The mystery of movie stars vs. social media ‘availability’

Ana de Armas was recently quoted in Vanity Fair about why she is not on social media: “The concept of a movie star is someone untouchable you only see onscreen. That mystery is gone”.

And, “at this point I only have Instagram, and I barely use it because I just feel like things are always wrong on social media. If it was up to me, I would delete Instagram right now, but I can’t. I understand that I’m not just an actress. I have other brands that I’m working with and I have other commitments. It’s been good for Blonde and for films that I want to talk about. It’s tricky because you feel the pressure to share some personal insight, or something about your private life, to keep people interested in you. You have to find a balance somehow, which I find very difficult”.

Her quip reminded me of George Clooney explaining why he wasn’t on social media: “I don’t think you can be a star and be that available”.

A lot of Indian movie stars too have voiced similar sentiments about their potential presence on social media before eventually giving in and joining some platform. I remember Katrina Kaif, Rajinikanth, and Vijay Sethupathy, among others, having aired similar views about social media exposure/overexposure being the antithesis of what a ‘star’ is (despite eventually joining some platform or other online).

But I find this logic—of presence on social media being harmful to the ‘mystery’ of a star—to be a complete failure of imagination.

To connect social media presence with overexposure and excessive availability (as George Clooney says) is a monumental misinterpretation.


Allow me to explain with a simple, real-life analogy.

Mannat, Shah Rukh Khan’s home in Mumbai, is a landmark of sorts, in itself. Fans from all over the country, and even from outside India, come to catch a glimpse of their favorite star. All this is not very different from what used to happen earlier with Amitabh Bachchan, outside his home in Mumbai, called Jalsa.

Occasionally, Shah Rukh Khan comes out to the balcony and waves his hand at the gleeful fans.

Besides movies, Shah Rukh Khan also talks to fans through media interviews that happen less during non-movie periods and more as pre-release promotions.

So, that’s 3 ways Shah Rukh Khan, the superstar, communicates with fans: outside his home (fans know his address), through media interviews (where media becomes the medium), and through the movies themselves (where he performs for the fans).

All these 3 modes are firmly in his control. He gets to decide when to speak or appear. In fact, more than his home and movies, the media interviews are tricky since journalists who interview him could corner him with unpalatable questions and air his discomfort as part of the interview to garner more eyeballs. In a way, the media route is less in his control.

Now, think of his home (Mannat) as his digital presence, on say Twitter (he’s already on Twitter and interacts a lot too!).

People/fans know his Twitter handle = People/fans know his offline home address.

People waiting to catch a glimpse of him outside his home = People waiting for his tweet, or a response from him on Twitter.

He does not need to stand on his balcony all the time = He need not constantly tweet assorted things about life.

The crux: Stars can be present on social media AND yet maintain a mystery/aura.

The problem is that stars misunderstand what they can do on Instagram or Twitter. They think, wrongly, that a presence on such platforms necessitates them to open up their world, both personal and professional.

Who made up this rule? No one. That’s not a rule at all. In fact, there are no rules at all.

You make the rules.

As Ana De Armas says, “you feel the pressure to share some personal insight, or something about your private life, to keep people interested in you”.

Who said you need to share a ‘personal insight’? Or something about your ‘private life’? And who said these are needed to keep people interested in you? Absolutely no one!

The primary reason why people like these stars is because of their on-screen presence, not their social media presence.

When it comes to their films, even the biggest star has to work in coordination with the script and the overall team. But on their own social media handle, they do not need to go with ‘monkey see, monkey do’. They can frame their own rules of engagement.

They can say as less as they want, just like their limited appearance/availability in their own balcony to gushing fans. The lesser they tweet or share on Instagram, the more the value of each of their utterances on social media. It helps each tweet, or each share on Instagram travel further on mainstream media.

They can be as cryptic, or as detailed as they want. If they are cryptic, that would send people and the media to go berserk in trying to decode what it means. If they are detailed, it helps create a perception away from their on-screen persona since they may not be able to express themselves on assorted topics through movies.

