Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Puerto Rican American Playwright most well known for his musical Hamilton. He is an example of how celebrity image is multi-constructed (Blommaert & Varis, 2015). By utilizing this image he has the potential to change the social norms that his followers hold.
His plays have been widely accredited as renewing because of some of the politics that are interwoven (Playbill, 2020). For instance, Hamilton has been praised for the themes of racism and diversity that it addresses. In the video below ex-president Barack Obama even endorses the play for the way it tackles timeless themes in a modern manner.
Furthermore, he is also famous for activism in aid of Puerto Ricans amongst other minorities. An example of this is the song "Almost Like Praying". This song was published in an effort to raise funds for hurricane relief for Puerto Rico. Miranda was at the center of the many famous Latin American artists who made the song. His parents were Puerto Ricans who moved to New York City. Many of the activities he partakes in highlight his Latin American ancestry as does his work. Most famously his musical "In the heights" is an homage to the predominantly Latino district of Manhattan by the same name.
Seemingly Miranda has a multi-constructed identity. His Puerto Rican ancestry as well as his connection to Broadway theater are part of his celebrity image. In this article, I aim to find out how his identity is constructed and forms Lin-Manuel Miranda's celebrity image. This means he not only has to engage in actions, but he has to be recognized for it in the sociocultural background. Then I will discuss to what extent his celebrity image influences his fan's socio-cultural norms.
What is a Celebrity image?
A celebrity image can be seen as a text, that is, it is governed by sociocultural background. It is constructed by a celebrity's performance in stories and their personal biography. I define stories as narratives both in fiction and nonfiction. Seeing these stories can shape people's perceptions of a given person, thus celebrity image forms a sort of identity: how people interpret this is based on their previous experience and the social field they operate in as well as the specific media they consume about this person (Dyers, 1986).
Identity is conveyed through indexicals that certain people have to pick up on. This state where one has sufficient indexicals to be recognized as part of a group is called enoughness. Enoughness gives perceived authenticity (Blommaert & Varis, 2015).
A celebrity image's text is constructed out of multiple aspects
Thus a celebrity's identity is negotiated: attributes can be interpreted in different ways. They are shaped by both their fans and competing interests of themselves, and people with a vested interest in their identity. This means celebrities can migrate across different fields. They can utilize enough indexicals of multiple authentic identities at various times. Therefore one's identity is polycentric (Blommaert & Varis, 2015; Driessens, 2013).
Celebrity image and sociocultural norms
Celebrity image and how we interpret it can alter our socio-cultural norms (Strahan et al, 2008). This can happen in multiple manners. One possibility is that as a celebrity becomes seen as authentic their ideology becomes real and culturally resonant (Meyers, 2009). Furthermore, Deyers (1986) says that a star's image often represents what humans strive for in a specific hegemony. We should see celebrities as a sort of template or model to which socio-cultural norms can orient themselves. This is where we get back to Lin-Manuel Miranda. His celebrity image, or aspects thereof, could become a sort of model for a sociocultural norm.
This article aims to find out, what aspects form Lin-Manuel Miranda's multi-constructed celebrity image. To what extent does this become a model for socio-cultural norms? Do the ideologies he holds become "real" through his authenticity? If so to whom is this the case?
Lin-Manuel Miranda as a broadway Icon
Lin Manuel Miranda is seen as a Broadway icon: his hit musical Hamilton is the entry point into Broadway theaters for many people. He is seen as a sort of representative of the artform. In the video below he teaches some theater slang. This indexes that he is supposed to be the insider or the expert on the topic. He teaches other people how to use words that index Broadway identity.
This is one aspect of his identity that he often engages with publicly. He does this when performing in theaters, but also when engaging in acts that are linked to this. For instance, when promoting the movie musical “Mary Poppins Returns” he went on the “James Corden show” with his co-star Emily Blunt. They performed a compilation of 22 Broadway musicals in 12 minutes. His performances in stories do seemingly match Broadway identity.
This means Broadway is definitely part of the text of his celebrity image. In the next section, we see how the sociocultural background around this text makes this part of his celebrity image's text acceptable (Dyers, 1986).
Broadway is something that people have a certain image of. Lin-Manuel Miranda seems to fit right into this. Creativity seems the first thing that comes to mind. Writing, acting and dancing in actual Broadway musicals, that play on Broadway in New York city fits into this. Furthermore, a Broadway play is often seen as a complex work of art, in which music, story and performance are combined (Maslon, 2021). This describes the plays that Miranda has played in and wrote. Both his plays "Hamilton" and "In the Heights" are definitely considered Broadway by most, as well as other works he performed in such as "West Side Story" (Lin Manuel Miranda.com, 2021).
