August 16, 2022

Cultural Studies: No Stardom Until After Homework

This was just a week after the amateur video for Ms. Black’s now-infamous song, “Friday,” in which Ms. Cinkle had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, began its viral Internet ascent.

Ms. Cinkle, who agreed to appear in the video with the expectation that no one would actually see it, was shocked by the news. By her own admission, she was just “that girl in pink who sits behind Rebecca in the car for four seconds and was a terrible dancer.”

When she first checked out her fan page that morning in March, there were already 2,000 followers. By the time she came home from school, there were 10 times as many. By Friday, the total had reached 75,000.

So Ms. Cinkle did what our current age of social media requires of those swept up in the viral undertow: she jumped into the fray with haste.

First, she set up an official Tumblr page to keep track of the rapid proliferation of animated GIFS (graphic files that display a simple loop of images) that had sprung up showcasing her all-thumbs dance moves. Two days later, she established a “Benni Cinkle (Girl Dancing Awkwardly — Official Page)” on Facebook. Next came her own YouTube channel, where she posted a video blog F.A.Q. addressing a range of popular inquiries from her new fans, including the gossipy (“Are you still friends with Rebecca Black?” No.) and the inane (“How long is your driveway?” 128 feet.)

After that, she posted a clip of a flash-mob dance set to “Friday” that she organized at the local mall (a vehicle, she said, to generate money and attention for earthquake relief for Japan); created an official Web page,; rebranded her Twitter account; and even began offering her own Internet Survival Guide, free to download after submitting your e-mail address. In less than a month, Benni Cinkle had gone from an anonymous high school student to micro-celebrity.

“Everything happened so fast, I just made sure to keep up,” she said.

Ms. Cinkle is not unique. Online fame is becoming just another aspect of teenage life for a generation raised on reality television and the perpetual flurry of status updates that ping across their smartphones, tablets and computer screens.

Not only have sites like YouTube made it possible for numerous unknown adolescents to be discovered — Greyson Chance, a 13-year-old from Oklahoma, got a record deal after Ellen DeGeneres mentioned his YouTube piano version of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” on her talk show, for instance — but youngsters with no special talent, like Ms. Cinkle, are drawing mass followings as well. (The publicity wave that fueled Ms. Cinkle’s popularity was, in fact, driven overwhelmingly by viewers who hated the video she was performing in, routinely calling it “the worst song ever” even as they watched and forwarded it en masse.)

Trevor Michaels, 12, better known as iTr3vor, has received more than 5.5 million views on his YouTube channel for hyperactive dance moves he performs at various Apple stores when his mother takes him shopping at the mall. (He uploads videos of the dances on the spot.)

Then there are the legions of girls who post “haul” videos, short clips of themselves chattering about their most recent fashion and makeup purchases. The spots are unwatchable to most any adult, but they draw in hundreds of thousands of girls in their teens or younger who are eager to duplicate the shopping habits of their peers.

YouTube, the global video-sharing site, estimates that 10 percent of its most-subscribed users are 19 or younger and that, as a whole, more than one-third of the most successful participants in its revenue-sharing Partner Program are under 25. “It’s fascinating to see how many of the kids who have huge followings are almost going under the radar of most adults,” said Annie Baxter, who works in the partner program and recently helped oversee how-to courses for nascent YouTube stars at Google’s Manhattan offices.

For every success story, there are thousands of other teenagers poised and eager to seize their own moment, should it come. “Every teenager is already creating unique content for a multitude of social media accounts,” said Valerie Veatch, a filmmaker who is directing, with the artist Chris Moukarbel, a coming YouTube documentary, “Me At the Zoo,” which takes its title from the very first clip uploaded to the video-sharing site in 2005. “And in a way, constant social networking serves as training in the event that your content blows up on the Web. You’re prepared to engage the expectations of fans.”

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