Amanda Bynes was once known as America’s sweetheart, one who millennials alike loved. Through very successful shows and movies, she has been typecast by the masses as the cute, funny, genuine girl-next-door actress that everyone would fall instantly in love with. You could imagine the shock when her first set of controversial pictures after a hiatus appeared on the Twitter sphere early this year.
Soon after, the media picked it up. It was another Britney Spears circa 2008 story, a major A-lister gone berserk, something the masses would supposedly be hyped up about. As more blogs shared their opinions on her behavior, her dress, her actions, her social media identity, specifically on Twitter, would blow up as well. Bynes frequently posted hate comments at other celebrities or called out other sources as false, trying to reclaim her name.
What got the media really going were the selfies. Bynes, in only a bra, was playing off the to the age-old cliché of ‘sex sells’. But Amy Dobson has another perspective to this self-revealing semi pornographic stunt. In Dobson’s article, “The ‘Grotesque Body’ in Young Women’s Self Presentation on Myspace”, she discusses how grotesqueness, this over-the-board sexualization is aligned with “a narrative of humiliation and degradation of the female object, producing for the viewer a sadistic kind of pleasure.” Dobson holds a critical view of those who are inclined to expose themselves publicly. If Dobson’s argument were valid, it seems as though it may be a method for masochism, in the form of representation and receiving much flack from the public. Certainly it deals with insecurity, to having to resort towards public attention, confirming a certain level of physical attraction from external forces.
Yet what separates Bynes from the rest of the public would be her stardom. While every day teens or adults who use Instagram may post similar images on Twitter or Instagram, perhaps hoping to lure some attention from this kind of ‘attraction’, she only receives criticism. Why? Because as Dob’s explains, “the image that results of the celebrity is a fetished and idealized one, of mystery, glamour and unavoidable distance from the viewer.” Yet, when Bynes or other celebrities show the opposite (Lindsay Lohan anyone?), it is a disorienting view of someone who needs help. TMZ, the infamous tabloid for all celebrity gossip, especially loves to ‘reveal’ the real problems and addictions behind celebrities, frequently purposely taking images of unflattering photos, especially known for ‘the money shot’- celebrities not wearing underwear, worth upwards of one million dollars.
The pressures behind a celebrity’s maintaining of brand and face are often hard to understand for the common folk. Especially nowadays with fans, media being able to interact with celebrities directly, the exchanges are essentially series of mini press releases for the personal brand. Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd, in their article “To Seen and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter” discuss authenticity in discourse of this popular social media platform. While we can use Twitter freely to complain, voice unreciprocated opinions or promote a product, as nothing may come out of it, celebrities have a tougher time doing so. At any moment, a tweet could harm a reputation, which may take much much longer than 140 characters to build back. Perhaps that’s why many celebrities such as Megan Fox try Twitter out and stop afterwards or some just refrain from the practice altogether. Boyd and Marwick explain that such practice “involves ongoing maintenance of a fan base, performed intimacy, authenticity and access, and construction of a consumable persona.”
With Twitter being a battleground for public brawls, recent examples being Jimmy Kimmel and Kanye West feud or Sinead O’Conner’s public letter condemning Miley Cyrus, tweets are more than just words on screen. The 140 characters are favorited, retweeted, replied to, screenshoted and shared on Facebook or multiple media streams, just in case you didn’t see it. Marwick and Boyd, in another one of their articles “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, And The Imagined Audience” discuss the problem behind multiple contexts and audiences reading the same content. Such a situation makes ‘it difficult for people to use the same techniques online that they do to handle multiplicity in face-to-face conversation.” For some, Bynes comes off as witty and sarcastic, the epitome of internet humor. For others, she is clearly an ignorant, offensive ex-teen idol that requires rehabilitation.
Of course context collapse would create many problems. Seeing Bynes come out of obscurity with her first images being that of a “good-girl-gone-bad” on Twitter, people can’t help but jump to conclusions. Fans used to her cute, innocent ways are taken aback by her new cheek rings and blue lipstick. People care so much partly because they have assumed that this is the authentic Amanda Bynes, that Twitter is an accurate representation of herself to the world. Given that she has officially entered rehab in September, perhaps her the attacks and lack of consistency shown on the Twitter sphere is not so far from reality. Yet, more and more, celebrity social media personalities are becoming a trending topic of controversy ( cc: Miley Cyrus). Celebrities, especially, are judged from their online personalities, expected to be the same character offline, which may not always be the case.