There is more to it. The words that Miranda teaches in the first video of this section are an example of what is perceived as typical Broadway or theater kid. However, to note what is perceived as Broadway in society at large, I looked at a couple of sites that described what showed that you were a theater kid. The two terms are often used interchangeably. One aspect I found over and over again was belting out show tunes. As one can easily perceive in the video under this paragraph, Miranda does this (Jennings, 2017). Furthermore, recognizing songs really quickly is also a trait often linked to Broadway identity (Ben Bailey, 2017).
Lin Manuel Miranda, plays a role that exists in society, specifically that of a Broadway person. There are expectations of behavior linked to this. Since he meets these, we can say that Lin Manuel Miranda does the things that are expected from a Broadway person: he sings, dances writes and acts, and does other things that are typically associated with Broadway. He seems to fit easily into the image of a Broadway person that society has. This means that not only is Broadway a part of the text of Lin-Manuel Miranda's celebrity image, but the socio-cultural background seems to allow for this. He has enoughness for this and is thus accepted in the existing background (Dyers, 1986).
He clearly exhibits indexicals for Broadway identity. Such aspects are part of the text that makes up his multi-contructed celebrity image.
Miranda could thus be described as a celebrity who is famous in this particular field. He clearly exhibits indexicals for Broadway identity. This aspect is part of the text that makes up his celebrity image. This part of his image is accepted within the sociocultural background as Lin-Manuel Miranda fills a role that society allows him to take. Thus he is seen as an authentic member of the group. So much so that he is qualified to teach others how to be part of the group. Therefore the Broadway identity aspect is one factor of influence on his celebrity image. It is part of the text that makes up his celebrity image. This is accepted in the socio-cultural background as he carries enoughness (Blommaert & Varis, 2015; Dyers, 1986).
Lin-Manuel Miranda as an Activist/Latin person
Miranda is also often framed as a Latin Icon. He also engages in this himself through actions such as the "Almost like Praying" campaign and other activist activities. The video below shows his music video for the song "Almost like praying". This is an effort to engage audiences with the struggles of Latin Americans and specifically Puerto Rican people after the hurricane in 2017. Relief became a politically charged issue after ex-President Trump was very late to give any to the island.
The song itself uses many Latin elements and is very similar to the popular Latin genre of Reggaeton, because of the rapped vocals, high level of syncopation, and instrumentation. Even the song's vocal start with a rather distorted microphone is reminiscent of elements used in Bolero and Salsa.
This was not the first time Miranda formed actions to aid Puerto Rico. One example of this was his appearance on the comedic news program “Last Week Tonight” during the debt crisis in 2016. Here he composed and rapped a song pledging with the US Congress to give relief to the island. Miranda often goes out of his way to be active in aiding his parents' native island.
In this video, one can see how Latin and Broadway music are combined to make a sort of protest song: lyrics with deep meaning, a highly performative attitude, and references to the Broadway side of Miranda's identity. However, he also uses musical elements that originate or are more connected to Latin culture. Things such as syncopation, rapped vocals and the use of almost salsaesque piano accompaniment are often found in Latin music. The song is reminiscent of the musical genres of Salsa, Reggeaton, and Bolero. This is all aided by his slipping in and out of Spanish and American pronunciation of some words. Furthermore, this clip shows the activist side of his Latin identity. He is sort of speaking to the American government for relief: he makes a case for a policy shift, in a rapped style that has become popular in making such activist statements. The lyrics themselves reflect all of this. He makes an activist case for a bailout while at the same time referencing Broadway, Latin culture, and mainstream American culture. This all adds to his authenticity in all these identities. There are however additional factors that add to this identity's authenticity.
He, clearly, is of the opinion that Puerto Rico should be aided. I think we can see that he fulfills many of the indexicals of such a Latin identity in the following videos. In the first one, he talks about his youth growing up in Washington Heights, a predominantly Latino part of Manhattan, New York City. He knows his way around this neighborhood and is familiar with the history and struggle of the people who live there. When talking about all this in the video, he showcases knowledge that indexes him as part of the Latin community in New York. His being at home in that part of the city is an aspect of him that gives him added authenticity (Blommaert & Varis, 2015).
Therefore we see how Lin-Manuel engages in performances and has a biography that matches a Latin activist identity. This means that it is a part of the text that makes up his celebrity image. In the next part, we see how the socio-cultural background surrounding his image allows for this part of his celebrity image to exist (Dyers, 1986).
