I’ve been thinking about the changing nature of fame for a few days (and of course, because these ideas are strong currents in the collective concisousness we call the web, I’m just getting around to writing about this right after Sean did). I pointed a friend at a video on youtube that I thought she’d get a laugh out of. She found another video by the same guy that prompted the reaction from her
I want to have his babies!
So she found this guy by randomly linking around on a site where everyone and his dog has a video posted, and instantly became a fan.
This was right around the time that Anna Nicole Smith—someone who was famous for being famous—died. The Daily Show ripped* into the mainstream news outlets, which put all news of substance on hold to obsess over her death.
Then on Metafilter, I ran across this article, with the line
When I was in high school, you’d have to be a megalomaniac or the most popular kid around to think of yourself as having a fan base. But people 25 and under are just being realistic when they think of themselves that way. I would hardly imagine myself having a fan base, but even so, I have had the experience of people I don’t know meeting me in person and commenting on stuff I’d posted to my blog. On an intellectual level, I’m ready for that. I know the ramifications of posting online. Still, on a visceral level, it’s very weird.
Also on Metafilter, someone posted a song about notable Metafilter members. MeFi is a pretty big community—it recently passed the 50,000 registered users mark (and since you have to pay money to register, that is more meaningful). Admittedly, the song is all inside-baseball, but within this community, these people are well enough known not only for one guy to write a song about their quirks, but for a lot of other people to appreciate it.
And of course, there’s Ze Frank. You can’t think about Fame 2.0 without thinking about Ze Frank, someone who has achieved a devoted following in spite of zero conventional publicity, entirely on the basis of his being extremely smart and funny, thus inverting the usual formula.
Is it possible that this is the way things are headed? That people will become famous based on merit, not marketability? It’s clear that the Internet is a closer approximation to what economists would consider a perfect market. If celebrity is its own kind of market, the Internet is reducing the advantage that major players (movie studios, record labels) have in generating buzz, and makes it easier for “consumers” of celebrity to find the kinds of people they’re actually interested in following, as opposed to the celebrities that have been pushed at them by the buzz machines. The Internet also is the death of one-size-fits-all media, so it is only fitting that celebrities would appeal to specific groups, rather than be foisted on everyone.
Celebrities are created by mainstream media to give that media something to feed on. This focus on conventional celebrity may be just another way that media outlets reinforce their own irrelevance, and as they fail, they do what any conservative entity in trouble does: do the same thing, only harder. Thus TV news is put on hold to analyze in minute detail the contents of the fridge of a dead D-list starlet who had become a self-parody in her last years. Meanwhile, we’re watching Youtube.
Jonathan Coulton. I don’t know how I managed to overlook him, but he’s right up there with Ze Frank as a talented Internet micro-celebrity of his own creation.