What exactly does it mean to be a celebrity in 2016? Or, better yet, what does it mean to be famous in 2016? Apparently nowadays, if you’re part of a viral video or some other Internet phenomenon, you’ve already reached celebrity status.
Time Magazine recently put out a list of “The 30 Most Influential People on the Internet,” yet some don’t seem very influential. One particular case is that of Josh Holz and Daniel Lara, the teenagers behind one of 2016’s most popular memes, “Damn Daniel.” The two garnered Internet fame after posting a collection of funny Snapchat clips on Twitter, in which Holz recorded Lara walking around while screaming “Damn Daniel!” and “Back at it again with the white Vans” in a strangely cartoonish voice. Thus, the “Damn Daniel” meme was born, and America ate it up. After the videos garnered extreme popularity (approximately 200 million+ retweets and 300 million+ likes), Holz and Lara made an appearance on “Ellen,” cameoed in Weezer’s “California Kids” music video, walked the red carpet at the “Allegiant” movie premiere and Lara earned a lifetime supply of white Vans. In addition to all that, Internet users have posted “Damn Daniel” trap remixes, created “Damn Daniel” tattoos and so forth.
While the titular star of “Damn Daniel” did use his stardom wisely (he donated the lifetime supply of Vans to a children’s hospital), it’s kind of funny to think that someone can become famous simply by having a pair of shoes, a camera phone and a Twitter account. That being said, the past few years have shown that viral videos and social media have been the major catalysts for transforming ordinary people into online superstars. Last year, for instance, “Alex from Target” took the Internet by storm when a picture of an attractive Target cashier went viral. As I mentioned in one of my first articles for The Michigan Daily, the video-sharing app Vine is a perfect example of this. With its six-second limit, Vine allows users to capture hilarious, spontaneous moments and creative, improvisational clips. Though Vine can be beneficial in showcasing the talent of aspiring young actors and highlighting other realms of pop culture, it’s also a way in which companies can capitalize on the fame of popular Viners and make them into corporate sellouts. Numerous “Vine famous” stars also take advantage of their online celebrity by coming together in highly populated areas for “Vine meet-ups” to sign autographs and take pictures with fans.
The reason why this troubles and intrigues me so much is that fame, especially Internet fame, is a tricky double-edged sword. While it can be a great platform for helping raise awareness on a social cause or giving back to the community, it can also lead to media scrutiny, TMZ paparazzi and second-rate imitators. The way in which people yearn to be as close to the limelight as possible is perhaps an even bigger reason as to why people on social media become “famous.”
I witnessed this type of obsession with instant celebrity in high school. In the spring of 2013, I watched a senior from my high school, Jake Davidson, become an overnight sensation when he starred in a viral video titled “Kate Upton, Will You Go to Prom with Me?” I can recall spending half of my first period biology class huddled around a computer with other students to intently watch a KTLA profile interview on Jake. He was also featured on CNN, Yahoo and Ryan Seacrest’s radio show. Other students at my high school would jokingly take pictures with Jake and share it on social media to show off to their friends that they “met” the “Kate Upton guy.”
During that time, I remember thinking how amazing and insane it was that someone from my high school could become that famous instantly. But like most Internet “celebrities,” fame comes and goes. Months from now, “Damn Daniel” will be a fading memory, relived only for nostalgic purposes. Yet, most of all, there seems to be one big change when it comes to achieving American fame: fame used to be perceived as this ideal way of living that was only within the reach of actors, musicians, athletes and entrepreneurs. Now, in an era of virality and expanding media outlets, it seems as though becoming a celebrity can be as simple as a click of a button or the tap of a touchscreen.