Big Brother surveillance no longer scary!

Specular economy makes celebrities of us all, says Professor David Marshall

Professor David Marshall
Professor David Marshall

Companies' concerns about the risks posed by social media to their reputations shows just how far the effects of the new specular economy have gone, said Deakin University's celebrity expert and Chair of New Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Professor David Marshall.

Professor Marshall was responding to the Risk Management Benchmarking Survey by Aon which found 446 major Australian corporations and public sector organisations identified social media as a significant risk.

"We have become a society of spectacle and surveillance where the doors and windows to our persona are continually left ajar," he said.

"Far from the scary Big Brother notion of surveillance, in the specular economy we welcome and court attention and use images, information, text, conversation and interpersonal exchanges to create a public identity.

"Much as people once used the bathroom mirror to check they have washed and shaved completely and strike test poses in private before deploying them in the outside world, social networking sites allow us to build a quasi public presentation of ourselves and distribute it to the 'public' domain through friendship networks and beyond."

Professor Marshall said in the past celebrity was confined to those in the arts and entertainment industries.

"This realm has expanded to include those in the medical profession, politicians, universities' academics and corporate CEOs," he said.

"With the internet people can now bypass the traditional gatekeepers of the broadcast and print media and create their own celebrity – personality has become democratised and with it a surplus of identities has been created."

Professor Marshall said the same technology had fuelled an expectation of social interaction with the personality that dwarfed the fan letter of old and pushed celebrity culture into a constant accelerated game of revelation of the private and the intimate.

"The boundaries of public, private and intimate have always been a province of intriguing and tantalising debate about celebrity as people seek to find out what the famous are really like," he said.

"There is now a surplus of available images and salacious stories emerging in public online ways through millions of users."

Professor Marshall said the power of the specular economy had its watershed in the case of Tiger Woods where the golfer's carefully fabricated public identity quickly unravelled as new technologies both captured proof of his transgressions and then quickly allowed them to circulated and verified.

"It became clear that the speed with which new lovers were revealed was accelerated through the networked structure of contemporary communication," he said.

"The division between what was private and what was public information to be reported also broke down.

"But what was remarkable was that here was a contemporary figure who despite being under continued surveillance, had managed to construct a secret life outside his public persona.

"What brought him down was that technologically the ability to record, exhibit and publicise had been democratised and grown exponentially while socially a new norm had been created where in your quest for celebrity not only is it ok to expose yourself but others as well.

"We have seen this process just recently with the St Kilda footballer issue."

Professor Marshall said Jessica Watson had used the specular economy's power to orchestrate her rise to prominence using Twitter, Facebook and her blog site and the traditional media.

"By the time she returned to Sydney, she had become a major public figure with significant interest in Europe, North America and Australia," he said.

"Her power was generated by her close connection to her fans via a continuous online presence.

"Her 'availability to her fans' was not dependent on interviews but social media.

"What she generated was the capacity to interest the mainstream media in further forms of her celebrity persona, resulting in a book, key appearances on 60 minutes and a fashion shoot."

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