The flip side of celebrity engagement

Picture this scenario. A celebrity walks into a mall to interact with fans. The crowd goes berserk; pushing, touching, hitting on, or even punching and abusing the celebrity. Now, what if many of the trouble makers are wearing masks and their identities are not known? Would this celebrity feel like publically mingling again? Substitute the mall for a social networking site like twitter. The shoving with vitriolic tweets. And the masks with anonymous sniper attacks. How many users know the rules of engagement, are polite, not obnoxious and have mature interaction? Incidentally, the ones who come under the maximum fire are, surprisingly, not politicians but journalists, particularly television news anchors and editors. Oh, I forgot, I shouldn’t be surprised as shooting the messenger is a national pastime. Some of the tweets are downright nasty and irrelevant. The hate brigade often does not sport real names, pictures and profile information and functions with weird handles with the default egg image instead of the photograph. Under these circumstances, if celebrities quit this platform or respond only to known folks, can you blame them?

Now picture a second scenario. An actor walks into a mall to, let’s say, promote a film or a product. Pronto, an appeal is made to his fans to watch the movie or buy the product or coin a catch phrase or fill out feedback forms. But the celebrity refuses to sign autographs, pose for photographs, shake hands or even smile at those gathered there. The only thing he deigns to do is wave to the crowd. It’s a one way street with a display of ‘You Do This For Me, I Owe You Nothing’ arrogance.

Again, substitute the mall with twitter, the autographs and the photographs with replying, the smile with favouriting and the wave with the lazy retweet. What credibility will such celebrities have if all they are looking for is a fat follower count to flaunt and artificial engagement through some silly Sunday online discussion, with a disclaimer that only the best few tweets will get an out of this world gift - a retweet! This magnanimity stems from the spectacle of many users swinging to the other extreme – bowing and scraping to the point of deification by almost begging for a retweet, which celebrities do if you praise them. You scratch my back, I’ll tom tom!

Finally, picture a third scenario. A ‘public’ figure walks into a mall for the ostensible purpose of connecting with the lesser mortals out there. But wait, it’s actually a body double but the audience has no clue. So they proudly jostle for autographs, photographs, handshakes, hugs, blow kisses and what not, all under the mistaken notion that it’s the original Greek God or whatever.

Yet again, substitute the mall with twitter and the body double with a designated ghost writer, or worse, in some cases, a team on a roster to dish out the ‘courtesy’ of a reply to every fan in cyber space. In the good old days, well before the advent of the social media, it was common knowledge that many celebrities (film stars had unwittingly a copyright over the term!) had staff to respond to fan mail. The recipients often knew that responses were based on a template with no real personal touch. So while we flag anonymity among the average users, are celebrities far behind when it comes to interface?

I do understand that the sheer number of followers a celebrity may have makes it a herculean task to personally respond to everyone. So what do world leaders like US President Barack Obama with over forty million followers do? For starters, they very honestly declare that it’s an account run by Organising For Action staff. And that tweets from the President are signed ‘bo’. Why can’t our celebrities back home follow this practice? You can’t choose your followers, unless you protect your tweets, which defeats the purpose of social networking. But you certainly can choose who to follow. The gloves are off. So are the masks.

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