Hyperrhiz 21

The Top 5 Things I Learned About Celebrity Culture from “Celebrity Mean Tweets”

Amber M. Buck

Citation: Buck, Amber M.. “The Top 5 Things I Learned About Celebrity Culture from “Celebrity Mean Tweets”.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 21, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/021.let04

Abstract: “The Top 5 Things I Learned About Celebrity Culture from “Celebrity Mean Tweets” is a listicle that explores social media and participatory celebrity culture through a reading of the “celebrity mean tweets” segment on the Jimmy Kimmel television show.

Keywords: Twitter, celebrity, television, fandom, parasocial relationships, social media, listicle.


Social media has changed research on celebrity studies, or what I describe in the listicle as “celebrity culture,” in changing the rules of the game for who counts as a celebrity. During the first decade of popularity of social media platforms like MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter, a number of individuals, like Justin Bieber, Soulja Boy, and Tila Tequila, gained celebrity status first through their social media content (Burgess & Green, 2009; Nakamura, 2008).

As the criteria of who counts as a celebrity has expanded, so too has individual fan’s access to celebrities. Graeme Turner describes the ways that Twitter in particular allows direct communication between celebrities and fans that bypasses traditional print and broadcast media. Marwick and boyd argue that this communication is not authentic, and is instead a “performance of backstage access” (145). In order to communicate effectively with audiences on Twitter, celebrities perform authenticity and show fans their “real lives.” Rather than radical and authentic openness, however, these practices uphold parasocial celebrity relationships (Horton and Wohl).

I see “Celebrity Mean Tweets,” the segment of Jimmy Kimmel’s show that has celebrities read mean tweets written about themselves, as reestablishing the parasocial nature of fan/celebrity interactions that occur on Twitter and utilizing traditional media to do so. While scholars like Marwick and boyd and Turner  have critiqued the notion of celebrities presenting an authentic self on social media, “Celebrity Mean Tweets” puts the weight of traditional broadcast media behind the reification of celebrity status.

The Top 5 Things I Learned About Celebrity Culture from “Celebrity Mean Tweets”

You know that segment on Jimmy Kimmel, right? The one where celebrities read mean things that people have said about them on Twitter? Started in celebration of Twitter’s birthday in 2012, the segment has become a staple on Kimmel’s show and has special editions, including NBA, NFL, music, and even a politics edition featuring Barack Obama, twice.

“Celebrity Mean Tweets” comments on this relationship between celebrities and fans as if it’s something new. Look, people are tweeting about celebrities and saying mean things about them!  Celebrities are real people, and we can talk to them on Twitter! But if you watch the segments, you’ll start to notice that there’s really something else going on here. Let me explain:

1. You think you know someone, but you really don’t.

Seriously perfect bone structure.

I might have Feminist Ryan Gosling posts all over my office (I totally do) so I feel like I know him. But as much as it pains me to say it, this is a completely one-sided relationship. He doesn’t know I exist. I think he would make absolutely perfect comments for my feminist theory class, but he won't be attending it any time soon. This is called a parasocial relationship, or, you know, not a real one.

2. Social Media gives you access, but it’s a performance.

I still don't want to see Jeff Bridges without pants, though.

Jimmy Kimmel introduces his first segment of Celebrity Mean Tweets by talking about the ways Twitter brings people together. He says, “it connects celebrities directly to their fans and vice versa.” Most celebrities appear to do the tweeting themselves, and they might read what you send them. It is this possibility that thrills people. The celebrities who tweet turn from famous movie stars into normal people, who go to the grocery store, walk the dog, and binge Netflix. You can send a message directly to your favorite celebrity, and they might read it. They might even write back, or more. But this is really a performance; they’re performing the idea of an ordinary life for us, because face it, your brunch plans would never involve paparazzi.

3. Celebrities always get the final word.

Sarah Paulson gets the last word, not you, troll.

Hate Emily Blunt’s voice or want to make fun of Leonardo DiCaprio’s increasingly desperate Oscar ploys? Twitter is the place for you. No, seriously, I think it exists as a socially acceptable place to complain about other people publicly. But while you only have 150 followers, these celebrities can respond to you in front of a national television audience. It may seem self-deprecating for these movie stars, musicians, and athletes to read insults about themselves, but they react dismissively, criticizing the person who posted the tweet and sometimes throwing the insult back.

4. You will never be in their league.

They're cooler than we'll ever be, and they have a TV show.

So really, Kimmel’s segment lets us regular people know that we’re just goons behind a computer screen. The celebrities often criticize individual Twitter users for bad behavior, poor spelling, and silly screen names. Not only are fan comments dismissed for being mean spirited and wrong, they are also dismissed as trolls. Who are you to talk to me?, the celebrities on the show respond. You’re just a loser behind a computer, and I’m on television.

5. “Celebrity Mean Tweets” actually creates distance from celebrities.

Elisabeth Moss pretty much sums up the entire segment.

If Twitter makes us think that we can reach our favorite celebrities through Twitter, “Celebrity Mean Tweets” crushes our parasocial hopes and dreams. It gives celebrities a chance to dismiss the haters and to reestablish their status above their lowly fans. This happens partially by redirecting attention back on the celebrity. No one will remember who made the comments by the end of the segment, but they will remember how the celebrities reacted. By providing them a platform to respond and dismiss harsh social media comments, “Celebrity Mean Tweets” elevates celebrities again to their proper place in the media order. New media, really not so different from the old media.


Burgess, J. & Green, J. YouTube: Online video and participatory culture. Wiley, 2009.

Horton, D., & Wohl, R. R. “Mass communication and para-social interaction.” Psychiatry, vol. 19, 1956, pp. 215–229.

Marwick, A. & boyd, d. “To see and be seen: Celebrity practice on Twitter.” Convergence, vol. 17, no. 2, 2011, pp. 139-158.

Nakamura, L. (2008). “Cyberrace.” PMLA, vol. 123, no. 5, 2007, pp. 1673-1682.

Turner, G. Understanding celebrity. SAGE publisher, 2013.