Mass Ignorance of the Human in Web 2.0: Virtual Celebrities and the Emancipation of/ from Idolatory

Conference: The Asian Conference on Cultural Studies (ACCS2022)
Title: Mass Ignorance of the Human in Web 2.0: Virtual Celebrities and the Emancipation of/ from Idolatory
Stream: Media Studies
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Ho Man Tang, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
Wanhui Zhou, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong


The multifaceted contradictions between the individuality of celebrities, the exploitative star system of the capitalistic entertainment industry, and diversified fans expectations and demands, build the discontent with how human celebrities are becoming mass-produced commodities. Concerns of manipulation of the ‘human’ could be even more significant in Web 2.0, when the personal and public images of celebrities are increasingly blurred. By continuous participatory observation, this study discusses how the rise of A-Soul, China’s first virtual girl group, offers a post-human perspective to the cultural practices of star-worshiping. While the initial launch of the animated virtual idol group faced boycott and criticism for its ‘fakeness’ and ‘capital manipulation’, A-soul was able to quickly draw a large fanbase and achieved commercial success. One major succeeding factor is that, compared to earlier generations of virtual idols, A-Soul is better embracing the cultural dynamics of social media enhanced interactivity between the idol and fans, and among the fans themselves on web 2.0 platforms (e.g. video live-streaming). This is achieved not just by technology advancement, but more importantly the ignorance of the presence of the actual human performers (Zhongzhiren) behind the animated skin of virtual idols, interacting ‘humanly’ with fans. The mass ignorance of the ‘human nature’ of Zhongzhiren allows the performativity of the artist to transcended from their social origins, bodily and performatively human constraints, and personal lives off the ‘green screen’. Such transcendence of virtuality also offers cultural freedom for diversified audiences to construct more accepting cultural communities through sharing and creating localized gags, expressions, and fan-mades.

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