Celebrity and Youth

Mediated Audiences, Fame Aspirations, and Identity Formation

by Spring-Serenity Duvall (Volume editor)
©2019 Textbook VIII, 236 Pages
Series: Mediated Youth, Volume 29


Celebrity and Youth: Mediated Audiences, Fame Aspirations, and Identity Formation makes an examination of contemporary celebrity culture with an emphasis on how young celebrities are manufactured, how fan communities are cultivated, and how young audiences consume and aspire to fame. This book foregrounds considerations of diversity within celebrity and fan cultures, and takes an international perspective on the production of stardom. Chapters include interviews with professional athletes in the United States about their experiences with stardom after coming out as gay, and interviews with young people in Europe about their consumption of celebrity and aspirations of achieving fame via social media. Other chapters include interviews with young Canadian women that illuminate the potential influence of famous feminists on audience political engagement, and critical analysis of media narratives about race, happiness, cultural appropriation, and popular feminisms. The current anthology brings together scholarship from Canada, the United States, Spain, and Portugal to demonstrate the pervasive reach of global celebrity, as well as the commonality of youth experiences with celebrity in diverse cultural settings.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Celebrity and Youth
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction (Spring-Serenity Duvall)
  • Celebrities and Audiences
  • Audiences
  • Chapter Overview
  • References
  • Chapter 1: Social Media Celebrities as Salient Resource for Preteens’ Identity Work (Annebeth Bels / Hilde Van den Bulck)
  • Introduction
  • Celebrity, Preteen and Identity Work
  • Celebrity Culture and Celebrity as Role Model
  • Celebrities and Preteen Identity Work: Goodbye Innocence?
  • Observing and Talking to Preteens
  • Preteens Identity Work and Celebrity
  • Celebrity as Pathway and Career
  • Celebrities as Role Models in Preteen Identity Work
  • Discussion: Celebrity, Media and Parents in the Identity Work of Preteens
  • References
  • Chapter 2: WTF: Digital Ambassadors for the Young Generation? (Ana Jorge / Thays Nunes)
  • Introduction
  • Vloggers and Microcelebrities
  • Self-Branding
  • Community
  • Ambassadors and Influencers
  • Branded Intimacy
  • Entrepreneurial Microcelebrity
  • Influencing Who? Audiences’ Value and Labor
  • Socioeconomic Context
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 3: “INSANE PREGNANCY PRANK ON BOYFRIEND!”: Performing Gender, Domestic Assault, and Sexism via Couple’s Prank Videos on YouTube (Jessica Birthisel)
  • Introduction
  • The Economics of YouTube Celebrity and the Lure of the Prank
  • Standardizing the Celebrity Commodity: The Prank Video Formula
  • The Gendered Nature of “Pranktainment”
  • Connections to Domestic Violence
  • A Band of “bruhs”: Audience Engagement, Encouragement and Emulation
  • Conclusion and Discussion
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Adolescents as Cultural Activists: Remixing Celebrities in Fandom Communities (Pilar Lacasa / Julián de la Fuente / Sara Cortés / María Ruth García-Pernía)
  • Introduction
  • Structure
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Celebrities and Music Fan Communities
  • Reconstructing Celebrities through Multimodal Discourse
  • Fans, Celebrities and Social Action
  • Methodological Approach
  • Participants
  • Data and Analysis
  • Results
  • Heroes, Affection and Communities
  • Reconstructing Celebrities Through Multimodal Discourses
  • Fans, Celebrities and Social Action
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 5: Out in Play: Openly Gay Male Athletes Navigate Media, Celebrity, and Fandom (Leigh M. Moscowitz / Andrew C. Billings)
  • Introduction
  • Placing the Out Athlete Within Social Constructs
  • Sport and Celebrity
  • Sport, Identity and Masculinity
  • Methodological Approach
  • Inside the Sports Closet: The Promise of the Young Gay Athlete
  • The Complexities of Fame: Avoiding the Media Circus
  • The Cyclical Relationship Between Youth and Celebrity
  • “Others Like Me”: The Pending Legacy of Youth, Celebrity and Sport
  • References
  • Appendix
  • List of Respondents
  • Chapter 6: Believing in Emma Watson: Casual Fandom and Emerging Feminism in Audience Support for the United Nations #HeForShe Campaign (Spring-Serenity Duvall)
  • Introduction
  • Political Influence of Celebrities on Youth
  • Hermione/Emma Star Image
  • Becoming a Feminist
  • “We Grew Up with Hermione”
  • #HeforShe
  • Believing in Emma
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 7: Under Western (Girls’) Eyes: Cultural Appropriation and Feminism in the Celebrity Fashion of Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid (Jessica E. Johnston)
  • Introduction
  • Understanding Cultural Appropriation in Celebrity Culture
  • Who Runs the World? (White) Girls: Celebrity Fashion and the Global Economy
  • Kendall Jenner
  • Gigi Hadid
  • The Ambivalent Feminism of Celebrity Girls
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 8: All-American Girls: Examining the Media Coverage of Malia and Sasha Obama as Young Political Celebrities (Newly Paul)
  • Introduction
  • Girls as Celebrities
  • Themes in Media Coverage of the Obama Daughters
  • The First Black Children in the White House
  • The Poster Child
  • Family Ties
  • Glam Girls
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Chapter 9: Getting “Out of the Woods” and Coming “Clean”: Narrating Happiness in the Music and Celebrity of Taylor Swift (Maghan Molloy Jackson)
  • Introduction
  • Happiness as Success
  • Happiness as Livability
  • Getting “Out of the Woods” and Coming “Clean”
  • Performed Authenticity and Pop Music Success
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • About the Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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Celebrity culture is youth-obsessed and young people are obsessed with celebrities. These notions underpin much of the public discourse about celebrity culture and young people, taking for granted certain power dynamics, preferences, and consequences. The paradigm that structures public discourse about celebrity and youth is intensely focused on the potentially pathological relationship between young people and celebrity. The child star who is exploited, the teen star who falls from grace, the young fan who alters her body to attain celebrity perfection, the young first-time voter who is swayed by celebrity political endorsements, or the narcissistic young consumer whose purchasing habits are shaped by the glamour and commercialism of famous entertainers. Such concerns permeate global discourses on celebrity and youth.

