What makes a celebrity in 2019? Ask These Media Studies Students

A distaste for a subject doesn’t normally make you want to know more about it, but that was the case for University of Virginia fourth-year student Sierra Ruiz when she signed up. in the course “Celebrity Studies”, for its cornerstone of media studies. project.

“I was just intrigued because I don’t like celebrities,” Ruiz said. “I don’t do anything celebrity-related. I don’t like gossip or anything like that.

But then Ruiz started thinking about “stardom” in broader terms.

“There’s a whole mass of different characteristics and personalities and intersectionalities within it,” the media studies major said. “It was really intriguing. You learn a lot about how people perceive things and how people are influenced by other people and why people look up – or down – on different figures.

The course, taught by Assistant Professor Elizabeth Ellcessor, focuses on the study of the cultural meanings and economics of celebrity throughout history, from early cinema to television, YouTube, games and social media influencers.

The heart of the project was a series of podcasts – five 30-minute episodes – produced by the whole class. The students worked either on the overall organization of the project, research, writing, interpretation and recording, or on the post-production work.

Ellcessor said the mission “helps make college work public, accountable, and accessible, as they can share it with family, friends, the UVA community, or future employers.” By creating a podcast, she said, students also gained practical skills and learned the practices and ethics of a contemporary media industry.

The class decided on the title of the series, “Making a Celebrity,” and selected a focus for each podcast episode that allowed them to explore what makes someone a celebrity in the 2019 media landscape.

To that end, the podcast – which launched Friday at the Studio at 1515 University Avenue and can be listened to in its entirety here – focused on five categories of celebrities: “Megastars”, “Sports”, “Business”, “Influencers” and “Local”.

Here is an overview of the episodes:


The selection: Miley Cyrus

Why: “We were unanimous on her,” said third-year student Jamey Bulloch. “I think it’s because we all grew up with her and grew with her through her changes. She had so many different types of profiles that she showed us. That’s what made she, in our opinion, a megastar.

“She went through a country phase and a young Disney star phase, which we all loved when we were kids, and has now come out of that and really shows her true colors through all these different things that a lot of us are kind to cross into our own lives. She has been kind of a representative of us in so many ways, and also has reached out to such a global community that everyone knows her.

“We asked people on Grounds about her, and each person had something to say and was happy to talk about her. It gave us the idea that she was definitely a megastar.

Podcast Highlight: “In what we called the ‘Balancher’ section, we discussed everything we had studied and said, ‘Why is this girl so famous?’ We talked about it so naturally; it was so easy.


The selections: LeBron James and Serena Williams

Why: “LeBron is huge,” fourth-year student Hildy Maxwell said. “Everyone knows him, whether you watch basketball or not. And then the same with Serena.

Podcast Highlight: “What was really interesting to me was that we talked about how Serena is really famous for a lot of different things and often famous for her controversy, which is interesting because she’s a woman. Whereas LeBron James is best known for her athletic abilities, she has been in many controversies over how she acted on the tennis court, how she is a mother, but also how she took her fame and launched a fashion line. We talked about the different sides of her fame, which was interesting.


The selections: Elon Musk and Bill Gates

Why: “We chose them because they are extremely different and we wanted to try to compare them,” said Magda Morice, a fourth-year media studies and foreign affairs student. “When you think of a billionaire, you think of Bill Gates. A lot of people think of him as responsible. He has the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so you think of his philanthropy and all that.

“When you think of Elon Musk, you think of extravagance, you think of SpaceX, you think of Tesla. Elon Musk has a lot of controversy, whereas Bill Gates is a very private person.”

Podcast Highlight: “We had snippets of interviews with Elon Musk and Bill Gates and you could really see their personalities. Elon Musk is very present. He talks a lot of gibberish; the interviews are really, really funny. In the Bill Gates interviews, he talks a lot about his philanthropy and what’s next with Microsoft, and we used those interviews to kind of draw the line between them.


The selections: James Charles and Kylie Jenner

Why: “There are so many now that we couldn’t really pick one — so we picked two that kickstarted this whole idea of ​​being a social media influencer,” Ruiz said. “James Charles is in the makeup industry – an openly gay man who became Cover Girl’s ‘Cover Man’. It was a big thing. Recently he was invited to the Met Gala as one of the first influencers.

Podcast Highlight: “I was really interested in the historical part – How did this happen? – because I worked at a media agency this summer and influencers were very important,” Ruiz said. “They wanted influencers” at such level and at such level”, and I was like “Why?” I didn’t understand what the point really was. Now, to hear the whole story of how Kylie Jenner made her whole business just an influencer and what that really meant was truly intriguing.


The selections: Francesco Badocchi, Kendall Street Company, Miss Kathy

Why: “We wanted to interview a basketball player, especially after last year’s win,” said fourth-year student Sofia Ackerman. “They really are celebrities – I think student-athletes have a ‘celebrity’ to them. Kendall Street Company is one of the most famous local bands and then Miss Kathy is a UVA celebrity that everyone knows.

Podcast Highlights: “We interviewed [Badocchi] about basketball, being part of the national championship team, but also having to play the piano in front of 25,000 people at the [championship celebration at Scott Stadium]of which he was apparently not informed until the previous night.

“Miss Kathy talked about her role like ‘Sunshine at UVA.’ I think she’s such a staple at UVA. She got really emotional in her interview. I think hearing her talk about what she thinks about her role at UVA and her perspective was really interesting. I think which many UVA students will think is interesting too.

Overall, students said they learned a lot.

“Stardom is so different from traditional movie and TV stardom,” Ruiz said. “Today is more than being someone who looks a certain way and acts a certain way. Being a celebrity can be low key, even in your own community, where you have your own supporters.

“With social media, you can now attract such a large number of followers, and that’s why influencers can be a voice for people, especially to be people in their age range and niche communities. . It was really intriguing. You learn a lot about how people perceive things and how people are influenced by other people and why people look down on or despise different figures.

Ackerman added, “Celebrities are a part of everyone’s life. Even if you don’t have social media or never leave your house, you know who these celebrities are. Many people don’t realize what makes them famous. For example, why are the Kardashians so much more famous than any other wealthy family?

“Dissecting these ways that celebrities kind of stand out from the rest of the population was really, really interesting. We wanted to focus on different types of celebrities because everyone has different interests and relates to different celebrities. That was sort of our main idea behind the project.