Monday, April 11, 2016

Personality Pays

“The digital archive can therefore illuminate how the conflation of economic and social relations is not simply an alienated process but always already engaged and active.”

Jennifer Pybus’s chapter entitled “Accumulating Affect: Social Networks and their Archives of Feelings” takes a more in-depth look at how users of social media create an affect for themselves through these platforms that engage user emotions. She asserts that archives not only preserve knowledge but also the emotions of that particular moment something is posted.

Because of this, we are able to reflect on our posts, seeing where we were emotionally at a given point in time. Our previous engagements with social media can even shape and transform the way we feel in the present.

Whether we like it or not, social media has transformed the way we view the world, and, yes, it has changed the way the world views those who participate online. As Pybus mentions in her work, it isn’t just private citizens that are reaping the benefits of an online presence. Both small and big companies as well as public figures, like musicians and politicians, have recognized the potential that social media provides to market themselves.

I currently work in a tourism department for a city in Illinois, and one of my jobs is to keep an updated record of all the businesses within the city, and, trust me, it’s hard to market a business without an online presence. I’ve always thought that if companies don’t have at least a Facebook page, they probably either already have a decent customer base and don't care or they’re just honestly missing out on major marketing opportunities.

However, businesses and public figures aren’t the only ones profiting from the economic value of social media digital archives. While it’s true that social media platforms provide online spaces for individuals and companies to record and reflect on memories and the feelings they evoke, some have figured out another way to profit from social media.

After reading through Pybus’s work, I began to think more about how individuals join in this “ongoing process of choice and curating the self” through social media, creating the online affect that she focuses on in the chapter. As a student with a concentration in composition and rhetoric, I asked myself, who is the audience for all of this? What purpose does it serve?

It seems that as individuals, we create this affect mostly for ourselves and those we know who are also on these sites. As Pybus suggests, we as individuals engage in social media to archive moments, thoughts, and feelings and to reflect on those later, continuously shaping our affects both on and offline. In contrast, companies and businesses use social media to promote their goods/services, reaching a wider (online) audience of potential paying customers.

However, I do think there is a category of those using social media, also for a solid purpose, that Pybus seems to overlook: what about individuals that create an affect online for economic purposes? Sure, celebrities create their affects on social media to promote whatever it is that they do to make money—buy my album, go see my movie, come watch me perform stand-up comedy. Yet, some individuals—NOT celebrities or well known prior to social media—have capitalized on social media’s economic value by simply promoting themselves and their personalities.

This came as a shock to me at first, but, yes, normal individuals like you and me are making money because of the online affect they have and continue to create. One of the prime examples of this phenomenon is Jenna Mabry, better known as Jenna Marbles.

While some may have made a name for themselves with a certain post or video (who else remembers the Chocolate Rain guy?), it seems these moments are often short-lived. Jenna, along with many others following her lead, has transformed the online world, bridging the gap between individual and business purposes for doing so. Her tweets and YouTube videos have gained her thousands of followers within the past few years—and she’s making a living of off it!

The affect that she has accumulated online has pushed her closer toward celebrity status, but unlike most other celebrities, she isn’t trying to sell you anything but her personality. Her display of “highly performative subjectivities” that Pybus discusses has attracted people across the globe. The affect that she has created has proved extremely relatable and popular, transforming her into an online superstar. 

Other online personalities have also thrived and made their living through their affects created via social media, but I have to admit, Jenna is one of my personal favorites. It does seem a little discouraging that most of us on social media won’t ever gain the online notoriety that is required to make a living out of the deal, but it’s interesting to think that it's now an option. Welcome to the 21st century, right?


  1. It's interesting to connect your post and Jenna Marbles to Trevor's focus on Pybus's description of digital natives and digital immigrants because I think Jenna Marbles and others who have crafted this success through social media are digital natives who were comfortable with the tools but who also approached social media like digital immigrants who are very conscious of their social presence. Social media has opened up these opportunities that did not exist twenty years ago; what would Jenna Marbles do today if YouTube wasn't available? Would she have been a struggling stand-up comic performing at the local Funny Bone? Or would she have been unhappily employed in a regular job? I also noticed, though, that as someone who is a presence on social media that she feels the need to be trendy or to succumb to trends. Her opening credit shows her a blonde, but her most recent videos show her hair colored gray with blue/purple/green ombre. Honestly, I am coloring my hair every eight weeks in an attempt to blend the gray strands with blond strands in an effort to hide the gray and therefore my age. But since she is a public/social media persona, she needs to appeal to her viewers through trends to stay relevant.

  2. Getting famous from social media is a super interesting recent phenomenon. It usually includes YouTube or other video sites. I wonder if anyone has been able to make a living off Twitter. I know there are very popular twitter accounts, but can Twitter sustain a lifestyle? In any case, I find it interesting that the line between fan and create begins to blur on YouTube. The site provides a chance to "make it big" on your own, starting from nothing except your own talents and ideas. While this is a great thing for most people, it can also be dangerous (which is the opposite message of Pybus' article, I know). People who don't know how to handle this newfound fame, and who don't have a support system like agents and managers like other creators offline, let the fame go to their head and abuse the heck out of their influence on their fanbase, usually a younger fanbase. With that, I'd like to post my own link to a youtube video titled "YouTube Culture": It's just a really fun song that Jon Cozart, someone who rose to small fame through YouTube, pokes fun at this "culture." Also, side note, go check out his other videos, like the After Ever After videos. Those are fun.

    1. I actually know two people that are currently making money from Twitter accounts they have created. Anyone know about the Bill Nye the Science Guy parody account? That guy is from my hometown.

      I also think it's an interesting distinction between people who use YouTube to propel their stand-up/acting careers, like Bo Burnham, and those who use YouTube as their main vehicle to portray their talents, like Jenna Marbles.

  3. Katy, I love that you bring up "youtube personalities" as a medium of social media use. It really is a phenomenon that seemingly had to develop out the digital age: a celebrity who is a celebrity simply because of social media usage. The first that comes to mind for me is SXEPHIL aka Philip DeFranco. Also known as "Philly D", DeFranco started blogging and vlogging in 2006. Since then, he has become one of the most well known youtube commentators on pop culture and everyday news and current events. Although he started this v/blogging from his home in his spare time, he has since made it his full time career and has a net worth of nearly $3 million (branching out to different types of advertising, different daily and weekly blogs/vlogs, etc). It is absolutely astounding that cultivating an "online persona" is actually a popular and relevant career choice but, as I mentioned, nearly a necessary development in the digital age.