To assume that there are pre-defined rules on what to share and what not to on social media and understanding such rules from how others/other stars use social media is completely misguided.

Imagine: you are a star as big as Ana de Armas. The second you join a platform like Twitter, you are going to have a ready audience of at least a million followers (if not more) because such news spreads very fast. This is unlike ordinary people like you and me joining Twitter or Instagram – a few people, in single-digit (or double-digit, if lucky) would start following us in a week/month after we joined.

When stars have such pull, they can play their presence online the way they want.

I remember writing about the time when Salman Khan joined Twitter, in 2010.

I had proposed a few specific ideas:

  • weekly one response to one fan – just one. Make it a lucky dip of sorts, week after week.
  • point to one charity and ask fans to contribute

He did not try anything new at all, but he does post cryptic tweets from time to time that fans and media go into rapture trying to decode 🙂

The notion that social media leads to overexposure is deeply flawed because that presumes that we live our life 24X7 on social media. That’s not only false but also a severe exaggeration. Lurking on social media, and reading what others say is one thing. But sharing 24X7 totally random stuff on social media is completely another.

Ana de Armas or George Clooney could perfectly be mostly silent on say Twitter or Instagram, and choose to post only once every 15 days, for instance. That’s perfectly plausible and in fact a good way to use the aura of their superstardom. Actors have tons of first-person details on the hottest films they are part of that the films’ promotional team already mines for publicity through mainstream media. When actors are on social media, they could do it themselves, in a very different, personal way.

Actors need not feel compelled to share their vulnerabilities, personal/private thought, feelings, etc. on social media at all. No one’s forcing them to. Those feelings or thoughts are meant for people they know and trust – not for the millions of totally random strangers online. This applies to us normal mortals too, by the way.

Think of social media as a channel to use to create a perception of what fans/people should think of you as an actor. Your films are bound by scripts so you cannot truly shape your intended perception. But on social media, you write your own life’s script and create your own perception for your own personal audience. That’s incredibly powerful as a tool.

Unlike mainstream media players like journalists and reporters, there are no filters or intermediaries on social media. Actors can directly build their own perception by saying as less as possible, but all directed towards a specific image (that is hopefully a snapshot of the real actor as a person; because not living up to that would show up at some point).

Why does George Clooney feel that being on social media is making him available all the time to fans/people? To spell it out explicitly, is it because the channel (a Twitter or an Instagram handle) is assumed to be created by Clooney himself, personally, and is seen as the equivalent of an email ID by millions of people… and that they all believe they have direct access to the superstar? How does it even make sense?

Knowing Clooney’s Twitter handle is simply like knowing Clooney’s home address. Knowing his address, online or offline, does not make him available.

I wish stars like Clooney or Ana de Armas evolve in their thinking about social media presence given that we have made progress on that front for almost 15+ years (I’m considering the broader launch of Facebook, and the launch of Twitter, both in 2006). To conflate social media presence with always-on availability or diminishing starry mystique is such a quaint and misguided notion.

To make it very obvious: being on social media is a public performance because we are talking to no one person in particular (even when replying to someone on Twitter or Instagram, for instance, because it is happening in front of the whole wide world, potentially). What we say on social media platforms happens in front of the world that consists of people we think we know (and they think they know us) and total strangers.

This performance is different from the performance that Clooney and De Armas are used to in films because this is not scripted and is based on their real selves. But the crucial difference is this: it is not based on their entire self. It’s merely a snapshot of their individual self. That is, they are selective in revealing some parts of their personality that are conducive to the world of strangers. But it is still very much a part of their actual self, and they are not creating new attributes or sentiments that do not belong to them as they do in their movies because it is fictional entertainment based on someone else’s script/story.

For a public performance, you control the narrative yourself, of what those strangers should think of you based on what you say. Stars like Clooney and De Armas are consummate performers already. All they need to think about is how to use the social media vehicle to their advantage if at all they want it that way. They can perfectly stay out of it with the logic that this is all too time-consuming. But that’s a vastly different, and practical, reason from saying that social media presence diminishes the star’s aura.