1. Title: Raising Popularity on MySpace and Twitter: The Power of Tila Tequila’s
by H. Cecilia Suhr
“She [Tila Tequila] is something entirely new, a celebrity created not by a studio or a
network but fan by fan, click by click, from the ground up on MySpace.”
In recent years, the “discovery” and popularization of people with no obvious
talents have increased. This tendency has grown because of the use of new media
platforms. Marshall (2006) describes how the new media platforms have given rise to a
new type of subjectivity determined by audiences and celebrity figures. Franco (2006)
also notes that online communities “now represent one of the great democratic
achievements of recent technological development” (p. 269). Audience members are now
integrally involved in the creation of content, and they are also part of the collective
generation of celebrity on the internet. A prime example of this phenomenon is Tila
Tequila’s rise to fame.
Countless articles have been written about Tila Tequila and her meteoric rise in
popularity. According to Washington Post, Tila Tequila is
…a star by virtue of her 1.7 million virtual "friends" on the social-networking site
MySpace, where her success has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. On average,
she receives more than a thousand new friend requests every day, from people she
doesn't know. She's such a major online presence -- all those digi-friends! all that
attitude! all those half-naked photos !-- that PC World just named her one of the
"50 Most Important People on the Web." (du Lac, 2007)
Despite its boosterist tone, this description does not provide any explanation of what
Tequila really does. So, who is Tila Tequila? Answering this question is both easy and
difficult. It is easy to answer because Tequila (birth name Tila Nguyen) falls under the
category of “being famous for being famous” (i.e. she is not really known for anything in
particular, except for her popularity on MySpace). She has done nothing specific to
3. qualify for her many so-called “hats” (model, record label executive, writer, reality
television star, etc.); rather Tequila’s intricate mixture of notoriety and popularity has
opened the doors to her many career opportunities. While her work as a model, writer,
reality television star, singer, and record executive would seem to indicate that she has
long years of work experience behind her, by no means can one equate these activities
with Tequila’s wide spectrum of talents. Instead, these accomplishments are the result of
one unifying goal of self-branding.
Since the beginning of the internet social networking phenomenon, fame has
become more accessible than ever before. Unlike the traditional way of gaining fame
which involved the perception and leveraging of certain talents or skills, social
networking sites now provide mechanisms for many non-celebrity people to network and
gain wide exposure without any particular individual talent. While some theorists may be
skeptical of its actual impact, the fame gained on MySpace has resulted in many
mainstream media opportunities for Tequila, as will be examined in this chapter.
However, to gain and maintain popularity on social media sites such as MySpace does
not always happen without any type of labor being exerted (Suhr, 2009).
By exploring the various laboring practices linked with self-promotion, Tequila’s
brand will be unpacked. In doing so, the idea of the socially labored celebrity will be
analyzed. Socially labored celebrities result from the use of social networking sites and
the laboring practices of online fans. To this end, we will examine what it actually takes
for one to successfully network on social media sites such as MySpace, Youtube, and
Twitter. Furthermore, I will show how the nature of the social media contributes to the
flow of what Daniel Boortin calls “pseudo-events” across multiple media platforms.
4. Underpinning Celebrity, Popularity, and Fame
How does one become a celebrity? According to Marshall (1997), celebrity is
socially constructed through the help of the media. While this is true, numerous types of
celebrities exist. Rojek (2001) describes three ways that people can attain celebrity status
(p. 18). The first category is ascribed status; this happens when celebrity is linked to
family or bloodline, such as Caroline Kennedy or Prince William of England. The second
category is achieved status; as the word indicates, this occurs when one’s talent or hard
work merits the status of celebrity. An example of this is a sports star. The third category
is attributed status. According to Rojek, “in some cases [this type of celebrity] is largely
the result of the concentrated representation of an individual as noteworthy or exceptional
by cultural intermediaries” (p. 18).
Rojek’s third type of celebrity is the focus of this chapter, since Tequila’s fame is
the result of her self-promotional work and the efforts of cultural intermediaries who
labor freely as fans on her MySpace website. As an extension of her attributed celebrity,
Tequila’s fame should be carefully demarcated from other status categories. Her fame is
integrally tied to her popularity on MySpace. Tequila is solely an internet celebrity; under
the big umbrella of internet-based, do-it-yourself celebrity, she falls under the sub-
category of socially labored celebrity.