Celebrity studies scholars interrogate the assumptions underpinning much of the popular concerns about youth and celebrity in order to complicate the role of fandom and star gazing in young people’s identity formations, sense of community, and indeed their own fame-seeking. In this collection, contributors privilege the perspectives of young people who interact with celebrity—whether by being famous themselves, being fans, or consumers—by conducting surveys, in-depth interviews, discourse analyses, and political economies of entertainment industries to mention but a few approaches. The body of scholarship that interrogates celebrity and youth is necessarily interdisciplinary as it bridges the areas of ← 1 | 2 → mass communication theory, cultural studies, gender, race, and ethnicity studies, sexuality studies, and more (Holmes & Redmond, 2006; Redmond & Holmes, 2007). In this volume, scholars share a diversity of approaches and international perspectives, and grapple with the complexities of celebrity, youth, and identity in the digital era.

The glorification of youth across all forms of popular culture is well established, as is the recognition that youth popular culture is often the object of public scorn and the focus of moral panics. Contemporary media is intensely focused on fame and demands innovative intellectual attention to how young people consume celebrity culture and how they aspire to fame. Celebrity culture fixates on youth—paradoxically, coolness is promoted through association with youth, while child stars are frequently sexualized and made to appear more grown up at younger and younger ages. The valorization of a teen-to-mid-20s demographic forces young entertainers to appear and act “older than their years” and excludes older performers from prime roles or judges them for efforts to appear younger. Celebrity industries also cultivate young audiences and rely upon their consumption of celebrity images and products for revenue.

