Rebecca Black and The Teenage Celebrity Industrial Complex


Fourteen year old internet sensation Rebecca Black just released a follow up video "My Moment" after her debut of "Friday" that went viral with more than 167 million views. Attention at this scale landed her a spot on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and a music video with Katy Perry, "Last Friday Night".

Such opportunities for seemingly instant fame can affect these teens, and pre-teens, in a profound way: IRL (In Real Life)...

Rebecca Black has had to endure the backlash of cyberbullying after her first video.

And Black, 13, certainly never anticipated the social media uproar, mainstream media hellfire, parodies and remixes that greeted "Friday" as the video became nearly ubiquitous across Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. called the song - which provides a primer on the days of the week, innocently celebrates partying, and ponders the merits of "kickin' it" in a car's front versus the back seat from a wholesome teen girl P.O.V. -- "a whole new level of bad" and "a train wreck." Slate proclaimed "Friday" "disastrous" while Yahoo asked straight up, "Is YouTube sensation Rebecca Black's 'Friday' the worst song ever?"

Consider Megan Parken, age 15, whose "MeganHeartsMakeup" has garnered almost 50 million views of YouTube. According to The New York Times:


Soon she was quitting more than cheerleading. The money-making opportunities from participating in YouTube's partner program and from the companies whose brands she mentioned were so great (and her discomfort at school growing so much) that she decided to quit high school entirely after ninth grade and enroll in online courses at the University of Texas, with the full support of her parents.

"The financial opportunity is incredible," said her mother, Susan Parken. "She has saved enough money to buy her first car" and has put away money for college.

Some teachers weren't horrified, either. "The confidence she has in her videos is not the way she was in school," said Yasemin Florey, Ms. Parken's yearbook teacher during eighth grade. "YouTube brought out the real Megan. She gets more out of her viewers than dealing with the drama back at school."

Have extraordinary opportunities for web celebrity led to a change in attitude for teens and tweens? A study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles indicates that it has.

The study:

The goal was to document historical change in the values communicated to tween audiences, age 9-11, who are major media consumers and whose values are still being formed. We analyzed the top two tween TV shows in the U.S. once a decade over a time span of 50 years, from 1967 through 2007.

Figure 1 provides a graphic example of this pattern. It shows how community feeling, the value that was top in 1967, and fame, the value that was top in 2007, flip in 2007, with fame for the first time above the yearly grand mean and community feeling below.


What a profound change in values over four decades! Of course, signing up for the YouTube partners program or blogging does not guarantee anything for these teens and tweens, and seeking fame at a young age is nothing new. Online social media makes the whole process more accessible by both performer and viewers, and now the world is watching 24/7. The self-reported devaluation of "community feeling" could be because the meaning of "community" has changed dramatically, compared to the "three communitarian values - community feeling, tradition, and benevolence" according to the authors of the study. Whether embracing online communities more and more results in a more shallow, fame-seeking person remains to be seen. This study could be a warning sign that we need to seek balance amongst traditional, family based ("IRL") communities and those in cyberspace.

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