TILL DEATH DO US PART? CONVERSATIONS WITH DECEASED CELEBRITIES THROUGH MEMORIAL PAGES IN FACEBOOK

TitleTILL DEATH DO US PART? CONVERSATIONS WITH DECEASED CELEBRITIES THROUGH MEMORIAL PAGES IN FACEBOOK
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Gil-Egui, G., R. Kern, and A. E. Forman
Affiliation (1st Author)Fairfield University, USA
Section or WGPopular Culture Working Group
DateThurs 27 June
Slot CodePOPT4a
Slot Code (Keyword)POPT4a
Time of Session16:00-17:30
RoomQ217
Session TitleFans and Fantasy
Submission ID5518
Abstract

Since Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl (1956) coined the term “para-social interaction” (PSI) to describe one-sided relationships of intimacy that individuals establish with celebrities, substantive scholarship has been generated on the role media technologies play in the creation and nurturing of such relationships (Giles, 2002). In the last few years, a growing portion of this scholarly production has revolved around the ways in which social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook and Twitter facilitate and reinforce para-social interaction phenomena by allowing more direct and, sometimes, two-way communication between public figures and common individuals (Kassing & Sanderson, 2010; Marwick & boyd, 2011; Senft, 2008; Stenros & Montola, 2011). The following is a proposal for a study that explores PSI with dead celebrities through memorial pages in Facebook. In a previous article, we argued that, in addition to allowing communication and sharing with living others, Facebook also provides a space to commune with, and about, the dead in a public forum (authors, forthcoming). In a subsequent study (authors, 2011), we corroborated this finding, as we explored community formation and maintenance around memorial pages in Facebook. In this proposal, we expand the research of our two previous analyses by focusing this time on variables that may affect the nature of para-social interactions with dead celebrities in Facebook. Preliminary results from content and thematic analyses reveal a prevalence of intimate and direct “dialogue” with famous dead subjects, similar to our earlier findings. Moreover, our data is also showing patterns in the creation of multiple memorial pages dedicated to the same deceased celebrities, in which a combination of fans’ dedication and sophisticated forms of spamming compete for control of the flow of postings. Additionally, this study explores factors that may determine variations in the frequency, theme, and tone of posts by users of this particular type of Facebook memorial pages, such as gender of the deceased celebrity, whether the celebrity died suddenly, of old age, or of a long illness; whether the celebrity was directly related to the entertainment industry or not (e.g. Steve Jobs, Joe Paterno), and whether the celebrity who is the subject of the memorial page maintained spaces for direct interaction with fans (e. g. through an official Facebook page or a Twitter account) while s/he was alive, among other potential variables. Preliminary results in this regard reveal more likelihood of confrontational postings in the case of pages dedicated to female celebrities who died in an untimely fashion than what is the case for pages dedicated to male celebrities who died in similar circumstances. This study will contribute new insights on a number of debates about the actual role of users of SNSs in the production/reproduction/consumption of celebrity culture Moreover, our exploration will enrich existing literature concerned with the interplay between media technologies and culture, especially in regard to phenomena implicating multiple actors and levels of meaning, such as that of death and bereavement (De Vries & Rutherford, 2004; Durkin, 2003; Gibson, 2007; Sanderson & Cheong, 2010; Williams & Merten, 2009).

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