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.
But what I was most interested in as a result was this question: this trio knows how to amass fans on social media, but how much access to our favorite celebrities to we really need?
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.
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.
Jeremy Clarkson got 12,000 hits, just for saying the name of the new show will be announced, but James May can get 8.8 thousand likes for a picture of Richard Hammond in an office plant and babushka. Really? Images: James May and Jeremy Clarkson official Twitter pages.
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.
Questions, photos and snarky comments: what else could a fan want? I bet Rainn Wilson has sold a few more books, thanks to his buddy Nathan Fillion. Images via Nathan Fillion official Facebook and Twitter, Mark Hamill official Twitter and Chris Pratt official Instagram.
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.
This New Mexico-based Batmobile replica was pretty darn close to the real thing. Image: Rick Tate.
Post originally ran in GeekMom on April 21, 2016.
James Bond and Batman.
These two names are answers to many questions that have been posed to me, but mostly “whose fictional cars would you most like to have?”
It’s really no contest. DeLoreans seem sleazy to me (sorry, Doc Brown), and I never saw an episode of Knight Rider. Scooby Doo’s Mystery Mobile might smell a little gamey, and I’m afraid the transformer Bumblebee just might try to kill me. Han Solo’s and Wonder Woman’s rides don’t count since those are both aircraft.
I do think Bond’s sleek Aston Martin is exquisite, and who doesn’t want to feel a little swanky every now and then? The Batmobile, however, is the car I want to drive. Yes, that wonderfully cheesy black (and sometimes very very dark grey) machine that has been everything from a modified Ford to a custom-made military-grade fighting machine is on my radar the most.
Yes, more than any car, I want to drive the Batmobile.
I’ve mentioned in a past story, Batman is my earliest “fandom” to memory, and he’s still my favorite superhero. I would be happy tooling around in any incarnation of his vehicle, and being able to do so consistently teeters near the top of my bucket list. I still have a little circa 1967 Corgi Batmobile that I “liberated” from my older brother when I was a kid, and it is still a prized possession, despite showing its use. Yes, he knows I have it.
I remember getting excited seeing a static, non-functioning version of the original Tim Burton-era vehicle at one of the Six Flags theme parks. I also dragged my entire family across town to a Wal-Mart parking lot just to get our picture with the actual Tumbler and Bat Pod leading from The Dark Knight Rises, which was traveling around the country as part of a promotional Tumbler Tour in the summer of 2012.
We got to visit the Tumbler and Bat Pod from The Dark Knight Rises, back in 2012, but there were strict “no touch” rules. Images: Rick Tate.
I was also doing a story on comic-con etiquette and spoke with a man named Jim Johnson. He served as the official “Transportation Manager for Wayne Enterprises” for the tour. He told me most people were very appreciative of getting a chance to encounter these gas-powered movie stars.
“Most people are really good around the car,” he said and added people all seem to realize the one main rule was “no touching” and respected that.
If we weren’t allowed to touch the car that meant no entering the car, much less driving it.
Step away from the Batmobile, Citizen of Gotham.
Even so, Johnson did fire up the Tumbler and, although still idling, spectators heard the force of its engine. I’m not going to lie. That was a thrill.
So, when the opportunity arose to see a working reproduction of the original, old school Batmobile at El Paso Comic Con, I couldn’t pass that up.
Regional cosplayers and artists never fail to impress me. Hearing the creative origins of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from creator Kevin Eastman at our local con (bottom right) was also a treat. Images: Rick Tate.
El Paso Comic Con (EPCON) returned to El Paso Convention Center this past April this year under “new management,” and featured all the trappings of a worthy con: an extensive expo, celebrity photo ops, panels, a zombie escape experience, an abundant number of local and visiting artists, charity auction, cosplay aplenty, live entertainment, and even a preview night “Nerd Rave” dance party.
This first time out of the chute wasn’t perfect. The program lacked that ever-important floor plan map, and the expo entry fee may have been a little high for the average family. Nevertheless, it had some fantastic elements to it, particularly its lineup of geeky star cars, which hearkened me back to my childhood when my dad would take me to the Darryl Starbird Custom Car Show. These “celebrity cars” included the Breaking Bad RV, a custom-made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle van created by former Power Rangers cast member and stuntman Jason Ybarra, a Jeep Wrangler from Jurassic Park, a custom creation by the local charity-minded fan group El Paso Ghostbusters… and a 1966 era Batmobile.