Celebrity and Youth makes an examination of contemporary celebrity culture with an emphasis on how young celebrities are manufactured, how fan communities are cultivated, and how young audiences consume and aspire to fame. Celebrity and Youth foregrounds considerations of intersectional identities, diversity within celebrity and fan cultures, and takes an international perspective on the production of stardom. This introduction lays out the threads of interdisciplinary scholarship that underpin the collection, with the intent of acknowledging various distinct, yet interconnected, theoretical paradigms that will be explored in greater detail in the following chapters.

The collection will make three significant contributions to existing scholarship. First, this volume will approach “youth” as a social construct that reflects specific historical contexts and must be understood in relation to specific media technologies and practices. As such, in-depth analysis of contemporary celebrity culture will illuminate how youth is being defined and marketed across a range of online platforms and social realms. Second, this volume centers the Turner’s (2010) call for scholars to move beyond focusing primarily on critical analyses of media texts and conduct more reception studies and political economy analyses. Situated broadly in a cultural studies approach, this volume will draw on critical methodologies. Analyses will be historically contextualized in order to demonstrate the shifting nature of celebrity youth. Finally, this volume does not conceive of youth as fixed, but instead considers the process of celebrity and audience ageing from youth into maturity, as well as shifting notions of what constitutes “youthfulness.” ← 2 | 3 →

Celebrities and Audiences

Youth culture has consistently been the target of moral panics and raised concerns about the unravelling of social norms writ large. Countering popular and scholarly discourses that treated adolescents as problems to be solved, early cultural studies inquiries into youth subcultures provided a foundation for decades of scholarship on the significant role that media play in identity formations, social, and community building (see for example: Hebdige, 1979; McRobbie & Garner, 1975). Celebrity culture can be predicated on “coolness” and trends that are youth-oriented and driven by youth taste cultures and media practices, but are also implicated in discourses of concern about young people.

To the extent that young people are often at the center of cultural negotiations over values and norms, we can consider Dyer’s (1979/1986) contention that the social functions of celebrities is that they serve as charismatic figures who “embody values that are under threat” (p. 28). With their unruly behaviors and predilection for rebellion, young celebrities may challenge social norms of gender, race, sexuality, and even trouble notions of what constitutes talent and who is worthy of prestige. Furthermore, young audiences who are looking to stars as role models and incorporating them into identity work elicit fear about the potential influence of celebrities.

As mass media production and cultural industries accelerated in the 20th century, the role of media technologies in propelling fame is recognized as central to capitalism (see: Gamson, 1992; Turner, 2004; Williamson, 2016). Celebrity studies scholars develop approaches to interrogating how celebrity has been “democratised” in Europe and the United States with the decline of monarchical rule and the rise of print media and literacy (Braudy, 1986), a line of inquiry that extends into research on how reality television (Weber, 2009) and social media (Marwick & boyd, 2011) render fame seemingly accessible to all. The entertainment industry mechanisms for manufacturing fame may be obscured or made transparent, yet there is cultural capital in developing the savvy to understand celebrity culture (Gamson, 1992). For young people, navigating social settings may involve developing competencies in pop culture references, including being well-versed in the nuances of the celebrities who serve as cultural exemplars.

In articulating how celebrities wield power, Marshall (1997) defines celebrities as:

Though the visibility, wealthy and prestige that characterize stardom remain potent aspects of celebrity culture, the power dynamics shift somewhat in the milieu of participatory culture in which fans and non-fans alike carry greater capabilities of interacting with celebrities, who in turn frequently cultivate audiences via social media (Jenkins, 2006; Marshall, 2010).


