Zoe v Zoella: We Explore The Cost Of Fame

5 January 2016, 17:33 | Updated: 6 November 2017, 09:33

We the Unicorns

By Benedict Townsend

What happens when normal people become famous

For a while I have wanted to write about the effect of fame and fortune on YouTubers and with the recent events surrounding Zoe Sugg and Alfie Deyes, this seemed like the perfect time. As Zoe has been the centre of this news story I have chosen her as the primary subject for this article, but this is purely for clarity, not to have a go at Zoe (she's a gem). Just know that when I say 'Zoe', I'm really talking about all famous vloggers.


A New Kind Of Fame

It is often said that the appeal of Zoe Sugg (and other vloggers like her) is her relatability. She is just an ordinary person with an ordinary life, filled with the same ordinary ups-and-downs that we all experience. Yep, she's just an regular person - a regular person that happens to have nearly ten million YouTube subscribers, happens to be author of the fastest selling debut novel in British history - oh, and happens to be dating one of the most popular YouTubers in the world:



This is the dilemma of the modern internet celebrity. They rise to success through being normal, yet as they become more successful, they become less and less normal. The things they experience change, the places and events they visit get fancier. The people they associate with are suddenly celebrities. As they become more famous, they lose the normalcy that brought them fame in the first place and therefore risk losing the fame itself. It's like a snake eating its tail - their fame literally consumes itself. For internet celebrities like Zoe, this has created a kind of Hannah Montana situation, where Zoe Sugg is a mild-mannered normal citizen and 'Zoella' is her wildly famous alter-ego. The battle is: how to balance these two personas in order to survive.



For Hannah, there was a way around this because her and Miley Cyrus were two different kinds of people: one was a regular student and one was a famous singer. For Zoe, the situation is far more complex because the whole point of her success is that they are the same person. 'Zoe' is an ordinary girl who is famous and 'Zoella' is a famous girl who happens to be ordinary. When there are no clear lines between the two, it can cause real friction.


A GIF from Hannah Montana


We Saw This Happen Recently

We reported just recently that Zoe and Alfie have been having trouble with fans turning up unannounced at their private home, demanding to see them. We have debated who exactly is at 'fault' for this, and the answer is ultimately pretty grey, but one thing is clear: this is a direct result of the kind of famous person Zoe and Alfie are.



The appeal of Zoe and new media stars like her is, as we have established, that they are relatable. This likely means that when her audience look at her, they don't see a celebrity (which she is), they see past that, to the person underneath. The person they almost feel like they know - because they've watched them for years. So, when they are presented with the option of visiting the house of someone they feel they almost know, perhaps it doesn't feel that strange to them. Visiting Tom Hanks' house would be weird - he's a distant, Hollywood celebrity, he exists in a different world to us normal people. Zoe, though? She exists in our world - so we can pop along and visit her! .... Right?



Well, no. She's a private person and is ethically, morally and legally entitled to as much privacy as anyone else is. If you're considering going to visit her house (or the house of any other celeb), please do not - you're only going to upset someone that you like. It is interesting though, to ask how internet celebs can deal with these negative effects of fame, while at the same time not causing their audience to think of them as a detached diva, and therefore lose touch with them.



It's A Purer Kind Of Fame - And That's Not Necessarily A Good Thing

Zoe is not like a traditional celebrity that has had to claw their way up through the tough entertainment world, she has instead built her status from the comfort of her own home. Many (ignorant) people rush to say that this make her fame 'fake' or that it means she has 'cheated' her way to the top, but that's simply not true. She is not any less deserving of her status than a traditional celeb, she has just reached it in a different way. That difference can sometimes have clear side-effects though. For example, people in traditional industries (the movie industry, music industry etc) tend to have a team around them to both manage and protect them. They are also likely to have suffered a ton of setbacks and let downs that have given them a certainly worldliness and awareness that helps them when problems arrive - school of hard knocks, innit.



By contrast Internet celebs develop and grow in a relatively safe environment, which means they don't suffer as many setbacks, but also don't learn as many lessons. This eventually means that when trouble comes knocking (literally) when they're famous down the line, they are taken by surprise. Internet stars are now learning the sobering lesson that fame has it's costs and that when you open up yourself to the public eye (especially when you're as open as a vlogger), you will encounter people and situations that are negative and which you are unprepared for.


So What Will Happen

Ultimately it will only be a matter of time before internet celebs are treated the same as 'actual' celebs and will therefore receive the same kind of management, mentoring and education that helps traditional celebrities deal with the costs of fame. People turing up to the Deyes-Sugg household was a nasty shock but it was also something that will also make Zoe stronger and more aware in the future. What is less clear is how celebrities like Zoe will fare as the years go on. A figure like Zoella is completely unprecedented in modern culture and there is no way of knowing what will happen to her appeal once the 'girl next door' appeal is finally eroded away by the sheer force of fame. Hopefully she will be given new life as a badass internet superstar - and we know we'll be cheering for that outcome as loudly as we can.