Autograph Collecting, Selfies, Social Media and the Generational Gap

After seeing the discussions on this site regarding autographs versus selfies, as well as observing fan groups based both on autographs and celebrity photo ops, I'm prompted to ask revisit the question of whether autographs represent the best celebrity-related souvenir. 

I myself am of an age right at the crossroads of Gen-Xers and Millennials. Fittingly, I tend to see both sides of this. People older than me tend to gravitate toward autographs while people in their teens and twenties are somewhat less interested. I attend my fair share of concerts every year, the majority being newer indie artists with a growing fan base. When there are fans waiting after the shows, most want a quick selfie or photo op and a chat with the artist. Autographs are not the most sought after collectible. I tend to be the only one a photo to be signed and, in some instances, an LP awaiting a signature. There are virtually never any rackers or professionals of any sort.

Granted, this is only one example. Go to a sports training camp, and autographs are probably still the rule - although much of this has to do with the size of the crowds of fans and the flow of player traffic. Sports collecting is an entirely different territory altogether. Even the RAAC community on Facebook recognizes this and exercises a rule excluding sports sales and topics from their posts. Ingrained in the world of professional sports and sports collecting is a culture of assigning monetary value to absolutely everything. Get something worth something, or it doesn't count.

If I was to start switching up my concert going to artists from the 60s and 70s, I think I would see a drastic change in the attitudes and efforts of the people seeking to meet artists pre-show and/or post-show. When I was in downtown Milwaukee a few days ago, I noticed a bit of a gathering by the Pabst Theater around mid afternoon. These were all men who appeared to be in their 50s or older, and they seemed to have items with them to be signed. I correctly guessed that an older musician was scheduled to appear last night (it turned out to be guitarist Robin Trower, who I'd honestly never heard of before). 

I think the prime factor in this shift in interest is the advent of the internet in the 90s coupled with the explosion of social media over the past decade. Instead of impressing friends and visitors with what's on the wall of their home, people of a younger generation build their domain online, through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Impressing people isn't limited by what's hanging on the walls of your home but rather what's posted on your Facebook wall. Reaction and feedback is instantaneous, with your impressive feats of fan engagement reaching hundreds - potentially thousands online.

Media has changed dramatically in my lifetime. Celebrity/fan interaction isn't limited to good timing and good luck, or the hope that maybe your favorite star might somehow get your fan letter. Fans can speak directly with their favorite stars online, get their artwork seen and shared and their posts favorited, validation that their heroes know they exist. These are all things you couldn't dream of 20 - 30 years ago. Accordingly, they aren't exactly on the radar of many older fans.

I'm of course dismissing monetary value here, as I think that is best for a conversation about the fan experience. I'm talking about what people collect for their own satisfaction, not about making money. On that same topic, the volumes of people who ask established celebrities or "hot names" (who do carry a sizable value for their signature) for their autographs aren't fans at all, but rather professionals seeking to make money. Anyone who's been on AML for any length of time is more than familiar with this.  I think this plays into whether actual fans even bother asking. Ask for an autograph - are you selling it? Ask for a photo op - well, there's no question about a capital-based venture, is there? 

There are likely a number of other factors at play here, chief among them the decline in signature quality and use of handwriting overall. There are many celebrities I'm a fan of whose autograph I just don't even really want because of the ungodly scribble I'd likely receive. I'll take the photo op, handshake, hug or quick conversation over the embarrassing non-effort that passes for a modern signature. Of course this isn't the case for every celebrity or athlete out there, but it's much, much more the rule than it was a few decades ago. 

Again, as someone born in the early 80s, I find myself seeing both sides pretty evenly. I really do like signed items and getting things signed myself. But it's not the end all of being a fan. If I end up with a nice photo op and no signature, I'm generally quite fine with that - this despite my towering legacy of looking awful and awkward in photos. A few weeks back, I nearly spit out my coffee when my favorite singer mentioned me by name in an interview posted on Youtube, a medium that's only been around for a decade. There are just many avenues to give and receive as a fan, and I'm still wrapping my head around it.

This isn't meant to categorize all autograph collectors as old or money-hungry, as I didn't especially hope to incriminate myself as such. I see teenagers asking for autographs and older fans ask for selfies. But I think the trends and reasons behind them are worth exploring. 

Views: 438

Comment by Adam Halloran on May 3, 2017 at 2:27pm
Real nice! What video on youtube? That has to be a great feeling!

I see both sides of this, I as well being born in the early 80`s. Most of the younger "kids" don't know a world pre-internet, or not having a phone/camera at hand. Facebook and twitter has bred a look at me and I am the most important voice mentality...I am not surprised in the least that getting a photo with a celebrity is a conversation piece in a virtual world.

