Insights is a new weekly series featuring entertainment industry veteran David Bloom. It represents an experiment of sorts in digital-age journalism and audience engagement with a focus on the intersection of entertainment and technology, an area that David has written about and thought about and been part of in various career incarnations for much of the past 25 years. David welcomes your thoughts, perspectives, calumnies, and kudos at email@example.com, or on Twitter @DavidBloom.
This installment of Insights is brought to you by Beachfront RISE.
In 1982, an actress named Theresa Saldana nearly died when an obsessed fan attacked her with a knife outside her apartment. She survived but took four months to recover. Seven years later, Rebecca Schaeffer wasn’t as fortunate. Another obsessive fan shot her to death in the doorway of her apartment complex.
Those two West Hollywood tragedies pushed the California Legislature to enact the nation’s first anti-stalking laws. They also forced film and TV performers and their handlers to reconsider how they interacted with the public. The result for many stars: though they were safer, they also were more insulated from fans, reclusive, and walled off.
Now, in the wake of Christina Grimmie’s June 11 murder, online stars who weren’t even alive when Schaeffer died face an almost existential question. How can they protect themselves while still maintaining and building their most valuable resource: a direct relationship with their ardent fans?
It’s those fans who watch and like and share creator videos, buy their books and merchandise, attend their live events, and justify the big checks those creators receive from influencer marketers. Without that intense fan relationship, the entire creator ecosystem faces dramatic changes.
Grimmie’s brother, who tackled the killer before anyone else could be hurt, said at her funeral last week, “Her arms were open for (the killer). That’s how she treated everyone she knew.”
And open arms is pretty much how it’s been in the creator community as it has grown into a Very Big Thing over the past few years. But perhaps no more.
The night after Grimmie’s death, Selena Gomez (whose father was Grimmie’s manager) cancelled an Orlando meet-and-greet. VidCon organizers quickly announced new precautions ahead of this week’s gathering, including metal detectors, searches and a ban on the informal meet-and-greets that have routinely erupted around previous shows. VidCon organizers also warned news media in an email to conduct creator interviews in only three locations in the Anaheim Convention Center, a tactic they said was designed specifically for the creators’ safety.
Separately, the YouTube Space in Los Angeles has used metal detectors, check-ins, and tight security at its many creator events for quite some time now. Expect similar precautions at other big creator events scheduled this summer. An industry attorney called such precautions “the new reality.”
These responses are all understandable and appropriate. But they also will undercut the one thing that made the creator community what it is. Unlike actors who become known mostly for the on-screen characters they play, online creators became stars in part because millions of fans feel they know these creators personally, and can connect with them directly, almost transparently.
Will Grimmie’s murder also kill that special relationship that creators have built with their fans? Or will a new normal evolve that somehow still allows space for humanity and connection? We can only hope for the latter, even if I’m somewhat pessimistic of its likelihood.
As Robert Brown, the mayor of Grimmie’s hometown, said at a memorial service, “You can cry and close your mind, be empty, and turn your back, or you can do what [Christina] would want: smile and open your eyes — smile, love, and go on.” Amen.
This installment of Insights is brought to you by Beachfront RISE, the premier app building company that houses all of your content in one place for any device, and monetizes it automatically with their built in programmatic video advertising platform.