In Theresa Senft’s initial use, microcelebrity referred to the experiences of camgirls, women in the 1990s and early 2000s who recorded their daily lives through desktop cameras. Jennifer Ringley and her JenniCam site are among the most well-known. From her study, Senft perceived these women to experience a more intimate version of celebrity through their online connections, the everydayness they captured and the closeness that could create with their audiences.
Since Senft’s study, use of the word has changed. Analyzing its appearance in the New York Times since 2002, it remains tied to Internet forms and figures known for being “themselves.” However, performances of the self differ. The paper’s most common application involves online aughts “It girl” Julia Allison. Providing punditry on contemporary media and celebrity, Allison is like the camgirls in being known as “herself.” However, instead of being present primarily through a single site she controls, Allison’s persona is dispersed through multiple sites and platforms: her own “official” webpage, various social media sites, and assorted television and print forms. Furthermore, her persona is highly reflexive, as her career involves commenting on media and celebrity from her own experiences. This version of microcelebrity thus functions more like Daniel Boorstin’s concept of someone “known for their well-knownness.” In contrast to Senft’s use, this deployment depends on lack of connection, singularity, or authenticity. The “micro” here signals not the closeness between celebrity and audience in one-to-one online venues, but the profligate fragmentation of celebrity through virtual multiplicities.
Two recent articles show continuing shifts. “Turning Microcelebrity into Big Business” tracks Oliver Luckett and theAudience, his management firm matching mostly online celebrities with promotions, reading something like Jordan Belfort selling off penny stocks. A piece on Vine star Jerome Jarre does not use “microcelebrity” specifically but implies its logics in Jarre’s rise. These articles differ from past examinations in their concentration on men, entrepreneurship, and explorations of art and commerce. Jarre and Luckett both apply artistic frames to their work, Luckett seeing a balance between art and commerce, Jarre tipping toward art by stepping away from more “synergistic” opportunities. These recent applications demonstrate how microcelebrity is--and arguably, always has been--a macro phenomenon, hinging on legitimating discourses of quantity and quality. “Microcelebrity” may eventually exist without qualifiers, but its evolution in one of America’s most legitimating institutions shows how its parameters have transformed but still remain.