nice to see people’s friends and families online, but I worry about too many people see what someone’s kids look like. This is the protective parent in me. I do include photos of my own children in my work, but they don’t get nearly the views a celebrity gets. I think if I were pretty well known, I would lay off the online reality show, and just post my silly projects for a while. I don’t always trust the cyber world.
• It creates a pied piper effect. Some celebrities are pounced on anything and everything they tweet or post. Sometimes, they even pose a question to their followers, and “Ping!” “Plunck!” “Tweet!” the responses pop up like magic. They dangle those quips, and the followers are there and ready.
I really don’t like it when celebrities use their fan influence to promote a political candidate or stance, but I won’t get into that issue, especially in this weird year in both the United States and United Kingdom.
I will include the names of bands, actors, artists, authors and more in my own posts, mostly in regards to something I’ve written or to promote something creative I think others would love to learn about. I usually hashtag things with #MakeThings and #Draw for visual arts, #Write to help introduce people to my favorite writers, including comic book authors, and #WeAreTheMusicMakers for all things music related. I’m not afraid to admit James May has influenced my #MakeThings hashtag, but some people base their entire twitter names on the fact they are someone’s fan.
I’ll post about someone, but not directly to them, if it isn’t an actual reply. At least I try not to.
This leads to my final thought:
• Social Media can lead to a fandom run amok, and create obsessive addiction. This is something I’ve noticed following my former Top Gear hosts and other celebrity types that is kind of scary. There are fans who wake up every morning, and immediately direct a “good morning” post to their celebrity idol. I’ve also seen a few who do what I like to call “Twitter-baiting,” not just on occasion, but several times a day. I have to add, I do genuinely like many of these people, so I’m not giving any specifics or real tweets. These are typical of the comments:
“Hey @celebrityperson, what do you think of this picture?”
“I had a bacon sandwich today, I bet you would love this @favoriteactor. What do you have to say about that?”
“You’ve talked to me before, @personIlove, why won’t you respond again? Don’t you care anymore?”
Many people do this, and I’m not saying those who do are lesser people. Some of them are pretty funny and intelligent, but honestly too much of this practice creeps me out a little. I’ve seen one person whose happiness was based on the fact one celebrity responded to his Tweet. He spent a considerable amount of time trying to get him to do this again, with increasingly depressing and self-deprecating comments.
Please people, we’re better than this.
Send amusing anecdotes to celebrities sparingly. I’ve done this just for chuckles. Don’t, however, hang all your hopes upon hearing from them. I can’t stress this enough: celebrities don’t know us. We know who they are, quite a bit about them thanks to their own over-sharing, but we don’t know them, either.
I love James May’s style, on air persona and writings, but I don’t love him. This is because I don’t know him. Haven’t and never will meet him. I do, however, truly adore my husband and kids with all my heart. I love my pets and my friends and family, not always in that order. They are my reality.
When it all comes down to it, the responsibility of controlling our online relationship with celebrities lies with us, the information consumer.
I really can’t blame the “celebrities,” as much as I’d like to bust their egos at times, but their image is their product. Even on social media, I think they are in some way sharing an amplified version of themselves to help gain followers and fans, and, in the long run, sell records, movie tickets, books or whatever they’re pushing. In short, their outreach to their public is nothing personal. It’s business, and I don’t blame them. I would do it, too.
Sure, we could argue there have always been obsessive fans who buy every album, watch (and now purchase or download) every movie or show, and fill their shelves with every book, but it used to be our fandoms were limited to the stage, screen and red carpet. Now, we have access that goes far beyond this, awaiting every breath a celebrity takes, waiting for them to mention their breakfast so we can pounce upon his or her tweet with our own replies.
If we “respond” just as a way to be part of a silly chain of people creating a progressing story started by a celebrity comment, or mention that celebrity as a way to share our interests with others, that’s fine.
Just as long as our lives don’t hang in the balance of hoping that stranger on the other end of the cyber connection gives that all-important “like,” or moreover an actual comment.
Yes, I’ll be taking The Grand Tour along with Clarkson, Hammond and May, but if it doesn’t stop my way, I won’t be lying in a fetal position devastated that three strangers who make me laugh aren’t looking in my direction. I worry many other followers of celebrities (any celebrity) do invest too much in the approval of those in the public eye.
What we need to realize more than anything, is even when we do take part in this social media celebrity watching, it should be for one reason and one reason only: to have fun.
One of the best and cutest examples of this was a Tweet I saw from a dad with a young son a few months ago concerning another well-followed celebrity, actor Chris Pratt.
“My 5-year-old son just informed me he will direct the next Jurassic World film. How’s your schedule looking next month @prattprattpratt?”
I don’t know if Chris Pratt ever responded to this, but in this case, I sure hope he did.