Will geeks inherit the earth?

2010-11-13 17:21

The glitter confetti had barely settled on the Idols stage when this year’s winner, Elvis Blue, broke the news to the screaming crowd that he would split his R500 000 prize with runner-up L’loyd Cele (cue the lump-in-the-throat moment).

It also later emerged he had ­intended to donate the car he had won to charity, but the show’s ­producers would not allow it.

Both Blue and Cele are married, and are fathers. Cele is a reformed bad boy, works in IT and is a ­worship pastor at his church.

Blue teaches music and took his stage name from one of his 11-year-old students, who died of HIV/Aids last year.

Welcome to the new face of 21st-century celebrity.

Earlier this year, a British newspaper reported on the waning ­demand for celebrity pictures and how the paparazzi were finding that their lucrative jobs were now in jeopardy. Pictures of celebrities obviously still sell, but the feeding frenzy of the past decade has slowed to a selective nibble.

Ten years ago, magazine editors would enter into a bidding war for a juicy celebrity picture, and ­obscene prices were paid because the generated sales warranted the cost. Today, this rarely happens.

Heat magazine editor Melinda Shaw concurs. “I no longer bid for pictures because there really isn’t a celebrity who generates enough interest to warrant the cost.”

So what’s changed?

Firstly, the democratisation of media has literally altered the ­relationship between the star and the starstruck.

Cellphone cameras have contributed to the devaluing of celebrity images – everyone can now be a paparazzo and these ­pictures are posted on social networks. Social media, in turn, has also played a huge role in demystifying the image of a celebrity.

With platforms like Twitter, you can follow your favourite celebrity (without actually stalking them) and, most importantly, send them direct messages.

The boundary between fan and celebrity has ­dissolved and, in the process, the allure has been removed from that relationship.

“Full reality,” says Shaw, “breeds contempt.” Many celebrities have opted to pull the plug on their ­Twitter accounts. But technology has ensured that there is free and instant access to celebrity news.

With blogs and daily online news feeds, there is little motivation to buy a monthly or weekly magazine for a story that is not breaking news. For many brands and magazines that use celebrities to sell their products, this shift has far-reaching consequences.

The second reason for a wane in celebrity interest (and one that has a more long-term effect) is the steady change in value systems around the world. A shift from an era of “me” to an era of “we” – which is unfolding after the recession – sees a world that embraces philanthropy, authenticity and a collaborative mindset that strives for the common good.

This is a far cry from the bling lifestyles of people like Paris Hilton, who became the poster girl for a celebrity era where people could be famous for being famous.

A trend report by the Future Laboratory in London predicts that the celebrities of the future will be the innovators, scientists and thought leaders of the world, evidence of which is already emerging.

People who actually possess a skill (sportsmen, ­musicians, entrepreneurs) are ­becoming the new rolemodels, and increasingly these people use their skills to make the world a better place.

This resonates far more with the world’s changing mood than the ability to shop lavishly and ­party hard.

The Social Network – the movie about the Facebook phenomenon and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg – is evidence of this shift in the spotlight. While he has made ­billions out of the social media platform, he has given a sizeable portion back to charity.

South Africa’s Mark Shuttleworth did the same when he invented Ubuntu, a free, open-source operating system that not only marries science and philanthropy, but improves the lives of others. Innovation and empathy are the new sexy.

So are geeks our new celebrities? Well, that depends on how ­voracious our appetite is for new technology.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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