In the New York Times article, “She’s famous (and so can you)” (October 28,
2007), the author outlines Tequila’s rapid rise in fame. The article implies that it is
unnecessary to critically analyze Tequila’s fame, since celebrity cannot be taken seriously
as it has no direct correlation to any specific talent. This notion of fame was labeled by
Rowlands (2008) as “new variant fame” or “vfame.” Rowlands explains the nature of this
5. type of fame as follows: “vfame is fame unconnected to any achievement or excellence in
any recognized form” (p. 25). Rowlands further explains, “vfame is not, in its essence, a
matter of quality. Vfame has nothing to do with value” (p. 91).
With this in mind, how did Tequila become famous? She differs markedly from
Paris Hilton, who is a prime example of Rowlands’ notion of vfame. Unlike Tequila,
Hilton did not become popular as a result of online social networking sites. She gained
popularity in real social settings, such as the context of exclusive parties in New York
City celebrity circles. In doing so, Hilton gained the reputation as a socialite.
Tequila, however, came from a very different background; she is not an heiress
nor does she have parents who are well-known. Instead, Tequila comes from a less
affluent background. To some extent, this is one liberating aspect of the social media’s
possibility and potential. One does not need to have any real social connections to access
networking opportunities on the social media. Users make social connections through a
click of a button, through an email message, or through leaving comments. This aspect of
social networking is what I will explore in the next section on immaterial labor.
MySpace Promotion as Immaterial Labor
MySpace is a place where friends network and befriend one another via the “Add
Me” feature. Many MySpace communication features, including this one, have been
continuously being updated from year to year. Besides the classic features of social
networking sites such as adding people, commenting on friends’ page, displaying
pictures, and blogging, MySpace has developed some unique features over the past few
years. In early 2006, Myspace introduced a new feature called Myspace IM, an instant
messenger program that uses Myspace screen names. One year later, Myspace created
6. MyspaceTV, which functions similarly to YouTube. Myspace launched the Myspace
News Show in April of that year. In July 2007, a new function allowed users to share
their current moods by using emoticons, which are icon faces exhibiting a variety of
moods. Myspace announced Myspace Karaoke in April 2008, a program which enables
users to upload audio clips onto their profile pages (Wikimyspace, n.d.). As this series of
functions indicates, Myspace is attempting to attract and engage users through a variety
of programs. Whether it is through the creation of a brand or the application of diverse
site functions, Myspace has created a blurred boundary between work and play.
Tequila’s popularity is rooted in the large number of friends she has
acquired over the years on MySpace. It is probably not an exaggeration to assume that
she is the most popular MySpace user besides Tom Anderson, the founder of MySpace
(who automatically gets added to everyone’s profile upon joining the site). What
motivates people in such large numbers to want to become Tequila’s friends on
MySpace? What does she represent? Why do people want to be connected to her profile?
Perhaps, Tequila was simply at the right place and time to connect into the MySpace
world, since she joined MySpace shortly after its inception. She describes her
involvement with MySpace as follows:
I joined MySpace in September 2003, Nguyen recalls. At that time no one was on
there at all. I felt like a loser while all the cool kids were at some other school. So
I mass e-mailed between 30,000 and 50,000 people and told them to come over.
Everybody joined overnight. (as cited in Grossman, 2006, para. 3)
Cote and Pybus's (2007) article “Learning to immaterial labour 2.0: Myspace and social
network” clearly explains how the activities on social networking sites can be regarded as
a form of immaterial labor. Although Myspace may belong within the territory of
corporatism, Myspace functions as a place where users can express themselves and build
7. their social capital, as well as basically have fun. However, not everything that takes
place on Myspace can be regarded as a mere leisure-time activity; users of Myspace
“learn to produce their networked subjectivity on the social network which offers an
unprecedented milieu for myriad forms of circulation and valorization” (Cote and Pybus,
Cote and Pybus further argue that “this apprenticeship is not only socially
‘profitable’ for youth, it helps capital construct the foundations of a future of networked
subjectivity and affect” (p. 95). This point is crucial as it not only segues into an
understanding of affective labor, but also because it highlights the ambiguity of the social
networking experience in terms of the benefits of immaterial labor. Not only do users
learn to express and subjectify themselves online, but their activities also provide a
platform for corporations to reap benefits and evaluate user preferences. This reality
intersects with the notion of free and fan labor, where user voluntarism is leveraged for
larger, financial benefit.