Within celebrity studies, there has been a growing recognition of the paucity of research specifically focused on audiences for stardom, despite the periodic exhortations of celebrity scholars who insist that more audience research is vital to the field (see: Rojek, 2001; Turner, 2004, 2010). Barker, Holmes, and Ralph (2015) introduce a special issue of the Celebrity Studies journal focused on audience research by describing the importance of the collected studies that contextualize audiences and interrogate the function of celebrities in their lives:

Though audiences have demonstrably been marginal to celebrity studies research, there have been significant interdisciplinary efforts to study young audiences and celebrity, including in the areas of psychology, sociology, mass communication, and childhood studies (O’Connor & Mercer, 2017). Questions about the relationship between celebrity and youth occupy the attention of scholars from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds and theoretical perspectives. Developmental and media psychologists, for example, prompt us to consider the influence of celebrity on the cognitive and emotional processes by which young people develop self-identity (Giles, 2000). Further, psychological research on the marketing techniques that position celebrities as product endorsers also demonstrate the potential influence they may have on young people’s attitudes and behaviors (Palmer & Carpenter, 2006). It is beyond the scope of this introduction to examine all of the extensive scholarship that contributes insights to this topic, but it behooves us to acknowledge the influence of interdisciplinary scholarship on the study of celebrity and youth, as well as indeed on contributors to this volume. Taking up the call for more audience research that centers celebrity studies theories and perspectives, half of the contributors to this volume include interviews and ethnographic research with young consumers or celebrity. Central to their inquiries are considerations ← 4 | 5 → of identity formation, celebrity influence, the connectivity between audiences and celebrities that is possible in the digital era.

Social media. The importance of social media in the formation of micro-celebrities and fan cultures cannot be overstated, particularly for younger generations of consumers steeped in digital culture for most, if not all, of their lives. Since the early 2000s, as celebrity culture exploded in the internet era, scholars note the proliferation and democratization of online celebrity and audience interactions with celebrities (Alexander, 2013; Marshall, 2010). Celebrities utilize social media to engage in self-representation (Marshall, 2010) and cultivate fan communities (Ellcessor, 2012; Marwick & boyd, 2011). For young audiences, the desire to be noticed by celebrities is apparent in the use of Twitter to address favorite celebrities and beseech them to respond (Kehrberg, 2015). But, exploring the central role of internet and celebrity in young people’s lives is not limited to analyzing patterns of interactions. Rather, as danah boyd (2008) argues in a study of young social media users, we must consider how teens’ worldviews are grounded in their experiences of a world in which they are socially networked and can imagine living “in public” in ways that might mirror celebrity.

Thus, young people may not aspire to fame out of narcissism, but may view celebrity as a viable career path and conceive of visibility, popularity, privacy, and surveillance in quite different ways than have previous generations. Living in public has been normalized for some young people, as has the notion that they can profit monetarily and socially from pursuing fame.

Political influence. The concurrence that “clearly celebrities are not just entertainment to impressionable children, but role models whom they want to emulate too” (O’Connor, 2017, p. 14) undergirds considerations of the potential influence of celebrities on young people. First, debates center on whether celebrities are worthy of being role models or are too superficial to occupy the status that many believe should be reserved for more “deserving” rather than superficial individuals. The simplistic assumption that young people are highly susceptible ← 5 | 6 → to manipulation by celebrities and to being under the sway of charismatic figures abounds in popular discourse about the pitfalls of celebrity endorsers who may promote products and electoral campaigns, social issues and lifestyles and therefore may influence young people’s voting behaviors, consumers habits, worldviews, and lifestyles. Though critics express concern that celebrities may wield outsized power to manipulate young voters, O’Regan (2014) argues that young adults may believe that celebrities carry influence and yet still look primarily to non-celebrities for political insights. In fact, scholars have found limited effects of direct celebrity endorsements of products or political campaigns that suggest far more nuance in the celebrity cultivation of young fans and the possible ways that young people may look to stars as authorities on (Austin, Van de Vord, Pinkleton, & Epstein, 2008).

Parasocial relationships. In a dismantling of the assumed pathology of “celebrity worship,” Chris Rojek (2004) posits that for many consumers, “the celebrity is an imaginary resource to turn to in the midst of life’s hardships of triumphs, to gain solace from, to beseech for wisdom and joy” (p. 52). Thus, we can consider how young people may not necessarily experience intense attachments to celebrities, but may form parasocial relationships with celebrities and filter knowledge about their careers, public personae, and private lives through the lens of their own lived experiences as a form of cultural capital.

