It is universally acknowledged that the Internet is an incredibly strange, sometimes unforgiving, but always fascinating place. It’s been this way forever, or at least ever since I stepped out onto the Earth scene in 2001.
Optimistically speaking, the Internet is a powerhouse for development and progress—people from across the globe can work together, sharing a virtual space for scientific, philosophical, and social growth.
Despite its ever-changing nature, a few fundamental aspects of Internet culture have remained the same since its inception: lively forum posting, convoluted meme manufacturing, overly heated arguments, and online celebrities.
I’m here to focus on the lattermost institution, that inexplicable concept of Internet celebrities.
I remember the early glory days of YouTube and all of its accidentally viral icons—Tay Zonday, Ryan Higa, Rebecca Black.
As Internet trends evolve, so too has its manifestations of stardom. Compared to seemingly random virality and people using the Internet for sheer fun, it’s become infinitely more common for people to flock to social media with intentions of fame and wealth through influencing.
The modern interpretation of the term “influencer” connotes a social media-savvy individual who endorses different products, brands, or even ideologies by relating to their audience. YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat—you name it; if it’s a social media platform, it has its ecosystem of influencers.
In the past few years, the increasing number of influencer stars has led to an emergence of influencers in just about every realm of entertainment, bringing online fame offline.
A lot of people are not happy about this shift. First, people despised Lilly Singh’s late-night television hosting debut, and by the time I finished counting the number of failed YouTuber music careers, hundreds more would have spawned.
More recently, beauty vlogger Nikita Dragun’s sloppy runway walk during New York Fashion Week show provoked pure rage in the high fashion community. And, who could forget Addison Rae and her slew of odd media jobs?
One minute she was a TikTok dancer; the next, she was working as a UFC correspondent? Then, she landed an acting contract with Netflix? Finally, was she at the MET GALA? Of course, all of these gigs are notable accomplishments for a 20-year-old. Still, when that 20-year-old is Addison—or any of the other esteemed influencers dipping a toe into traditional media—they are met with an outpouring of backlash.
At first, I was right there with it. It seemed ridiculous to hire influencers for random jobs over other candidates trained in the field. This column was initially intended to bash influencers’ invasion of pop culture…but I might be coming around to it.
Think about it: “new” forms of entertainment have threatened older media for decades—video (oh, wa, oh) supposedly killed the radio star. Our unfamiliarity and discomfort with new types of celebrities is nothing new, so, understandably, influencers would catch flak for entering the scene.
The more I think about it. I’m honestly kind of disappointed in Gen Z for falling into the generational trap of resistance to change. As an overall progressive generation, you’d think we would be willing to play along with changing celebrity tides.
Their transition to traditional media hasn’t been the smoothest; I’ll admit that. It reads as cringeworthy and downright weird most of the time. Nevertheless, I still don’t see anything morally or conceptually wrong with influencers breaking out of the confines of Internet fame to a more prolific status, even if it reeks of second-hand embarrassment at times.
I’m going to take a leap of faith and say we should give these influencers a chance. We don’t have to like it necessarily, but in the end, influencers are human beings trying to make it in the world like the rest of us…even if embodying perfection and selling gummy vitamin supplements is in their job description.
Emily Davison is 20-year-old anthropology and English major from Denham Springs, Louisiana.