In Times, Grossman (2006) examines the early stages of Tequila’s fame
prior the debut of her reality television show on MTV. This article provides insight into
Tequila’s endeavors prior to acquiring a massive social network on MySpace. Tequila
worked in and continues to do some modeling; one of her achievements was being
featured on Playboy.com as the first Asian cybergirl. Her heightened sexuality, as
exemplified by her nude photo shoot for playboy.com, has been widely disseminated
throughout the MySpace community. Photography holds great power in the active
construction of celebrity. As Rojek (2001) concludes, “it introduces a new and expanding
medium of representation that swiftly displaced printed text as the primary means of
8. communicating celebrity. Photography made fame instant and ubiquitous in ways that the
printed word could not match” (p. 128). As Tequila’s persona was solidified through the
display of her photographs, she capitalized on her fame and created a recognizable self-
Besides Tequila, numerous women use the internet as a means to increase
attention and popularity. Thus, it is too reductionistic to conclude that Tequila’s fame is
solely based on her provocative photographs. The formula behind Tequila’s fame is a
combination of her Playmate pictures and her leveraging of the mainstream social media,
mainly MySpace. This is where she has tirelessly networked and connected with others,
exhibiting her body as a tantalizing hook or lure. As Nayar (2009) maintains, “the body
of the celebrity is central to the culture, fan following and consumption of the celebrity…
it is the body of the star that first contributes to the aura of the celebrity (p. 60-61). To
this extent, Tequila fulfills one of the important aspects of celebrity culture—the use of
the body as a promotional tool. However, her popularity is not only the result of her
exhibitionism; it is also the product of affective labor.
Tequila’s Affective Labor
The interactivity between Tequila and her fellow MySpace members started as a
form of affective labor (Hardt & Negri, 2000). According to Hardt and Negri (2000),
affective labor involves the caring and emotional aspect of laboring. It is exemplified by
nurses caring for their patients, the nurturing characteristic of a teacher’s mentoring
efforts, or a car salesperson’s savvy emotional tactics to assure a quick car sale. In this
context, we can understand Tequila’s sexual charm and interactivity as a carefully
utilized means of attracting more MySpace friends into her network.
9. In order to maintain popularity, Tequila constantly updates her pictures and the
information on her current endeavors. She is extremely personable in her interaction with
MySpace friends. Tequila permits a close proximity in regards to the projection of her
Playboy persona; this desirable female body is readily available for viewing. It is the
sexually charged Playboy magazine girl who is posting commentaries and responding to
Tequila’s MySpace friends. Redmond (2006) argues that intimacy is an important asset in
bringing audiences and celebrities together. While Rojek (2001) may dismiss para-social
relationships as misleading and unreal, Redmond (2006) asserts the opposite: “this type
of para-social connectivity is as ‘real’ as anything can be in a cultural diverse made out of
simulacra” (p. 39). Lai (2006) echoes the importance of maintaining para-social
relationships: “in order for celebrity para-social relations to be perpetuated, the individual
must be able to believe that the celebrities are not so distant from those their social
circles” (p. 227).
Tequila’s exertion of affective labor can be easily gauged by visiting her profile
page, especially when considering the voice messages she leaves for her fans. Her
messages are enthusiastic but lack any substantive information. Her latest voice message,
posted on December 29, 2009, concerns what she did over the Christmas holidays. In this
message, Tequila talks and rambles as if she is speaking to a friend next to her. The
purpose of her voice messages is basically to give a “shout out” to her fans and to make
them feel closer to her, thereby heightening the level of perceived intimacy. As Johnson
(2003) asserts, “shifting an interaction from, say, e-mail to the telephone not only
changes the ‘richness’ of the communication channel, but also conveys a symbolic
meaning in that voice communication is generally considered more ‘personal’ than text-
10. based communication” (p. 127).
Free Labor of MySpace Friends
In addition to the interactive aspect of affective labor, the third element that plays
a key role in the construction of socially labored celebrity is the exertion of free labor by
MySpace users. According to Terranova (2004), free labor involves working voluntarily
for others, while also opening up the possibility of exploitation. Terranova describes free
labor as “simultaneously voluntarily given and unwaged, enjoyed and exploited; free
labour on the Net includes the activity of building websites, modifying software
packages, reading and participating in mailing lists and building virtual spaces” (p. 74).
In this vein, the meaning of “labor” has many paradoxical connotations, such as doing
promotional work for others and sharing information with other users. However, in the
world of MySpace, free labor can be as effortless as simply adding other members as
friend. Of course, it can be argued that the voluntary and intentional act of asking Tequila
to add one as a friend cannot actually be considered “working” for someone.