Celebrity studies scholars offer insights into how role models function for young people and the limits of influence on young people who are more discerning than they are often given credit for being. For example, young people may view celebrities as exemplars of possible career options. Allen and Mendick (2015) interviewed 14−17 year olds and argue “that celebrity culture can provide a resource that prompts young people to investigate careers of which they were not otherwise aware of or think were possible for ‘someone like me’” (p. 17). But, far from just offering young people examples of discrete career paths (singer, actor, model, etc). Allen and Mendick (2015) argue that through interviews with young people

Young people who see celebrities as having earned their status may, therefore, come to believe that a savvy understanding of the mechanisms to achieving fame may make it possible to work hard at becoming celebrities themselves (Allen & Mendick, 2016).

Fandom. Fandom, in turn, may support identity formation and a sense of community for young audiences (Jenkins, 2014). The boundary work of fandom contributes to interpersonal negotiations of identity. In addition, celebrity activism and fan activism has taken on new dimensions as celebrities may utilize social media to rally fans to engage in social action. Fan communities may also spearhead grassroots campaigns that mobilize fans to actions related specifically to celebrities, media franchises, related or unrelated social causes (Jenkins, 1992/2013). While recognizing the importance of fan studies (Gray, Sandvoss, & Harrington, 2007), it is also worthwhile to consider Gray’s (2003) point that audiences are not always easily categorized as fans and that vast audiences of non-fans and anti-fans also consume entertainment media and interact with content in complex ways. The pervasive nature of celebrity culture calls for a consideration of young audiences who may casually consume celebrities and be influenced by them subtly, depending upon their individual characteristics and developmental stages.

Age. What constitutes “childhood,” “tween,” “teen,” “youth,” “adolescence,” and the demarcations between “pre-adolescent,” “adolescent,” “teen,” “young adult” as well as the myriad other descriptors for young people who are not yet recognized as ‘adult’ is culturally contingent and fluid (Cunningham, 2006; Fass, 2016; Fass & Mason, 2000). In recent decades, scholars have charted extended adolescence as a “fundamental shift” in which “young adults (ages 18–29) are taking longer than in past decades to reach adult milestones such as marriage, children, and steady jobs” and that “The developmental trajectory of adolescence has slowed, with teens growing up more slowly than they once did.” as a result of shifting cultural norms and economic factors (Twenge & Park, 2017, p. 16). The delay of traditional benchmarks of adulthood is coupled with the extension of “juvenile behaviors” and tastes may persist beyond the legal age of maturity. So, for the purposes of examining youth and celebrity culture, age as a fixed number is not as useful for this volume. For the purposes of this collection, scholars engage with young people in the age range of approximately 13−23 years of age. By including participants and celebrities across the range from pre-teen to young adult, we collectively interrogate what “youth” means in contemporary celebrity culture and fan communities. From pre-teens engaging in identity work to young adults processing the role of celebrity in their formations of self over time, we gain insights into the ongoing function of celebrity across young lifespans.

Recent scholarly attention attunes to celebrity ageing and the significance of celebrities performing life cycles in the public sphere (Jermyn & Holmes, 2015). ← 7 | 8 → The emphasis in much of the research has been on “older” celebrities—particularly women—and their life cycles, but scholars of childhood studies also interrogate the aging process for child stars who transition into adulthood (Hanson, 2017). We may therefore ask how ageing through life stages in the spotlight may be distinct from being a “child star” who exists in collective memory and exemplifies a specific historical moment?

