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1.2: Trailblazer

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    Social Media Trailblazer: Selena Gomez


    Figure \(1.2\) Selena Gomez (credit: "Selena Gomez" by jenniferlinneaphotogaphy/flickr, CC BY 2.0))

    Learning Objectives

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Read for inquiry, learning, critical thinking, and communicating in various rhetorical contexts.
    • Identify the elements of successful social media use.

    Authenticity as Rhetoric

    Culture Lens Icon

    By any standard, singer, actor, and philanthropist Selena Gomez (b. 1992) is an influencer. By 2021, Gomez had amassed around 65 million Twitter ( followers and over 260 million Instagram ( followers, placing her among celebrities with top follower counts. Gomez was born in Grand Prairie, Texas, but raised outside of Dallas. She is named after the popular Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez (1971–1995), who was murdered by her fan club president but still maintains an avid following. Gomez entered show business as a child, inspired by the single mother, an amateur actress, who raised her. After roles on Barney and Friends ( (from 2002–2004) and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003), Gomez auditioned for the world of Disney. Appearing first on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (2005–2008), Gomez landed a lead role as Alex Russo on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place (2007–2012), for which she also sang the theme song ( themesong). By 2012, Gomez was ready to depart from such family-friendly roles, taking parts in films such as Spring Breakers (2012), The Dead Don’t Die (2019), and A Rainy Day in New York (2019). Gomez’s music career paralleled that of her acting career; she began as a member of the band Selena Gomez and the Scene (2009) and launched her solo career in 2012. Gomez has released the solo albums Stars Dance (2013), Revival (2015), and Rare ( (2020).

    Despite Gomez’s success as a public figure, her relationship with social media has been rocky. Gomez describes her social media strategy as “intentional . . . I don’t take a lot of pointless pictures.” Gomez recognizes the power of her social media platform, and she has used it to champion the causes that she cares about. As a person diagnosed with both lupus (2015) and bipolar disorder (2018), Gomez has used social media to advocate for mental and physical health causes. (Lupus is an inflammatory disease caused by the immune system attacking its own tissue; bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings.) Gomez says, “Everything that I’m attached to has a charity aspect.” She continues, “If something good isn’t coming out of it, I’m not going to do it.” This “intentional,” open approach to her personal difficulties and her emphasis on building positivity out of struggle generates an intimacy with fans that has served to increase her following.

    However, the most radical action that Gomez may have committed with regard to social media was her decision to quit it. Suffering from publicity overload, cyberbullying, and a negatively changing sense of self, Gomez handed over her Instagram account to her assistant in 2017. She has also handed her Instagram account over to people such as Georgia voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams ( staceyabrams) (b. 1973) as part of the #ShareTheMicNow ( campaign, which amplifies the voices of Black women. Gomez deleted social media apps from her smartphone and gave up knowledge of her passwords. She claims that the move has been liberating: “I suddenly had to learn how to be with myself.” She reflects that there were 150 million people on her phone, and “I just put it down. . . . That was such a relief.”

    Despite the shift in approach, Gomez’s relationship with social media remains strong. She actively cultivates a “deliberate . . . vulnerability” through her unwillingness to shy away from tough or important issues. Regardless of which of Gomez’s assistants hits the “post” button, Gomez’s focus on giving of herself to improve society resonates with her fans.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Have you heard of Selena Gomez? What did you know about her before reading this feature?
    2. If you consider her background, what skills do you think have helped Gomez establish her savvy rhetorical presence on social media? Which skills do you relate to, and how might you use them?
    3. In what ways has Gomez used her struggles with mental and physical health to amplify her platform? How might this context affect the rhetorical situation?
    4. Explain how authenticity helps Gomez communicate. What influence does one’s experience have on the rhetorical situation?
    5. In what ways does Gomez rely on emotional appeals to her audience? In what ways does she incorporate ethics, logic, or timeliness?

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