Nevertheless this type of seemingly mindless activity can be interpreted as a form of free
labor when we consider how this simple act creates exposure for others and leads to a
mediated domino effect.
By the phrase “mediated domino effect,” I mean the internet’s decentralized
capacity to spread and permeate society at a level that is much higher and faster than
other types of media platforms, such as television, radio, or print. As Jordan (1999) notes,
“the distribution of authority online mimics the Internet’s technology because it is
decentred, with no central authority standing in the information flow” (p. 79). Arvidsson
(2006) also points out the uniqueness of the internet environment: “while offline branding
11. struggles to valorize particular aspects of communicative interaction, the internet is a
technological tool that permits a much more far-reaching subsumption of productive
interaction” (p. 96). Unlike creating “buzz” or hype in other media platforms, such as the
mainstream media formats, creating buzz on MySpace requires converting the users and
viewers into promoters and marketers. Because the movement or navigation of audiences
is free-flowing, Tequila’s popularity on MySpace spreads much more quickly than
through the other media. Marshall (2006) stresses the new cultural shifts that have
paralleled the advent of the internet: “new media culture thus is generative of a new type
of individualism: a will to produce that formulates a shifted constitution of desire and a
different connection to the contemporary moment” (p. 638).
Another example of free labor is Tequila’s phone message box on her MySpace
page. Tequila invites her fans to call a toll-free number and leave messages for her. The
display of her fans’ voice messages is integral to the building and sustaining of her image
as a “celebrity.” The exhibition of examples of her fans’ adoration and idolization convey
the impression that Tequila is maintaining the interest of her fans. On the flip side,
although her profile is visited by countless Myspace fans, it is interesting to note that her
message box is also used as a platform for self-promotion by other Myspace members.
Because Tequila’s profile page is visited heavily on a daily basis, many Myspace
members leave messages, trying to promote their own music: “Come check us out for
new songs up! Add us and leave us your thoughts on them!”, “Hello, I posted a new song
‘the joy is inside you”. Please stop by and check it out. Let me know what you think,”
“Rap and rnb beats on my page, 10 dollars the beat.” This occurrence demonstrates an
interesting paradox: Tequila hopes to maintain her status through the aid of her fans,
12. while her own page has been transformed into a platform where other site users promote
their own music or MySpace pages. To this extent, the socially labored celebrity holds
power over her network, as her network can be transformed into others’ self-promotional
platforms. Other users know that Tequila’s profile space is highly used, which makes it
easy for others to take advantage of her space for personal exposure. The exploitive act
involves two-way traffic: others take advantage of Tequila’s site for their own purposes,
just as Tequila leverages free fan labor from her MySpace friends, thus solidifying her
brand. At this juncture, Tequila’s brand must be unpacked.
The Branding of Tequila on Muti-Media Platform
Although brands are physical forms that become materialized through the conveyance of
a significant value, the processes related to the creation of a brand is inevitably linked to
immaterial and affective labor. Essentially, it is through these immaterial and affective
forms of labor that values and meanings are acquired. As Arvidsson (2005) contends
“brands are built on immaterial labour of consumers: their ability to create an ethical
surplus through productive communication” (p. 235). The process of branding oneself
can occur by creating a website banner of one’s name, adding pictures and website links,
and sending private and public messages to network friends. Tequila’s brand can be
easily evinced on MySpace page and its values are intensified by the busy trafficking of
the MySpace members.