An autograph is more tactile, a real world piece and to be honest people don't interact the same anymore. We all live in a virtual world and showing an autograph online isn't the same as holding it in person.

I personally would rather have an autograph (even 'gasp' dedicated) than a photo with, if it is someone I truly care for. Now if it were someone I don't really collect...Well a photo op might do, but even then I might not care.

We have always lived in a tabloid world, that is why paparazzis can get so much for photos of celebrities. It is no surprise that now that everyone has access to a camera and filters that they can now be in the shot.

It is interesting how times have changed, but now everything can be downloaded like music, the younger generation don't collect material possessions the same way.

Always an interesting dynamic to how things just keep changing.
Comment by Rich on May 3, 2017 at 4:20pm

Bishop Briggs gave me a shoutout here. https://youtu.be/_jJj1BxEbXc?t=4m26s

Comment by Ian Baldock on May 3, 2017 at 5:43pm

Its a great comment/question. Being an autograph nut,most of the time I prefer the graph. For my very favorite people I think if I had the choice it would be the photo with though.

Comment by Pete Chuka on May 4, 2017 at 3:27pm

I don't recall ever caring for s single photograph of myself, why would I want a photo of myself with someone I admire?..... so every time I look at it I can say ugh I look terrible!

It's always an autograph for me. 

Comment by Rich on May 4, 2017 at 3:55pm

There have been times when I've dodged the photo and gotten the autograph instead. I've taken plenty of crap photos, so I get it. If I can get both, I get both.

Not to be mean spirited here, but I noticed in that Photos With group on Facebook that there are photo op collectors the same way there are autograph collectors - people who just hang out at airports or events to take a photo, fan or not. And many of them are decidedly not very photogenic. 

Comment by Ian Baldock on May 4, 2017 at 4:46pm

I wouldn't care, I would love a photo with Clint Eastwood!

Comment by Coachgd on May 6, 2017 at 6:05am

When I'm waiting after a show, it's always autograph first, then picture with.  I have seen the trend of younger people just wanting the picture with and nothing to get signed.  That's fine with me.  Most older artists would rather sign then get their picture taken.  Art Garfunkel's guy said "If someone get a camera out, Art's going to walk away, so just keep them in your pocket."  Alex Van Halen's guy said "1 item each, he's using 1 pen and no pictures."  I would have loved a pic with both of those guys but I'm happy with the autographs that I got.

Comment by Rich on May 6, 2017 at 7:33am

I noticed that when Florence Welch started getting stingy on autographs a few, it seemed like she got even stingier on photo ops (not sure if this is still the case). Still, that kind of feels like a rare exception to the rule.

Candids are also something I kind of like. I say "kind of" because they're even more hit or miss with me, and I tend to cringe at seeing myself on video even more than camera. My friend ended up taking candid videos of me with CHVRCHES, Birdy, Broods and Phoebe Ryan last year. A couple of them are kind of amusing and fun to watch, but, again, I find it hard to watch myself. I've found that I really enjoy taking videos of the whole experience. I was wondering about Bishop's meet and greet and what the experience was like for fans, but didn't find much except some Tweets and Instagram posts. So I took video of it myself a few days ago and put it on YouTube for other fans to take a look at if there were on the bubble.

The part about "collecting likes" is pretty spot on. If they don't want money or collectibles, they want attention or status. I get it.

Comment by Rich on May 6, 2017 at 7:40am

One thing I should have added to the blog was that you can get a feel for this "generational gap" just by looking through the posts on AML. In the music realm, look at the bands discussed by collectors and fans - The Beatles, Elvis, Rolling Stones, Morrison, Floyd, KISS, Springsteen, etc. It's largely all classic rock. Do you ever see many inquiries on Bruno Mars, Paramore or Muse? Even big names of top artists who are now extremely difficult (i.e. back to Florence) are rarely discussed.

Comment by Steve Zarelli on May 7, 2017 at 12:44pm

In my view, the biggest threat to the hobby isn't "selfies" as much as millennials IN GENERAL do not seem to be attracted to collecting. You see this in all the studies... millennials are not as much into the accumulation of physical possessions as previous generations.

A secondary factor is, millennials IN GENERAL do not seems to have a sense of history or much curiosity of what came before them. Everything is in the moment and the past does not hold much value or interest. 

I sat in a room with 20 new hires recently... most in the mid to late 20s. These are college educated kids... many with MBAs... and only 2 people knew who Humphrey Bogart was. They don't watch black and white movies. A 29 year old colleague does not know who Bono is. 

What are the odds they will want to collect the signatures of long dead people they couldn't care less about? It is frighteningly eye opening.

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