In the next video, we see Lin-Manuel Miranda attend the Latin Grammys. This is a large yearly event that covers the greatest achievements of Latin music in any particular year. Here he performs one of the most important indexicals of being Latin, that is, speaking Spanish fluently. It is not something we see him do often but does play an important role in many interviews and other engagements. Furthermore, he talks about his heritage shortly and is accepted as an attendee. He says "Ahora mi trabajo es poner el nombre de Puerto Rico en alto" which means "Now my job is to praise the name of Puerto Rico". This means he sees himself as a representative of the territory. This is accepted. He is not called out for not being part of the community but even invited to such a large Latin event. Thus we see he is accepted as an authentic Latin person.
Furthermore, race connected to Latin Americans is a contentious issue in the United States (Garcia, 2008). This means that activism on the side of Latin Americans is somewhat expected. They are a group of people who do have certain issues, such as poverty, lack of access to healthcare, and over-incarceration. Protest and activism from Latin Americans in support of the left side of American politics are expected (Casellas & Ibarra, 2012). Thus Lin-Manuel Miranda's identity work as a Latin activist in favor of many liberal causes, such as racial equality, is considered normal in contemporary American society. This means that his identity work fits into the background, into the accepted discourse on Latinos (Blommaert & Varis, 2015; Dyers, 1986).
He is an activist for the struggles Puertoricans face.
In the next section, we will see how this Latin identity overlaps with his Broadway identity. In this process, causes not directly linked to Latin identity mix in with his ideology.
The overlap of Latin and Broadway identity
As mentioned earlier Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the hit musical "Hamilton" that was widely praised for its ingenuity and emancipating roles towards women and minorities. In the following segment, Miranda expresses what he was trying to tell and what sort of ideologies were involved in this: pro-emancipation ideals as well as other liberal beliefs such as the necessity of gun control were embedded in the play according to the author, also referring to racism. He talks about these issues in an interview for Entertainment Tonight, which is a news source for Broadway specifically. By addressing these issues on this channel he connected his Latin and activist actions to Broadway and his identity there. This is best exemplified by the moment in which he says that when theaters are forced to be closed, due to the pandemic, they have e a chance to address systemic issues.
Miranda's play "In The Heights" does something similar. It is largely based on his own community in the Latin district of New York. Here his Latin identity is front and center. There are a lot of things that index this, such as speaking Spanish for much of the play, in addition to many references to Puerto Rican and Dominican culture. He uses the Spanish language on Broadway, talks about issues that Latin migrants face, and shows relationships and artifacts that are typical of a Latin migrant community.
It is visible that Lin-Manuel Miranda performs acts in fiction that combine both Broadway and Latin activist identity. This combination becomes part of the text of his celebrity image. Many seem to accept this as his musicals were extremely popular and praised specifically for combining these two aspects (Baker & Lake, 2021; Playbill Staff, 2020).
Thus we can see that by combing his Broadway and activist/Latin identity, Lin-Manuel Miranda talks about causes he cares about. A celebrity image is partially shaped by one's performance in stories (Driessens, 2013). Latin activism and Broadway are the two main aspects that influence Miranda's multi-constructed celebrity image's text. He carries this out through performance and biography. He actively engages with both aspects of his identity during his performances by taking up roles that link to Latin identity in Broadway shows. His biography also reflects this, having been engaged in theater since a young age and being raised in a Latino neighborhood (Biography.com, 2020; Lin-Manuel Miranda.com, 2021). His wide success indicates that this is accepted within the socio-cultural background (Blommaert & Varis, 2015; Dyers, 1986).
Latin activism and Broadway are the two main aspects that influence Miranda's multi-constructed celebrity image's text.
The question remains, to what extent does this influence socio-cultural norms? Does his combination of two identities with a liberal ideology actually convince people of such ideology?
Does Lin-Manuel Miranda's identity affect socio-cultural norms?
Celebrity image has been found to affect sociocultural norms. Miranda's celebrity identity is interpreted in multiple ways. As I have shown, he is seen as a Broadway expert and Latin American activist. This shows that a celebrity image is a text, and this text can be interpreted in multiple ways.
Dyers (1986) writes thatn"stars articulate what it is to be a human being in contemporary society". By interpreting celebrity images we negotiate what it means to be human. Celebrities such as Lin-Manuel Miranda can become models or templates for what is socio-culturally normal.
Furthermore, Meyer (2009) states that "once the celebrity is positioned as “authentic”, the values and ideologies she (or he) symbolize also become “real” and culturally resonant". We have been able to establish that Lin-Manuel Miranda is accepted as real and authentic in both aforementioned aspects, thus the values connected to these two aspects of his identity should be "real" and “culturally resonant".