Most of these were great photo ops (we forewent the Breaking Bad interior tour since it just didn’t seem right to take our daughters into a “meth lab”), but we donated our ten bucks to sit in that Batmobile.
Other featured star cars included the TNMT van, Jurassic Park jeep, Breaking Bad RV, and locally grown Ghostbusters mobile. All images: Rick Tate.
The replica, known as the Albuquerque Batmobile, is part of the New Mexico Chapter of Star Car Central, whose nationwide inventory of geeky vehicles includes everything from the A-Team van to the xXx GTO. They help support groups like American Cancer Society, Paw and Stripes, and Make-A-Wish. This particular Batmobile-for-hire has made several convention and charitable appearances and is even available to pick up soldiers returning home from the airport, and to give rides to children in need. That alone makes the vehicle an actual superhero.
This car chassis is a 1972 Lincoln Continental, which matches the 1955 Lincoln Futura first used in the television show. Its owners, Mike and Khristine Esch, created the replica with functional TV FX and gadgets, as well body details nearly identical to the original.
The original Batmobile, by the way, was built in 1965 for $15,000, and sold to a private collector in 2013 for $4.6 million.
For me, being able to interact with a full-size Batmobile was the most fulfilling of experiences, above the appearances at the con of my first Batman and Robin, retro television icons Adam West and Burt Ward. I love West, but the idea of spending nearly $100 to meet another human being surrounded by “you’re not worthy” handlers and guards didn’t appeal to me. Besides, as cool as Mr. West is, he really isn’t Batman. Plus, I certainly wouldn’t ask an octogenarian to undergo the indignity of wearing his old costume to an autograph session. There were plenty of great Batman-centric cosplayers at the event to satisfy those goofy photo ops.
As for that Batmobile? Reproduction not, it was still really a Batmobile, and when I sat in it, I was Batman. Or Batgirl. Or Robin. It really didn’t matter which representative of the Bat universe I was, all I knew was I was in the driver’s seat, and The Joker better watch his back. Even my six-year-old, who took a picture sitting in my lap, had that unmistakable gleam in her eye when she put her hands on the Batmobile steering wheel and picked up the bright red Batphone.
“Will this really go?” she asked anxiously.
Ah, yes. She gets it now, too.
From the interior to parachute packs, I felt like the pride of Gotham City, circa 1966. All images: Rick Tate.
Unfortunately, this car was landlocked on the expo grounds for photo ops only. No starting up the engine, much less taking it out for a spin. Of course, I didn’t expect to be able to actually drive this vehicle, but just knowing someone else did produced a pang of envy. It was still a worthwhile experience, and since I learned in the car’s “Bat Fact” sheet that it averages a supersonic seven miles per gallon (I’m assuming on a convention hall floor), I was saving some fuel.
I might never get that opportunity to take the wheel and take one of these cars around the block, but I’ll keep seeking opportunities to experience it.
Judging from the line of Batfans in logo tees and cosplay waiting to get their pictures in the car, I know I’m not the only one who wants a chance to sit in the driver’s seat of the Caped Crusader’s wheels. Ward himself even got his picture in “Robin’s” passenger seat.
Author Mark Cotta Vaz explained the timeless nature of this car in his book Batmobile: The Complete History.
“The Batmobile is not just a crime-fighting car — it’s the ultimate vehicle of the imagination,” he writes of the car that made its comic debut in 1939. “And the Batmobile is still speeding forward, all these decades later.”
I still think of the horrendous line from 1997 franchise-destroying film Batman and Robin, when Robin (Chris O’Donnell) uttered “chicks dig the car.”
Yes, I do dig the car, Boy Wonder, but you better hand over the keys. I’m driving!
El Paso Comic Con’s sister event, Las Cruces Comic Con, is planned for Sept. 9-11, in Las Cruces, N.M.
Of all my Batmobiles that old, beat-up Corgi model is still my prized possession.