‘There’s a Starman waiting in the Sky’: Mourning David #Bowie on Twitter

Hilde Van den Bulck, Anders Olof Larsson

Abstract


This contribution analyses Twitter responses to the death of David Bowie as an inroad to discuss key characteristics and functions of Twitter in mediated relationships between celebrities, fans and the popular culture industry. Starting from existing insights into Twitter’s role in iGrieving, it provides a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the type of Twitter users involved in and the content of a sample of 130 most retweeted of all (N=252 318) tweets with #Bowie from the first 48 hours after Bowie died. It analyses, first, whether Twitter reactions constitute a conversation and a community or simply a mass of individual reactions. Second, it analyses the types of fan creativity these Twitter reactions present, indicative of the depth of a celebrity-fan (parasocial) relationship. Finally, it analysis if this iCommunity of mourners is reflective of a ‘Twitter of the masses’ or directed by a popular culture industry-related elite, reflective of commodification of mourning. Results show Twitter mourning being led by a limited number of massively retweeted tweets, suggesting the existence of a Twitter elite that, moreover, consists predominantly of representatives of the popular culture industry. The latter refutes the ‘bottom’ up’ and resistive forces of fans and is indicative of processes of commodification. This does not contradict the notion of Twitter providing a space for fans to mourn, as content analysis of the tweets shows a focus on positive affirmation in tribute to his work, next to information and emotions of grief.

Keywords


Twitter, celebrity culture, death and iMourning, iCommunity, popular culture industry

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