Twitter and the rise and rise of professional celebrities

The American sociologist, C. Wright Mills, wrote: “The professional celebrity, male and female, is the crowning result of the star system of a society that makes a fetish of competition.

Don’t you just love the term “professional celebrity”? The Urban Dictionary invites definitions from anyone with access to the internet. It is therefore often a dodgy resource but is sometimes useful for phrases that have yet to be formally defined by traditional dictionaries. The mysteriously named uwg posted the following definition of ‘professional celebrity’ on I like it because it’s simple and to the point: “A famous person who has no discernable (sic) talent other than being famous.

(Incidentally, if you are so inclined, take time out to read some of uwg’s other Urban Dictionary posts. These include definitions of ‘necrobating’ – which is as bad as it sounds, and ‘baby-eater’ and ‘floor-humping’, which aren’t.)

Roxi Newham Blake (@roxxstarrdom), a budding neologist, calls these pseudo celebrities “self-appointed web-lebrities”. I love this phrase because it captures the nature of the beast, alluding to the publicity method favoured by most ‘proflebs’. (See, I too can coin a new word.) Social media websites provide aspiring proflebs with the perfect marketing and publicity opportunities, at very little cost. Facebook lost its allure for me a while ago; Twitter is now my drug of choice.

Fake intimacy

Following a Twitter account affords a glimpse into the thoughts and daily lives of the account holder. You can see where this is going. The more intimate or outrageous your tweets, the more activity they generate and the more followers you gain. Followers who believe they are getting to know the real person behind the legend.

Countless international celebrities have used their Twitter accounts in this manner, but I am most interested in how we in South Africa have contributed to the rise of our very own web-lebrities. According to’s South African statistics, it is Gareth Cliff who is the most followed South African. (I am ignoring Conor McCreedy as he lives between SA and the USA).

Gareth Cliff on … anything at all

Just over 205 000 people voluntarily follow his every tweet and hundreds of thousands more are subjected to retweets of his tweets by people they follow. Some examples of his posts include:

“#DidYouKnow Khulubuse was Fat Bastard’s eating teacher?” (Didn’t his mother ever teach him that if you don’t have something nice to say you should say nothing? The Prez’s nephew may well be larger than life, but insulting people based on their size is just plain mean. Play the ball, Gareth, not the man.)

“Your back-peddling and being dishonest.” (Unless his target’s back was doing the alleged peddling and dishonesty, in which case there is a misplaced hyphen and a missing ‘is’, he has committed the elementary error of confusing ‘your’ and ‘you’re’. To me this is rather telling.)

“When the #Census2011 count a homeless person, do they place the sticker on their forehead or their checkers trolley?” (I’m speechless.)

“I suppose your mean-spiritedness stems in no small part from that big cross on your profile pic? #SelfRighteousAsshole”

I am not alone in my feeling that we have allowed Mr Cliff to become way more powerful than his talent deserves. Gus Silber’s review of his book, Gareth Cliff on Everything, contains the following line: “Gareth Cliff is a multimedia personality, famous for being heard and seen and having an opinion on, well, everything.” In a similar vein, Lin Sampson cautions us in the Sunday Times of November 20, “The whole book is a cautionary tale of what can happen to someone with a mediocre mind who has become a local celebrity and believes that any random thought is worth recording.”

And on that sobering note, you will be relieved to read one of his latest tweets combining empty cliché with infantile philosophy. “You know, I thought about it and I really don’t HATE anyone. Nobody really should #Life’sTooShort”

Roll models?

And most of our roll (sic) models can’t spell or write in grammatically correct English either. The SA Twitter account with the next highest number of followers is @graemesmith49. Almost 150 000 of us are interested to hear what this talented sportsman has to say.

His tweets reveal that, in addition to be a celebrated cricketer, he is also:

a highly excited stater of the obvious (“Hope this rain passes!!it’s non stop!!!”);

a shameless namedropper (“@warne888 congrats to you and elizabeth warney…..very happy for you both bud!☺”); and

a murderer of the English language (“I have got massive excitement to watch the boks sunday!!”).

While he is not foul-mouthed, affected or insulting, like many of the other highly followed SA tweeps, he has nothing at all to contribute on any subject other than cricket, which renders the vast majority of his tweets both irrelevant and irritating.

I don’t really expect Locnville to be able to write, so their infantile tweets (“and urself! It’s been awhile! What u been up to? ;” “Whoo…. Heavy gym session!”) don’t get my back up. But, I hate the use of ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ and ‘gr8’ instead of ‘great’. The only time these contractions have a valid place in adult discourse is when you are at your Twitter 140-character limit. Where the space allows, spell the damn word out, please.

Helen Zille has 80 000 followers. Among relevant and appropriate comments, she sends the odd tweet that leaves her followers cringing. A perfect example is the following pearl of wisdom that she spewed out during the RWC 2011 final:

“Go FrANCe– the only thing I don’t like is the “ANC” in the middle of their name.”

Oddly reminiscent of primary school bitchiness, isn’t it?. And, speaking of primary school,

“Gr8 to be here”.

I suppose I should be relieved she didn’t write ‘2’ instead of ‘to’, like she did in this comment on a retweet: “Me 2.” Why would she risk coming across like an eager pre-teen when she still had eight characters to spare even after quoting the entire tweet she was retweeting?

Nonhle Thema on how famous she is and how much she hates her followers

The most followed woman in South Africa is the vindictive, vacuous and vile Nonhle Thema. Who? I hear you ask. Well, my point exactly.

According to the bits of information I have been unable to escape, she is involved in television and was once a brand ambassador for a beauty product. But what sets her apart from other minor television actresses is that she is the queen of aggressive self-promotion. She has perfected the art of attracting publicity by frequent tweets that remind the world how wonderful she is and just how much she hates her lowly followers.

Samples of the morsels she throws out:

“Hope u guyz dont spend all day on twitter.its such a beautiful day..go out there and enjoy it with boyfriends,girlfriends and Family LIVE”

“I really hate tweets when im watching T.V .please respect my wishes since u dont wanna unfollow me ….r we all good”

Is she incapable of appreciating irony?

“shame..u all too stupid to understand………..shame.Good Nite my tooth is far more important that this ish”

“Im the chosen one..#RealTalk”

While some may applaud her self-confidence, I am appalled at how many people follow her despite how she never stops insulting them. When a follower posted this to her: “used 2 h8 on u dats a fact but now I love u too muchU earned ur ish sori 4 hating b4 #respect”, her modest response was “We al make mistakes”.

Yes, 92 000 of us sign up to be abused by her every day. Actually, it is usually every few minutes, I am told. (I am not one of them.)

BREAKING NEWS Nonhle Thema is launching her own fragrance. It will be called IVY after her late grandmother. Is that poison I smell?