Week 9: YouTube and Celebrity

A) Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269). Discuss giving an example of a YouTube video (embed it into post). 

There is much talk about how the Internet and new media have resulted in a “democratization of cultural production” (Grossman cited in Burgess & Green, 2009: 21) and the associated idea that it has allowed those with raw talent to permeate the world of media fame and success (Burgess and Green, 2009: 21).  Particularly, it is the rags-to-riches stories of YouTube users who have found celebrity via their amateur videos that have inspired many to assume that the clear distinction between the ordinary person and the celebrity is blurring (Burgess and Green, 2009: 22).

Many celebrities today have used YouTube to showcase their talent and creativity in attempt to gain fame and fortune without having to rely on the immensely powerful mass media. Ted Williams, who was homeless at the time the following video of himself was published on YouTube, is a unique example of someone trying to generate attention and profit from the video sharing website.

Williams originally was appealing for work as a radio presenter on the side of the road. A journalist recorded his voice, interviewed him, published it on YouTube, and generated millions of viewers within a short amount of time. His popularity on YouTube prompted numerous American television shows to interview him, which led to a plethora of job offers, one of which included a free house, and even a reunion with his mother, whom he had not seen for 20 years.

Following the huge popularity of his YouTube video and the number of job offers he received, newspapers headlines, such as “Homeless man with ‘God-given voice’ gets job offers thanks to YouTube”, were quick to appear. Though his story is quite unique, he was labelled an ordinary person made a star alongside the likes of Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle, and Rebecca Black thanks to the video sharing website. However, it would be wrong to insinuate that it is entirely to YouTube’s credit that these people become celebrities, and that the site offers a path to fame that bypasses the mass media and empowers those with creative talent.

As Burgess and Green write, “when ordinary people become celebrities through their own creative efforts, there is no necessary transfer of media power: they remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (2009: 23). Their success and fame is measure by their exposure on older media; television shows, recording contracts, album releases. While Williams gained popularity due to YouTube, it was only through television coverage and the subsequent job offers that he became a ‘star’. The market of success “is measured not only by their online popularity but their subsequent ability to pass through the gate-keeping mechanism of old media” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24). Though money can be made through advertising on YouTube, it, perhaps on a different scale, makes celebrities in much the same way as cafés do by hosting ‘open mic’ nights; it gives people a platform to draw attention to their talents and, ultimately, appeal to rather than bypass, the mass media.


Burgess, J. and J. Green, (2009), ‘YouTube and The Mainstream Media’, In YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press,  pp 15-37.


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