Being a Broadway fan is so accepted amongst his followers that there is actually a demand for learning the jargon connected to it. This is illustrated by the first video we analyzed. His activities as a political activist have been met with success. The song Almost like praying was at number 20 of the billboard hot one hundred. Both of these show how fans have accepted parts of his identity and tuned into them, both literally and figuratively: they seem to embrace and accept different parts of his identity. Thus, those aspects of Mr. Miranda's multi-constructed celebrity image have become socioculturally acceptable, which means they obey the new sociocultural norm.
Celebrities such as Lin-Manuel Miranda can become models for what is socioculturally normal.
In short, if we accept the premise that stars can shape socio-cultural norms, then we can logically deduce that Lin-Manuel Miranda can influence his fans' sociocultural norms. He can do so as his celebrity image is interpreted as authentic in multiple aspects, which are felt as "real" by his fans. Thus, by interpreting his celebrity we can reshape our idea of what is normal: Lin-Manuel Miranda can become a model for sociocultural norms.
In addition to this, much of Lin-Manuel Miranda's work seems to actively try to change certain sociocultural norms. His musical Hamilton is the most obvious example of this because he attempts to lower the bar for Broadway pieces as it incorporates popular music styles such as rap and RnB, while making a statement about Latin and African Americans through its subject, music, and casting. One of many examples of this is how Puerto Ricans are treated as "normal" Americans, by casting a Puerto Rican man as George Washington, the first American President. Acts that attempt to subvert socio-cultural norms about what is acceptable concerning race and identity are rampant through his work.
In conclusion, Lin-Manuel Miranda is both an American playwright and Latin activist. This links to two different aspects of his identity that shape his celebrity image's text. Both these aspects and the combination thereof seem to be acceptable within the socio-cultural background in which his celebrity image is negotiated. He is seen as an authentic Broadway person and Latin-American activist, making him a living example of a celebrity migrating across different fields.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is seen as an authentic Broadway person and Latin-American activist.
Miranda's socio-cultural background shapes his celebrity image as multiple stakeholders, such as fans, activists, commercial/media companies and himself emphasize its various aspects. Such interpretation can affect sociocultural norms, because people can associate with his authentic identity. Thus, his celebrity image can become a model for socio-cultural norms matching with the engagement of his work.
Arnaut, K., Blommaert, J., Rampton, B., & Spotti, M. (Eds.) (2015). Language and superdiversity. Routledge.
Baker, N., Lake, M. (2021). What Hamilton the musical says about race, religion and America's 'unfinished revolution'. Radio National. ABC News
Biography.com(2020). Lin-Manuel Miranda Biography. A&E Television Networks
Blommaert, J., Varis, P. (2015). Enoughness, accent and light communities: Essays on contemporary identities. Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies, 139, 1-72.
Casellas, J. P., & Ibarra, J. D. (2012). Changing political landscapes for Latinos in America. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 11(3), 234-258.
Diggit wiki (2021). Indexicality. Diggit magazine
Diggit wiki (2021). Micro Hegemonies. Diggit magazine
Driessens, O. (2013). The celebritization of society and culture: Understanding the structural dynamics of celebrity culture. International journal of cultural studies, 16(6), 641-657.
Dyers, R. (1986). Introduction. “Heavenly Bodies". Hollywood: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies, 2, 160-175
Gary, T (October 16, 2017). "Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Almost Like Praying' Debuts as Top-Selling Song of the Week". Billboard. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
Gracia, J. J. (2008). Latinos in America: Philosophy and social identity. John Wiley & Sons.
Grassere, J. (2021). The Daily Show: Black Lives Matter, ideology, and online content, Diggit Magazine
Hoefer, C. (2003). Causal determinism. Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Jennings, L. (2017). 21 Signs That You’re A Theatre Kid. Theater Nerds.
Lin-Manuel Miranda.com (2021). Lin-Manuel Miranda biography. Lin-Manuel Miranda.com
Lin-Manuel Miranda.com (2021). West Side story. Lin-Manuel Miranda.com
Maslon, L. (2021). Elements of the Musical. Broadway: the American musical. PBS
Meyers, E. (2009). Can you handle my truth?: authenticity and the celebrity star image. The Journal of popular culture, 42(5), 890-907
Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you. Penguin UK.
Playbill Staff. (2020) Read Critics' Original Reviews for Hamilton on Broadway, Playbill
Strahan, E. J., Lafrance, A., Wilson, A. E., Ethier, N., Spencer, S. J., & Zanna, M. P. (2008). Victoria's dirty secret: How sociocultural norms influence adolescent girls and women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(2), 288-301.
Varis, P. (2016). Digital ethnography. The Routledge handbook of language and digital communication, 55-68.