It was the most retweeted tweet ever. Breaking off from her presenting duties, Oscars host Ellen Degeneres descended into the audience for the ultimate selfie, gathering together a gang of A-listers and handing Bradley Cooper her Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Slightly blurred and a little off-centre, but undeniably high-spirited, it’s now been retweeted over 3 million times. But speculation has since arisen about the authenticity of the gesture. Was this supposedly ‘spontaneous’ moment in fact a slick piece of product placement by a major Oscar sponsor?
Not according to Samsung, who claim the selfie was “a great surprise”. Awkward, when Wall Street Journal claims Samsung paid to have their product integrated into the show. Elsewhere, internet users were quick to pick up on the fact that while Ellen’s on-stage selfies carried a ‘Twitter for Android’ tag, while her regular backstage tweets were ‘Twitter for iPhone’.
But does anyone truly care either way? Polished images of the ceremony and its stars were beamed to televisions and computers worldwide instantly, but only selfies could provide that insider viewpoint onlookers were clamouring for: a peek through the back window, paid for or not.
Smartphones have created the illusion of direct contact between celebrity and fan – opening up a seductive new space that sits between the glossy distance of television and the complexity of ‘real world’ interaction. “The relationship [between celebrities and fans] is based on an illusion of intimacy,” writes Richard Schickel in Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity. “It’s the creation of an ever-tightening, ever more finely spun media mesh.”
Even Ellen, a Twitter giant whose easy authenticity is her stock in trade, plays around in the murky waters of mediated ‘reality’ to keep her fans feeling close. Take the cluster of backstage tweets she posted using ‘Adobe Social’. The most likely reason? Her assistants were storing them up in advance and scheduling them to go live at just the right time.