A Five Minute Lesson on Labels and Fame
Lots of people are talking about relationships these days. There are plenty of examples of fresh, new thinking about how we build, nurture and maintain relationships. We have more tools than ever before at our disposal to help us connect, communicate and grow as humans. Yet we are still intent on placing labels on everything, and on listening to the voices of a few rather than the collective thoughts of the many.
Stick a label on it, shove it in a box. Labels are a bit of a Catch-22, aren’t they? On the one hand, I hate them. It’s like fitting things into cramped little boxes. She’s a Community Builder. That guy’s a Thought Leader (cringe). We always try to define the role.
On the other hand, labels help us to understand the context of what someone brings to the table. After all, we’ve got to call it something, don’t we (do we)? So in terms of context alone, labels can be a good thing. It’s when we get tied to our labels that we tread into dangerous territory.
What someone does, what they are known for, is a direct result of the impact they have on the people around them. People are perceived as being something, and from that point on, they are only associated with being that thing. She’s a social media superstar. He’s a published author. She’s a television host. The perception of the person is suddenly only as a representation of their label.
Cuz We’ve Got…Personality, Personality. In the media biz, we call anyone who is in front of the microphone or camera, a “personality”. Who that person is when they are in the spotlight becomes what people perceive as who that person really is in their “real life”.
I’ve spent 20 years working in media. I am friends with plenty of “personalities”. They are people who are, in some cases, firmly planted in the spotlight of their various niches. I am not, and never have been a name dropper. But I get frustrated sometimes, because I’d like to be able to talk about my friends, the things I learn from them, the fun we’ve had, and so on. But even talking about them in this context, without mentioning their names, feels like name dropping.
I’ve never befriended someone just because they are famous or popular. (In fact, I know plenty of famous people who are jerks.) I befriend people because I like them, because we make a connection with each other. I don’t care if they can’t walk down the street or into a big event without getting attention. It’s actually sort of uncomfortable for me, as I’m naturally shy. Being the person that’s standing next to the guy or girl with the crowd of people around him makes me feel downright foolish sometimes. “You’re with so and so? Oh, you must be popular too!” Sigh. Hide me now.
I’ve never been the famous one. Heck, I’ve rarely been the popular one! (I definitely wasn’t in high school). Fame and popularity are fickle beasts. One moment you are on top of the heap. The next moment the rug’s been pulled. Ironically, many times, it’s the famous person themselves that’s doing the pulling.
That’s what’s unfair about putting people on pedestals. Suddenly, Ol’ Superstar is only known for being the popular gal or the famous guy. Who they are takes a back seat. They can’t scale, because everyone wants just 10 seconds of their time, an opinion on this, a handshake, an autograph. It becomes too much to bear, and they have to walk away, often to the disappointment of their fans.
Superstars are people too. Social media, in my opinion, has only served to exacerbate the pedestal-placing behaviour of the masses. Normal, everyday people who are just trying to put it out there, connect with people, and maybe make a buck or two while they’re at it, are having attention barfed all over them at every turn. This causes two problems. One, Ms. Popular’s message and efforts get diluted because everyone’s too busy vying for their attention to actually pay attention to the message. Two, the little guys get left behind. None of these things is intentional. They are an unfortunate by-product of a society that only wants to listen to the voices of the famous few. It’s not that the popular people don’t have relevant things to say. They do. But often their voice is echoed so loudly by their fan base, that the point is lost entirely.
I think it’s high time we brought things back down to earth. Reconnected on a human level with each other, regardless of loudness, strength, popularity or fame. Social media is the great leveller. It puts the Richard Bransons and the rest of us on the same playing field. Anyone can connect with anyone. The lines of class, status, religion, politics and culture and money are blurring more everyday.
Julien Smith asked a provocative question on his blog yesterday.
“Mass media is merging.
Personal media is splintering.
It seems pretty cut and dry to me. Mass media thrives on the fact that the average media consumer tends to only listen to the voice of the few at the top. They push the upper crust higher and higher into the statusphere (props to @briansolis) until their lone voices permeate every medium.
Personal media by nature gives everyone a voice. Yet the very freedom it provides is its downfall. The average media consumer isn’t ready for Joe Blogger. They are only listening to those who are shouting from the rooftops. They are concerned mostly about who is popular and famous. They aren’t listening to us, even though we are dying for them to start. We simply aren’t loud enough yet.
Thing is, fame and popularity won’t go very far when the world finally wakes up and realizes that in the end, media is about telling stories. We all have them. We all want to tell them. With the playing field levelling before our eyes and media making becoming accessible to anyone, I for one am hoping that we’ll be able to out shout those loud voices and finally start to make our stories heard.
This discussion reminds me a time not too long ago when independent musicians began to outshine their big-name recording artist brethren because the tools to produce their music and put it out there were so accessible. It started with Napster and now you can expect even the most average of Joe’s to have a song posted somewhere on their blog or Web site.
I think you’re right, though. All this online social connectivity is still new enough that the majority of users are focusing on celebrity connections. But those connections will start to get pretty boring when they offer little in return (i.e., no interaction, no memorable stories, no happy experiences). Eventually the celebrity status will fall victim to the outstanding stories that are out there waiting to be heard.
Those stories are gaining volume. It’s just a matter of time.
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The funny thing about all this is the backlash, if you like, that’s starting to happen.
I’m watching A-listers fall from grace and readers complaining of blogs that are nothing more than advertising conduits for clients, other A-Lister shout outs and similar.
The great thing with people is that, yes, they can get sucked into the “Isn’t he great/isn’t she fabulous” hollering. Then, a few months down the line, they might take the rose tinted specs off and see people for who and what they really are.
Sure, the little voice may be small at the minute, but get a bunch of them together and the big guys better watch out, because we’re not satisfied with reputation and past glories now.
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I loved this post. I don’t feel I have much to offer in this, because you’ve said it all for me. Nice job of reading my mind and articulating it better than I could myself.
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I think that there is someone out there who each person can now identify with whereas before, it was a world of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ clones that were modeling themselves after mass media creations.
I personally love having a voice now, as I can speak to those members of society who for some reason or another find what I have to say interesting. I don’t feel that I need to shout about it or have some kind of self-promotional agenda for millions of Twitter followers.
I know that people are listening to me and there is no magic number that is going to make me feel any more validated than if it is one person that leaves a comment on my blog either criticizing or giving kudos to what I’m saying.
I like being the underdog in the underground. No paparazzi please.
And who is the average media consumer anyways? Am I the average?
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