In Brand and values in media culture, Arvidsson (2006) describes the creation
and valuation of brands. In his study, Arvidsson emphasizes that it is not the actual
commodity that makes a brand, but the consumers that create the meaning of the brand:
…the brand referred to a context of consumption, constructed by links
between consumer affects. This brand space was furthermore open-ended
13. and incomplete. It constituted a virtual promise or anticipation, to be
actualized by the active involvement of consumers themselves. In their
ongoing production of a common, consumers create the actual value of the
brand: its share in meaningful experiences, its connection to social
identities or forms of community: the practices that underpin measurable
(and hence valuable) forms of attention. (p. 95)
Given this statement, even if one creates a brand, what makes the brand valuable is
directly related to consumer involvement. In short, if consumers collectively associate a
specific brand with an idea, a certain set of values is created. However, brands can only
have an actual value when the importance of brand association is collectively internalized
In the case of Tequila as a form of self-branding, audiences involvement is not
necessarily related to her products but to her persona. In this similar vein, Hearn (2008)
critically problematizes western consumer society’s construction of the “self” as an
object for branding. She explains how branding oneself has become an important must-
learn prerequisite for becoming successful. This view is clearly reflected in multiple
media platforms, such as reality television programs and social networking websites,
where content creation is mainly geared towards self-branding. Although Hearn notes
that self-promotion is not a new phenomenon, self-branding has become manageable,
simpler, and practically essential with the rise of social networking sites: “the practices of
self-branding are clear evidence of the increasing cultural value, and potentially surplus
value, that is now extracted from the production of affect, desire, attention, and image”
(p. 214). Hearn’s observation here is critical to our understanding of Tequila as an
example of self-branding. Although Tequila’s MySpace profile appears extremely
cluttered with her numerous endeavors, there is one unified theme. Tequila promotes and
sells online her music, clothing lines, book, and videos, but all of her merchandise
14. projects one image: the personification of rough sex appeal. Thus, Tequila’s brand is a
projection of sexual aggressiveness, as articulated in her motto, “the baddest bitch on the
block.” What people are consuming by purchasing her products is her emotional state as
communicated through affective communication. As Klein (2000) states, “brands…
conjure a feeling” (p. 6).
Since Tequila’s brand is not necessarily linked to her products but to the image,
the feelings, and the lifestyle she promotes, this promotion is indeed “ramified by
socialization practices, psychological strategies and habits, and cultural/aesthetic norms
and values” (Wernick, 2000, p. 303). The impact of self branding is pivotal and its
cultural ramifications are alarming. Wernick incisively points out that much
communication in contemporary society has become a form of promotion and self-
promotion; similarly, Tequila’s branding and promotions reflect the lack of division
between her personal and professional lives. Not only are her lifestyle and self-reflexivity
a part of the branding process, but her public / private demarcation is blurred because of
how she navigates and crosses from one business venture to another. It is important to
point out that Tequila’s branding is not unilateral in nature, but acts in a convergent
manner across various media platforms and genres.
After her popularity soared on Myspace, Tequila was featured in Stuff magazine
in April 2006. With her public image on the rise, MTV offered Tequila a reality
television show called “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.” This was a provocative dating
show about a bisexual woman’s quest to find love, and included both men and women as
contestants. This reality television show added an additional dimension to Tequila’s self-
branding. Hearn (2006) notes that “reality television programmes provide the mechanism
15. whereby participants can effectively construct personae and put them to commercial use.
Participants are labouring to create a product they know has market value—fame” (p.
136). For this reason, the reality television show thrust Tequila into the limelight. Prior to
the show, numerous articles and gossip blogs had addressed Tequila’s popularity, but at
this point her internet celebrity status was upgraded to that of a mainstream reality
Tequila is something of a unique case. According to Holmes (2006), many former
celebrities are using reality television shows as a way to rejuvenate their status and
popularity; on the other hand, non-celebrity individuals can become reality television
stars by simply responding to a casting call. While former celebrities may be cast on
shows because of their previous fame, non-celebrities rely on a certain level of luck.
Besides these two types of shows, there is another category of reality programming that
focuses on the outrageous. For example, a woman nicknamed New York, who was
previously a contestant on “The Flavor of Love,” was offered her own reality television
show, VH-1’s “I Love New York.” Tequila’s fame is completely grounded in her internet
fame and labor; nonetheless, her reality show does not involve the typical kind of script,
in which either an ordinary person becomes famous (democraticization of fame) or an
extraordinary (already famous) person’s personal life is exposed to reveal its “ordinary”
dimensions (Holmes, 2006; Andrejevic, 2003).
In Tequila’s case, the script is an example of hyper-reality or even unreality.
Although the show purportedly provided Tequila an opportunity to explore her
bisexuality (i.e., to figure out whether she was more drawn to men or women), the show
was not conceived with the aim of demystifying her internet celebrity aura in order to
16. emphasize her ordinariness. Instead, the goal was the complete opposite; the show was
meant to create an unreal character who engaged in wild behavior that typically would
not be displayed in normal settings. While most celebrity reality television programming
pivots around the idea of “ordinariness,” none of the content in Tequila’s show reflected
any aspect of ordinariness or approximation of “reality.” Many articles disputed the so-
called “authenticity” of the show, while numerous reports disputed Tequila’s bi-sexuality
as a “fake” or “scam.” For example, Fox News reported on November 30, 2007, that
“MTV Star Tila Tequila is Straight” (Fox News, 2007). These types of reports suggest
that the show was basically fabricated for the sake of entertainment or publicity. While
these reports cannot be accepted blindly, it is clear that the hype surrounding Tequila’s
show was carefully plotted.
