In 2024, we’ve forgotten how to interact with celebrities

In a recent interview, the actor said she’s ‘learnt to say no’ to fans who demand selfies from her (Getty)
In a recent interview, the actor said she’s ‘learnt to say no’ to fans who demand selfies from her (Getty)

Picture the scene: you’ve spotted a celebrity in the street. What happens next will be determined by a few things – namely how online you are, how interested you happen to be in this particular celebrity, and, well, your morals. Perhaps you play it cool, sneaking the odd glance while furiously messaging the group chat. Maybe you go for gold, snapping a photo and sending it to a tabloid or, in all likelihood, a celebrity gossip account like DeuxMoi. Or you could just bound up to them like an over-excited labrador, profess your love, and take a selfie without their consent.

The latter seems to be happening a lot recently. Prior to the digital age, all people wanted from a famous person was a piece of paper with their signature scribbled on it. Today, this holds little value. Why? Because you can’t really post it online – and, if you do, who’s to say you didn’t draw that autograph yourself? In our hyper-online modern era, one where everyone is just one meme away from becoming a viral TikTok star, you need a selfie if you want social capital.

Understandably, this isn’t always something celebrities are willing to give. Take Zendaya, who recently told Vogue she’s changed tack whenever fans approach her now. “I think growing up, I always felt like when someone asks for a picture, I have to do it, all the time,” said the 27-year-old Dune star. “You have to say yes, because you just need to be grateful that you’re here. And while I still feel that way, I also have learnt that I can say no, and I can say kindly that I’m having a day off, or I’m just trying to be myself today, and I don’t actually have to perform all the time.”

Can you blame her? The actor is one of the busiest and most famous stars around right now – why should she have to constantly be available to pose in front of the smartphones of strangers? The remarks were reminiscent of those made in light of a viral video of Dua Lipa walking with her rumoured boyfriend, Callum Turner, alongside a bodyguard. In the clip, a fan is seen rushing up to Lipa with her smartphone and appears to walk excitedly next to the couple for a few seconds before the bodyguard quickly slaps the phone to the ground. The fan does not look happy about this.

Picture this: Timothée Chalamet posing with fans (and their phones) on the red carpet at Venice Film Festival in 2022 (Getty)
Picture this: Timothée Chalamet posing with fans (and their phones) on the red carpet at Venice Film Festival in 2022 (Getty)

At first, seeing that video might make you pity the fan. Why should that poor excitable young girl have to pay to repair her now presumably broken phone because of a particularly brusque bodyguard? After all, Lipa is (like Zendaya) one of the most recognisable people on the planet. She could afford to buy several Apple stores, never mind a new iPhone. Of course people are going to want to take photos with her. Wasn’t the bodyguard’s behaviour a bit extreme?

All this highlights just how warped our relationship with celebrities has become in the social media age. Take a look at footage from any red carpet event and you’ll see what I mean. Instead of trying to talk to the stars they apparently admire and respect, fans are simply shoving smartphones in their faces, desperately trying to capture an image they can share on Instagram, thus subsequently garnering validation from their own friends. Unless a meaningful conversation happens before or after the photo is snapped, the celebrity is entirely dehumanised in this scenario. They are a prop. A vehicle for you to exploit to increase your own social currency.

Of course, in most cases, the celebrities oblige. After all, one wrong move or comment and they’ll be painted as a selfish, entitled a***hole.

It’s a real shame that nobody bothers to ask for autographs anymore. At least in those exchanges there might have been a conversation, or a moment of human connection shared between two people that actually amounted to something tangible. What good is a selfie beyond a few Instagram likes? It doesn’t bring you closer to that person, nor does it offer you any real insight into who they are or how they move through the world. It means nothing.

With this in mind, it’s hard to feel resentful of any celebrity like Zendaya or Lipa who doesn’t want to play the game of taking photos anymore. With Lipa in particular, the fan didn’t even try to talk to her. She just ran up without a word and tried to film herself walking next to her idol – who wants or deserves to be used like that? To be seen as something so two-dimensional and flat – you might as well be a doll.

It’s also worth noting that today’s celebrities get far more exposure than those who operated in the autograph era. People are a lot more famous now than they were pre-social media – and, subsequently, seem even further away from us regular folk. But this is a harmful narrative to cling to. The second we start seeing anyone, famous or otherwise, as “other”, we fail to see them as a real person deserving of consideration, respect and, yes, privacy.

At least, that’s what seems to be happening with every person fighting tooth and nail for a selfie with their favourite celebrity. The next time you spot someone out in the wild, my advice is to leave them alone and let them enjoy their time off. But if you must approach, do so with care. And instead of asking for a photo, why not simply say hello and strike up a conversation? Who knows – you could make memories that last much longer than any selfie.