Accepted for Transformations in Celebrity Culture: Celebrity Studies Conference, University of Winchester, June 18-20, 2020 (cancelled due to COVID-19)*
Authentic celebrity status has long been considered the almost exclusive domain of humankind, a realm in which animals’ dwell on the periphery, frequently as accessories for their human caretakers and co-stars. Over the last decade however, there has been a noticeable shift in how animals are perceived by audiences, a trend which has been dictated in large part by the abundance of social media platforms providing exposure for everyday people – and their companion animals. While much attention has been given to the realm of the human social media celebrity or social media influencer, considerably less focus has been devoted to the rising popularity of animals and their increasing celebrity profile. As they steadily becoming the object of public affection however, it is necessary to consider the influence of pets as celebrity figures and their impact on the field of celebrity studies.
With this goal in mind, my paper considers the rising status (in life and death) of animal celebrities. Using Time Magazine’s top 10 influencers of 2019 as a framework, my discussion assesses how the specific persona of these animal celebrities is curated and mediated in the online world. While the bulk of my analysis will focus on the life of the animal, I also consider the impact of death on their celebrity status. As the recent passing of Grumpy Cat (who was perhaps the pinnacle of online celebrity pets) highlights, animals have a considerably shorter life span than their human counter parts. When they die however, the emotional response of the public is equally as evident as that following the death of a human celebrity figure.
As the first wave of celebrity animal careers begins to flourish across the celebrity landscape, and as the animals themselves age and die, how they are discussed, celebrated and remembered posthumously presents a fascinating area for academic study. This paper encourages the beginnings of necessary research into how and why we love and celebrate celebrity animals, and what their passing can tell us about how we rationalise and understand our own, human mortality.
 Bruner, Raisa. (2019, August 29). The 10 Best Animal Instagram Accounts to follow in 2019. TIME Magazine. Retrieved from https://time.com/5551937/best-animal-instagram-accounts-2019/.
*I think it is really important for those of us in academia to recognise the impact that social distancing and quarantine have had upon our academic hopes and our work in 2020. I know that many of us had been nurturing dreams of a career in academia which is a brutal field at best, so to put so much effort into something, to be “accepted” and then to have that opportunity removed can be disheartening. It’s important to commemorate the achievement, even though we won’t get to live it.
Yes, there is a range of “bigger issues” taking place globally at the moment and I am not trying to downplay those, instead I want to highlight that before this year we’d all been on a trajectory to somewhere, and that trajectory has now been indefinitely dismantled. Maybe it will never be the same. Maybe it’s impacted you so severely that you may never return. That’s still a loss. It may not be a global loss, but it is a personal one. It is a death – and it deserves to be recognised.