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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Rebecca Shaw

The relatability shtick falls flat if you’re too famous

‘At no point in history have normies had this kind of direct access to famous people and their thoughts, and vice versa.’ Photograph: Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

I’ve decided that celebrities should hire me. Not to write their TV shows or movies (although yes, that would also be good), but for a more important social media-based role. My job would be to warn them when they are about to cross The Relatability Line. The Relatability Line is a rope across the entry of your descent into Twitter Hell.

This job may seem needless but we are living through unprecedented times. At no point in history have normies had this kind of direct access to famous people and their thoughts, and vice versa – I do wish I could have followed @maewest. Added into this mix is the fact there is a generation of famous people, or getting-famous people, who grew up using social media just as much as their fans. They are good at it and funny, they like it, and slinging off content comes to them like breathing. It can be hard for them to know when is best to stop.

That’s where I would come in.

The unrelatability of the rich and famous used to be harder to spot. The rise of the internet, of paparazzi culture and constant monitoring has changed that, but often celebrities simply just send social media posts out into the world themselves. There was David Geffen, deleting his Instagram after posting Covid well-wishes from his $590m superyacht. Ellen came under fire for comparing quarantining at her mansion to being in jail. In a 2019 incident, Lizzo got dragged for complaining about a poorly paid food delivery driver to her then 1 million followers. There’s Kendall Jenner, on camera, happy to show she does not know how to cut a cucumber. These sorts of incidents, and backlash to the incidents, confirm to the public that celebrities being incredibly out of touch is common. It means they are primed to look for any sign of it.

A few days ago, I saw a tweet from Keke Palmer that made me concerned for her. If you know who Keke Palmer is, you might find this surprising. She has always been funny and delightful on Twitter, but she is also a multi-talented actor/singer/comedian/writer. She has been working solidly for a long time in the US, but her fame is on the rise in a more mainstream way with her recent star turn in Jordan Peele’s Nope. She’s moving from an international Who?, to a Them. I love her. She’s also pregnant, seems happy, and has a boyfriend so good looking that I, a lesbian, am jealous. She’s thriving! This is why I’m concerned. I saw her tweet the following:

This charming and funny “she’s just like us!” tweet tickled my spidey (web as in online) senses. Keke has played The Sims for a really long time (just like me!), which a lot of people have historically loved about her. I know she is being authentic about loving The Sims, and I think she is within her rights to tweet a company about a payment issue. But I was concerned that she might receive backlash for using her platform to get help, or save money.

Keke is tiptoeing up to The Relatability Line. The buzz around Nope, and the buzz around her for clearly being a star in Nope has kicked Keke a step higher in the direction of superstardom. I get the sense that she’s *just about* too famous to keep posting in the same way she has, aimed simply at her followers.

When working celebs reach a certain level of prominence, the things they say are no longer just spoken out to an established audience who loves them. They have more eyes on their output, more scrutiny on every word, more people to interpret a tweet, more points of views to keep in mind, more articles to write. In Keke Palmer’s case, there are also the additional threats of misogyny and racism directed at her.

Along with this, once people know or believe that a certain person they follow has a certain level of wealth or even just assumed wealth, they are very unlikely to give them a pass when they discuss money stuff.

Chrissy Teigen, a very funny poster, found this out when she got more famous and tweeted a story about buying a $13,000 bottle of wine. After a long career tweeting, and a growing career outside that, she eventually quit the platform.

There’s already a bit of that in the replies and quote tweets to Keke’s tweet. Lots of people are complaining that EA responded quickly to Keke and will fix it, when they won’t for normal people. Many people are telling her that she should pay for it herself. It’s not a huge level of backlash, and there are many more tweets still loving Keke’s relatable Sims tweets, but I think this is where I would advise her to take a small step back.

It must actually be very difficult to try and remain funny and normal on social media when your day-to-day outside that (I imagine) becomes quite disconnected from real life. It must be a bit like getting older: at some point you just cannot keep up with what the cool young kids are saying, no matter how hard you try – no cap (not sure if I’m using that right).

Keke has not crossed any lines yet, but it may not even matter in the end. Anna Kendrick is famously funny on Twitter, and did an OK job in her posts of seeming on this side of The Relatability Line, but it still couldn’t work – people will disbelieve and then get annoyed by a relatability shtick if they have also seen you in a feature film.

There is a good chance Palmer will navigate these waters totally fine; she’s quite a pro at hitting the right irony level for the internet. I just think she’s approaching the line, and crossing it could lead to a much worse time for her on social media.

The best course of action is for her to hire me to tell her to take a break, and then take a break. She can put down her phone and go outside to look at sunflowers or run in slow motion on the beach with her labrador, or whatever you people who can put down your phone do. And one day when I start to become famous, and you see me do a tweet complaining about a fancy jorts company – I hope you will be brave enough to warn me.

• Rebecca Shaw is a writer based in Sydney

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