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« Elsewhere | Main | The Long View: Religion and Politics »

February 26, 2005

Internet Fame

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

As the world becomes ever more Web-ified, is the nature of fame changing? That's one of the many fun questions raised by Alan Feuer and Jason George in this piece. Their subject is Gary Brolsma, a 19-year-old from New Jersey who posted to the Web a videoclip of himself singing (badly) and dancing (awkwardly) to a Romanian pop song. In a short time, the clip became a Web sensation. Rather sweetly, Brolsma -- who most of the time is an outgoing prankster -- has found that he can't handle his newfound notoriety. He's now hiding from the press.

Are there lessons to be drawn from the episode? It seems likely to me that kids growing up with the Web are going be wrestling with at least one stark choice: does it 1) make more sense to maintain total control over your photographs and videotapes? Or is it 2) more economical (and entertaining) to say "What the hell," put it all out there, and enjoy whatever consequences ensue?

And why do I suspect that we'll be seeing a lot of people opting for Choice Number Two?

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at February 26, 2005




Comments

He wasn't singing at all, he was lipsynching.

I thought his timed facial expressions were anything but awkward; the whole performance was more sophisticated than I would have been able to do.

A year from now he's look back and laugh about all this, especially if he gets a girlfriend out of it.

Posted by: Yehudit on February 27, 2005 6:08 AM



I just wonder if it's really sunk in on a lot of people just how open and public the Web is. You keep hearing on the news about people with some dark or dubious or silly side to their lives being found out...because they had a website about it. The sheer mass of the Web with umpteen zillion websites may deter really random access, so it may seem like the privacy of being lost in the crowd, but then there's Google that will take anyone looking for you (or something like you) straight to you.

I can think of a couple of sad cases who were driven to post their misery on the Web. One was a 30-year-old shopping-cart attendant at a Target store in Georgia who was convinced that most popular movies for the last 20 years had been based on aspects of his life or on ideas for stories he'd had. He even maintained that he had consented to being an unofficial script consultant for Hollywood writers who either were secretly observing him (I don't think he came out and claimed he was being watched outright, but it was the only mechanism that could account for the movies he said were based on his life) or else calling him up late at night to get ideas, and he got a hidden screen credit in return, although he was never actually paid. So he had a website to claim his rightful due of public credit, but then he made the mistake of posting his own original stories and poems as well, which kinda demonstrated a little too forcefully that Hollywood writers in search of good ideas could do better looking elsewhere. Something the conservative columnist Joe Sobran said about Michael Jackson (that the media pile-on reminded him of school children taunting or attacking the classmate thought of as a freak) applied here: the unofficial script-consultant's delusions were a tempting target for people with cruel streaks who spotted an obvious weakness and piled on. As I recall, the guy gave up trying to convince his attackers and pulled the website.

There was also a middle-aged woman apparently convinced that her life, which had begun so promisingly with beauty and genius and an assured bright future, had gone badly, and she set up a website to settle accounts with everyone who had done her wrong. If those were real names she was using, she was probably running the risk of libel suits, and it started to sound like everyone she had ever known in her whole life had somehow betrayed her, cheated her, stolen her ideas or property, or was now having her watched and harassed. It made you wonder who she was writing the website for and what she expected to come out of it. The fact that I know about her website comes from people noticing it and giving it publicity as a Web curiosity, so she got a lot more attention than she probably wanted and finally pulled it in turn.

For both cases, posting their problems on the Web was a really bad idea. More generally, I wonder about somebody like James Lileks. Brilliant writer, love his stuff. But his daily blog where he talks about his personal life in detail, like his fatherly adventures with little Gnat... I'm not uninterested because after reading so much about it I feel like a friend he doesn't know he has, but is it wise to go into such personal detail in an open place where anybody can read it? Lileks is not just one more anonymous blogger; he's a somewhat well-known writer and public figure now, and he does get into controversial subjects like politics that could make enemies. And he could be unwittingly giving hostile sorts tons of information on how to find him and how to get at him.

Maybe Michael and the other Blowhards have the right idea by adopting noms de Webbe. If Michael Blowhard or Fenster Moop ever has to apply for job, somebody in Personnel can't just do a Web search on their real names and discover what they've been saying on the 2 Blowhards site. (I was involved with hiring to some extent for my department back at my old job, and applicants with websites listed on their resumes were becoming common. I can think of a couple of people who would have been better off leaving that side of their lives unmentioned...)

--Dwight

Posted by: Dwight Decker on February 27, 2005 3:48 PM



I blogged some related thoughts here.

Posted by: Jonathan on February 28, 2005 1:04 PM



Oh we LOVE that video at our house, and it turned us on to the band that recorded it, whom we think are awesome and wouldn't have sought out otherwise.

We cheered when they showed a snip of that video on some pop gossip show on cable.

Posted by: David Mercer on March 3, 2005 2:07 PM






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