Childhood and girls studies. While celebrity studies scholars have made the case for more audience research (Turner, 2010), scholars in the areas of childhood studies, girls studies, mass communication, psychology, and sociology have long contributed invaluable insights into youth relationships with celebrities through in-depth interviews, participant observation, surveys, and other consumer-centric methodologies. One significant strand of research situates girls’ bedrooms as “sites of cultural production” (Kearney, 2007) in which celebrity consumption can be a key component of identity formation, friendship, and fandom. Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber’s (1975) pioneering study of girls’ subcultures illuminated the importance of gendered identity formations taking place in the domestic spaces of bedrooms among young girls who were listening to music, discussing pop culture, and consuming celebrities, among other activities. The centering of girls continues in research into the female-centric gossip and celebrity media cultures that cultivate girl fans even as some girl fandoms remain marginalized (Yodovich, 2016).

Dafna Lemish’s (1998) examination of girls’ consumption of the Spice Girls illustrates how celebrity entertainers feature prominently in girls’ social lives and identity formation. Though Lemish’s study is centrally concerned with music and adolescence, the girls she interviewed demonstrated their ability to consume the Spice Girls as individual celebrities, as “they separated the Spice Girls’ personalities from their roles as performers” and incorporated their interpretations of the celebrities into their negotiations of meaning making about such topics as ideal femininity, feminine empowerment, and female friendship (p. 234). Much of celebrity studies scholarship is concerned with the production and representation of fame at the intersections of gender, race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, age, and religion.

Identity work. Though the star images of celebrities may be problematic in a variety of ways, researchers have demonstrated repeatedly that young people are thoughtful consumers who are capable of making considered decisions about how the incorporate celebrity into their worldviews and lived practices. In a report on findings from an extensive sociological study of adolescents in the United Kingdom, Allen and Mendick (2016) argue that young people use celebrity as a “resource” in their “identity play” as they navigate identity formation and social relationships. From Lemish’s study of Israeli girls consuming Spice Girls to the ethnographic research in the UK, it becomes clear that young people in multiple geographic ← 8 | 9 → locations and cultural settings share common experiences with incorporating celebrity culture into their playful efforts to know themselves and negotiate their social position. The shared experiences of navigating social contexts, as well as the homogenization of transnational celebrity culture as young people experience shared celebrities and shared social media platforms indicates that as celebrity culture circulates globally, young people look to them not worshipfully, but playfully.

Scholarship that privileges young people’s articulations of their own lived experiences provide insights into the function of celebrity in identity formations, friendships, relationships, and the arduous process of maturing into adulthood. Furthermore, celebrities may provide material that audiences use in social interactions as they negotiate relationships over their life cycles (Ralph, 2015). Through an analysis of interviews with mothers and daughters, Ralph argues “not only that stars do operate importantly within intimate female relationships, but that they have a range of functions within such relations, ones that evolve as a daughter experiences various transitional phases into, and during, adulthood” (2015, p. 20). Thus, as young people mature, the stars they consume function not only to help them in the process of personal identity formation, but also contribute to how they navigate social norms and situations. With the advent of social media platforms and reality tv paths to fame, O’Connor astutely points out that “the union of childhood and celebrity […] will continue to grow, both in ways which are predictable and in ways which are entirely unanticipated” (2017, p. 14).

For young people, consumption of celebrity culture may also facilitate their understanding of class, social status, and global circuits of culture as they make meaning out of celebrities who rise from local to global visibility (Jorge, 2015). Audience research with young people is necessarily specific to the cultural contexts in which they live, which can illuminate how transnational celebrity culture functions within specific communities as well as how local celebrities are perceived by audiences with shared cultural norms and languages (Johansson, 2015; Lumby, 2007). It remains clear, as Turner (2004) argues, that


VIII, 236
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. VIII, 236 pp., 1 table

Biographical notes

Spring-Serenity Duvall (Volume editor)

Spring-Serenity Duvall is Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Salem College. She is the co-author, with Leigh Moscowitz, of Snatched: News Coverage of Child Abductions in U.S. Media (2016). Her research appears in Celebrity Studies; Communication, Culture, and Critique; Feminist Media Studies; and Journal of Children & Media.


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