However, the point of this chapter is not to analyze Tequila’s reality
television fame, but to explore how the fame generated by the reality show affected the
overall construction of Tequila as a socially labored celebrity. Soon after the show aired,
numerous career opportunities opened up for Tequila. For this reason, Tequila is what
Collins (2008) calls a “dispensable celebrity”: “[a] celebrity that generates novelty out of
audience with minimal risk and temporal flexibility” (p. 89). The idea of “dispensable
celebrity” intersects with the socially labored celebrity in that “these individuals are
dispensed through celebrity places along synergistic paths” (Collins, p. 103). Similar to
the dissemination of dispensable celebrities across different media platforms, Tequila’s
reality television fame crossed over and influenced other media outlets. This is the result
of Tequila’s ability to capitalize on the fame generated from being on MTV and her
decision to market her bisexual appeal by writing a book titled Hooking up with Tila
17. Tequila: A guide to love, fame, happiness, success and being the life of the party. As the
title suggests, this book echoes the concept of the reality show, and is being heavily
marketed on Myspace, on the Extra television show, and on her blogs. Tequila has been
able to successfully merge the mainstream and grassroots media outlets to expand her
Besides her book endeavors, Tequila’s brand launched yet another area of
marketing and promoting: a personal record label. Recently, Tequila announced on her
MySpace blog that she is looking for unsigned artists to sign record contracts with her.
This is another surprising aspect of the socially labored celebrity. What enables her to
move fluidly from one career opportunity to another? To some extent, one can argue that
this is due to Tequila’s hard work. Tequila’s classification as a “socially labored
celebrity” does not necessarily mean that hard work is always a part of the equation.
Rather, the phrase “socially labored” refers to the constant contact between her self-
reflexivity and the social media. In the final section, Tequila’s social laboring practices
will be analyzed and the common methods she uses to attract the limelight will be
explored. In doing so, we will also examine how her fame has been affected by
From Fame to Defamation
Although Tequila has gained enormous popularity through powerful branding
strategies and ceaseless labor, many recent headlines have focused only on her troubled
personal life: alleged domestic violence with ex-boyfriend NFL star Shawn Merriman
(Wilson, 2009); her engagement to Johnson and Johnson heiress Casey Johnson (New
York Post, 2009); the rumors of her carrying the child of her brother as a surrogate
18. mother, which led to confirmation that she is indeed carrying the baby (Nudd, 2009); and
the death of fiancée (Rush, 2010). Tequila has indeed become a media spectacle. As
Kellner (2003) notes, “media spectacles are those phenomena of media culture that
embody contemporary society’s basic values, serve to initiate individuals into its way of
life, and dramatize its controversies and struggles, as well as its modes of conflict
resolution” (p. 2).
Ironically, towards the end of 2009, Tequila attempted to shift the focus of her
fame from her public persona of an edgy, sexual, drama queen person to that of the “girl
next door.” In her MySpage profile, Tequila has tried to disconnect herself from her
earlier persona by showing her “sweet” side. She released a YouTube video showing her
playing with her nephew—hence, displaying a level of compassion and sensitivity. In
addition, in the blog entry “The Real Tila Tequila without the fame” posted on December
26, 2009, Tequila asked her fans to truly get to know her, claiming that the media
portrayal contradicts her true self:
First of all, I know a lot of people out there have a lot of pre-conceived judgments
of who I am. Who this "TILA TEQUILA" person is. The media and some people
out there just see me as some "FAMEWHORE" "ATTENTION SEEKER"
"SLUT" etc...... I have let people say those things about me for years now and I
never really cared because I knew the truth, and the truth is, I am NONE of those
things. As a matter of fact, the "REAL TILA" is actually quite the opposite.
As was suggested earlier, an integral aspect of do-it-yourself fame is the ability to control
all publicity by only publicizing the images and information that one desires. However,
Tequila now claims that the outcome of her vfame has no factual basis in the “Real Tila.”
More shocking is her claim that in reality she is the opposite of her famous reputation.
