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A Companion to New Media Dynamics by Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, John Hartley

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Chapter 22

Microcelebrity and the Branded Self

Theresa M. Senft

Introduction: Identity Crisis

Kobena Mercer writes: “Identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis, when something fixed, coherent and stable is displaced by the experience of doubt or uncertainty” (1990: 43). In this chapter, I'd like to consider a relatively new form of identity linked almost exclusively with the Internet and increasingly spoken about through the language of crisis: the notion of self as “microcelebrity.” I coined that term in 2001 while researching a book on camgirls: young women who were broadcasting their lives over the Internet (Senft 2008). Back then I was trying to describe how camgirls utilized still images, video, blogging, and crosslinking strategies to present themselves as a coherent, branded packages to their online fans.

Since that time, the discourse of “brand me” has exploded into the public sphere: check the business section of any bookstore, and you will see at least half a dozen titles exhorting the importance of self-branding. In a similar vein, the practice of microcelebrity (which I define as the commitment to deploying and maintaining one's online identity as if it were a branded good, with the expectation that others do the same) has moved from the Internet's margins to its mainstream. When people request examples of microcelebrity practice, I respond by asking them to consider what they themselves do online. Have they ever agonized over whether something belongs on a ...

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