This chapter will expand on the conference presentation I delivered in December, 2019.
This chapter focuses on examples of celebrity mythology which have developed across different fan communities and social media platforms in response to specific celebrity figures. It examines the relationship between online fandom and real-world celebrity encounters, with a view towards how each influences the other. My discussion is framed using case studies of two long-term celebrity figures. In both examples, the celebrity enjoys abundant and enduring popularity across several generations of fans, predominately on social media platforms. This is despite a refusal on behalf of the celebrity to engage with these forms of social media or any online platform in real life. I discuss how, in these instances, it is then the real-life encounters of fans which developed into online content that is shared, mediated and disseminated throughout fan groups and across popular culture more broadly. In response to these outputs, I discuss how the reception of these figures alters their identity in the cultural landscape.
The first of my cases studies is Keanu Reeves. I focus on the role of twitter and meme culture in the construction of his enduring celebrity identity, particularly in the last two decades. Using examples such as the “Sad Keanu” and “Whoa” memes, my assessment considers how fans have engaged with and shared different images of Reeves. By “reading” his persona through these meme images, fans have constructed an identity for Reeves which plays a significant role in how media in the present respond to his celebrity persona. In failing to engage with social media or online fandom, Reeves celebrity is enhanced by the popularity of his memes, while his career continues to experience a distinct upsurge in popularity in response to them.
My second example is Bill Murray. Of specific interest are his lived encounters with fans, which are shared online after the fact, as a form of urban legend. My discussion assesses how fan communities implement these encounter stories as a means of engaging with each other as well as expressing their appreciation for Murray as celebrity oddball. Much like Reeves, Murray’s public persona is limited to what audiences can glean from press interviews and celebrity sightings. Again, like Reeves, it is the impression which fans draw from these encounters that constructs the Murray image. As Murray legends shift and spread, his persona continues to be moderated by his fan community. Unlike Reeves, Murray has been the subject of numerous books and articles (many of which he has played a role in composing) which highlight these specific elements of his character.
What these examples highlight is the power of offline (or real world) celebrity encounters in influencing the online legacies of celebrity figures. In considering the role which online fanbases play in how celebrities are received throughout culture more broadly, scholars in fan studies may gain a deeper insight into the shifting power structure of the celebrity/fan relationship. Specifically, I will suggest that the continued fame and status of both Murray and Reeves is now heavily interwoven with their continued currency in the online world. In Murray we have seen a transformation from comedic actor into cultural guru, and the mythical figure behind a catalogue of legend. This has been reflected in his continued casting in off-beat films, which continue to attract new generations of fans who, in turn, seek him out in hopes of having a Murray encounter of their own. Similarly, the recent surge in popularity which Reeves continues to experience draws heavily from his status as meme icon. Previously something of an object of scorn and mockery for his acting talent, the popularity of Reeves as a meme has created an opportunity in which he can be interpreted as a modern-day philosopher and all-round good guy. Like Murray, Reeves film choices and the response of fans to the same, increasingly harkens back the personas which have been constructed for him, based upon the ideas of online fan groups.
Narrative analysis will be used to assess commonalities between Murray urban legends, while for Reeves, textual analysis will focus on a selection of popular memes. Gavin Edward’s 2016 book The Tao of Bill Murray will provide a foundation for Murray legends, while Reeves memes will be taken from the online Know Your Meme online repository. Memes will be read visually for similarities, as well as texturally, for assessment of repetitive captions and motifs.
My initial findings suggest that in the case of both Reeves and Murray their lack of online presence is important to their popularity in the online world. It is their inaccessibility; their lack of stream of consciousness tweets or Instagram posts the allows them to retain a sense of mysterious anonymity. Rather than repelling fans, this attitude makes the celebrity figure more attractive.