How does this make any sense when one recalls that her fame is self-made? The initial
19. publicity work was carried out by Tequila herself, and this led to the exertion of
enormous free and fan labor by members of MySpace.
While Tequila’s pleas can be interpreted as her desire to “set the record straight,”
it is difficult for others to accept her attempts as sincere. As Turner (2005) rightly claims,
“modern celebrity then, is a product of media representation: understanding it demands a
close attention to the representational repertoires and patterns employed in these
discursive regimes” (p. 8). In other words, not one but many perceptions of Tequila are
necessary to understand her type of celebrity, since it is influenced by her ability to
fabricate “extraordinariness” through multiple media platforms. Indeed as Marshall
(2006) points out, “the new media’s democratization of cultural production has also
opened the door to not only personal use but also personal expression” (p. 638). Such
forms of personal expressions, however, could backfire on Tequila and put her celebrity
In addition to using MySpace, Youtube, and her personal website as outlets for
self-expression, Tequila utilizes Twitter to generate and propel Boorstin’s (1987) notion
of “pseudo-events.” According to Boorstin, a pseudo-event “is not spontaneous but
comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. It is planted primarily
for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced” (p. 11). In the following
section of this article, we will examine how Tequila uses Twitter as a way to create
countless pseudo-events which are often intentional, self-manifested dramas created by
Twitter is a social media site where members can sign up for free and update their
status, similar to the newsfeed function on Facebook. What distinguishes Twitter is the
20. ability of numerous people to consume information instantaneously once an update is
posted. As long as one has requested and belongs to a network as a “follower,” a user can
receive instant updates. To this end, Twitter allows for the proliferation of information
beyond that of most websites. The impact of Twitter on celebrity reporting is noteworthy,
since the appearance of too many public personal outbursts can also place celebrities, like
Tequila, in a negative light.
On the CBS News website, Smith (2009) published an article titled, “Tila
Tequila Goes on Twitter Offensive after NFL Star Shawn Merriman Allegedly Chokes
Her.” In addition to this article, numerous other news articles addressed Tequila’s
statements on Twitter. In a USA Today article dated January 6, 2010, the following
statements were printed: “Tila Tequila tweets about ‘unbearable pain’ over losing
‘Wifey.’ Recently after the death of her fiancée Casey Johnson, Tequila made headlines
with her reported Twitter fights with celebrity blogger Perez Hilton (Calinawan, 2010). In
The Faster Times, direct Twitter interactions between Perez Hilton and Tequila were
quoted. The dialogue involved Hilton expressing his disgust at Tequila over her
exploitation of Johnson’s death for the sake of more publicity for her new celebrity blog.
As evinced by these reports, the media and others are watching and commenting on
Tequila’s use of and postings on Twitter.
Since the death of her fiancée, Tequila has received increasingly negative
press coverage, often accusing her of taking advantage of Johnson’s death to gain more
fame. Despite Tequila’s express, “tweeted” wish to remain private during this time of
grief, she has continuously posted comments about how much she and Johnson loved one
another, and expressed outrage toward Johnson’s family for abandoning her fiancée. On
21. January 7, 2010, she posted a new blog entry, reflecting an unusual need to defend and
justify the affection between her and Johnson:
PROOF THAT CASEY PICKED ME OVER HER ESTRANGED
Here are tons of video proof of how much Casey Truly Loved me & I her..... She
just wanted to start a new life with me, her Daughter Ava, and support me through
my pregnancy and start a whole new life together..... she didn't want to have
anything to do with her family who abandoned her for 5 years! Now the truth
comes out! My life is in shambles and the love of my life is now gone forever.
Now they all come blaming me for everything when they didn't even know her
like I did!
While the Tequila’s latest dramas seem to unfold minute by minute, the point of this
article is not to record or follow her every move, but to understand her tireless blogging
and tweeting as a means to maintain her vfame. Tequila has caused it, created it, and
written about it—she is the producer and distributor of a pseudo-reality that she lives out
in a virtual world.
