There is a quiet revolution taking place among teens whose habits are once again changing the way we experience our favorite celebrity figureheads. Increasingly, teens are less concerned with mainstream Hollywood actors and actresses, and more obsessed with grass roots social media stars who’ve somehow found a way to garner considerable notoriety (and salaries) through sites such as YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram. With the flick of their fingers and thumbs, teens and millenials are steadily dismantling the prevailing culture of Hollywood celebrity that began in the early 1900s in favor of a young crop of fresh-faced media trailblazers who have developed intimate connections with their fans in ways that celebrities of the past could only dream of.
But to suggest mainstream Hollywood isn’t adapting and even embracing these trends in social media would be foolish. In fact, there are plenty of celebrities who’ve hired armies of pimple-faced social media “experts” to manage their online personas. Of course, mainstream celebrities are also realizing the hard way how easily carefully crafted images can be compromised. Just this week alone Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton had their privacy violated when leaked photos proved nothing kept “in the cloud” is truly private, and that failure to control and safeguard your online content (basically, don’t upload anything you consider private on the cloud) can quickly take on an undesirable life of its own. Other examples include Justin Bieber and Britney Spears. In each of their cases, once meticulously controlled public appearances quickly gave way to an endless series of shameful antics and immature comments captured on smartphones that were instantly disseminated to millions of viewers across YouTube and online celebrity gossip magazines, with most of these recorded by the unwitting stars themselves. And let’s not forget Charlie Sheen’s epic YouTube meltdowns fueled by one too many lines of cocaine.
And then there is Russell Brand.
Russell Brand has accomplished something extraordinary that few celebrities have yet to replicate. He is among the first mainstream Hollywood celebrities to successfully use social media to attract an audience not for unintentionally foolish behavior but for his pointed personal commentary on current events.
The notion of celebrity outside the confines of the silver screen has often centered around projecting and crafting polished sex appeal and cool. Take for example the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, when film studios exerted near total control over their contracted celebrity employees. Actors and actresses then working under the studio system had to follow strict guidelines that dictated almost every aspect of their presentation, from the clothes they wore to the speeches they gave, nothing was permitted without the studio’s approval. Today, stars have much more control over their public image, for better or worse.
In his YouTube channel, The Trews, Russell Brand seeks an intimate connection with his viewers, portraying himself not as some impenetrably pristine star fans are only to admire from a distance, but as a fellow citizen of the world who seeks connection with the people and world outside. Often seen wearing a t-shirt or even donning pajamas, Brand’s presentation of self on YouTube is meant to invite meaningful conversation about issues that concern everyone. Above all, Russell Brand is helping fans negotiate the difference between “celebrity” Brand and “global citizen” Brand, proving stars aren’t just sparkling trinkets on screen to be gawked at when spotted in public, but real human beings capable of intelligent discourse and dialogue.
And intelligent discourse he has.
Brand uses The Trews (a title blending ‘News’ and ‘Truth’) to discuss an array of social and political issues with a depth of insight rarely seen among celebrities outside of scripted public forums and talk shows. Brand isn’t afraid to inspire controversy or mingle with fans in his comment threads.
Over the past few weeks, Brand involved himself in a widely publicized spat with media giant Fox News, proving celebrities and individuals can indeed take on powerful organizations. In fact, Brand’s acerbic attacks against Fox News have proven so effective that Fox News feels it necessary to invest a considerable amount of air time defending itself against a single actor. And much to Fox News’ obvious chagrin, as evidenced in the vitriol spewing from their hosts, Brand is no celebrity dummy (a generalization many media giants are fond of perpetuating anytime they feel threatened by members of Hollywood), and he is more than capable of offering clever retorts to any number of accusations thrown his way. Here are just a few:
There’s no objective terrorism. There’s just different perspectives of violence. No one should be using violence, but if you’re going to judge violence pejoratively and negatively (and God knows we all should), then the people doing the most and the most effective violence surely have committed the greater crime. I don’t know. It’s complicated issue. It’s being going on for a millennia.[Hannity is] not interested in truth…he is only interested in pushing a particular perspective. You could say, ‘so are you Russell,’ and you’d be right. And that perspective is this: peace.
The definition and concept of celebrity has broadened to include individuals who’ve emerged outside the entertainment industrial complex, and established highly public careers on their own accord through social media. The word celebrity should no longer conjure the perception that its members must confine themselves behind a glass wall. Brand has clearly shown how conventional Hollywood celebrities can use social media in a productive way to connect with fans and establish themselves as thought provoking individuals with more to offer beyond what we seen of them on screen. Of course, this requires stars to cultivate substantive ideas and to pursue causes they’ve researched thoroughly. Just like us, not all celebrities are capable of meaningful discourse, or present themselves with depth and integrity. Russell Brand, on the other hand, is refreshingly so.