In a close analysis of Tequila’s Twitter account, it is important to note her
unflagging self-promotions. During the time Tequila was mourning Johnson’s death, she
wrote about one of her new sites: “www.TilasHotSpot.com that should entertain u for a
moment while I'm asleep. Don’t forget to wake me up at 4pm. love u! xoxoxoxox”
(posted on January 7, 2010). This is a prime example of Tequila’s branding tactics, which
recognize no boundary between her personal and professional lives. Her work is her
drama, and her drama is what provides work for her; hence, Tequila’s pseudo-events and
work endeavors have a symbiotic relationship. Although many articles have discussed
Tequila’s Twitter postings, they mainly chastise her for her non-stop tweeting. According
to NY Dailly News, Pesce (2010) reports that Tila Tequila “has tweeted over 160 times
22. about her fiancé Casey Johnson’s death despite initially promising to grieve in private”
This is one critical aspect of vfame and socially labored celebrity; in order to
maintain the status of celebrity, there must be constant, ceaseless communication with
networked “friends” and “fans.” For this reason, Tequila constantly produces story after
story, which have become a series of pseudo-events. However, the nature of the pseudo-
events has changed with the age of the social media; not only are these “pseudo,” but
they are virtual pseudo-events. All of these incidents and reports are created on the social
media, picked up by the article writers and commentators, and then re-enacted through
the acts of repudiation, accusation, denial, defense, and outrage.
In this chapter, I have examined Tila Tequila’s self-generated fame from the
standpoint of immaterial, affective and free labor. In doing so, I have also unpacked
Tequila’s brand. In order to gain popularity and fame, the aspect of constant connectivity
is critical; one needs the free labor of fans to stay in limelight. While the aim of this
chapter is not to criticize the act of self-promotion or self-branding, it is important to
understand how the social media play an influential role in the construction of socially
labored celebrity and to examine what is at stake with the increase in socially labored
In the social media age, becoming a celebrity is much easier through the use of
MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, and other such sites. On one hand, this can be celebrated as
democratic and liberating, but these media also take Boorstin’s notion of pseudo-events
to the next level. Not only are gossip blogs and news articles reporting the pseudo-events
23. of celebrities, they are now using Tequila’s Twitter events as headlines and “breaking
news” stories. While it may seem as if the press is at fault for allowing the proliferation
of pseudo-events, this cannot happen without Tequila’s involvement and efforts to get the
stories out. One must keep in mind that Tequila does not hold as much power as other
celebrities who play more vital roles in contemporary culture as cultural producers.
Although Tequila’s personal life may get a headline attention in the mainstream media
platform, Tequila seldom receives the publicity her individual business ventures, as is the
case for “A-level” celebrities.
Perhaps for this reason, Tequila must focus on advertising as a way to grow her
brand. Her dramatic life is often self-motivated (frequently entailing firing back at the
press, initiating fights, and acting out in general), and provides a degree of low-level
entertainment and spectacle. The problem, however, is not that these personalized media
outlets allow for personal expressions, but rather the issues are based in the convergence
between the discursive voices desiring attention and the mainstream media press’s
objectives. As Tequila’s pseudo-events become a nationalized media spectacle, they
deflect the public away from the news that pertains to the actual events themselves;
instead, virtual and offline news reporting focuses on what celebrities like Tequila are
feeling at the moment, what they are planning to do, and who they hook up with or did
not hook with. Furthermore, Tequila also often promotes her publicity from other gossip
columns on her own Twitter, MySpace and personal pages and sites. It is clear that she is
often the instigator of the public feuds with other celebrities; as a recent example shows,
she made negative comments about Heidi Montag (another reality television star), and
also posted a video interview of her on her Twitter site to generate more publicity.
24. Although there has been much negative publicity directed towards Tequila and
her desperate desire for fame, from a scholarly standpoint, a clear and level-headed
diagnosis of the cultural phenomenon that she embodies is needed. Rowlands (2008)
argues that the celebration of vfame is in part due to the abandonment of quality and “the
inability to distinguish quality and bullshit” (p. 107); he further points to this
phenomenon as “the culmination of the decline of enlightenment” (p. 112). However, if
Rowlands’s view of quality is “a function of rarity and labour,” (p. 106), we cannot
decisively argue that Tequila’s cultural productions (music, blogging, modeling, etc.)
lack either characteristic. Tequila’s quality lies in her ability to labor socially. Perhaps
what describes the current epidemics is the general dissuasion and illusion that ability to
socialize online by any means will triumph the good old argument on the persistence of
‘pure’ talent. It is no longer about effort and labor; rather, the issue comes down to what
types of labor our current culture values more. What types of hard work deserve fame and
fortune? While this article has not answered these specific questions, we may now begin
to shift the emphasis from the cooperative and socially interactive dimensions of Hardt
and Negri’s notion of immaterial labor to a closer examination of socialization and
cooperation in the social media era.
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