Sweary’s Jaw: The Democratisation Of Celebrity Arrives … Slowly.
Being internet types, I’m sure you all remember Ted Williams’ magnificent rise to fame.
In January 2011, he was “discovered” homeless and begging for change in return for a blast of his golden radio voice, which turned out to be almost impossibly smooth, like Frank Sinatra re-imagined through whale song. Even I, a hardened viral junkie, was taken aback. I honestly did not expect such a big voice from such a shabby little man, nor did I expect him to tell his story so eloquently. Radio is theatre of the mind, explained Ted, who’s been working on his marvellous gift since he was fourteen years old.
Now Ted’s inundated with job offers and is likely to become very rich indeed, very, very quickly. Catapulted into the spotlight without a PR guru or an agent in sight; that’s how quickly The Mob can turn your life around, if you’re charming and genuine and have a bloody good story to tell.
By “the mob”, I mean the internet massive, not the Italian American crime syndicate. The internet massive, the global community, The Social Network. Every online pulse from the 4chan peaks to the Myspace pits, the sugar junkies on Tumblr, the reactionary gobshites on Daily Mail Online … in order for a story, a song, a moment to go viral, it’s got to catch the attention of the lot. Ted managed this; he gave us a flash of something real and tearjerking and revelatory in one and a half minutes, just the job indeed for a world with no attention span and a mad, communal craving for quick bursts of squee. The problem for Ted is how to capitalise on this fleeting warmth (especially considering fame is what did him in in the first place) in order to turn his life around; there’s no time for second chances on the internet, and as much as we love Ted’s story today, we’ll have forgotten all about him tomorrow. The Mob sees his talent and demands that it is rewarded. The Mob’s attention, for Ted, is a very positive thing. That attention will swing away again, sooner rather than later, its good deed done. Hopefully, that will be enough time for the brilliant Ted to get his act together.
The fact that celebrity can now be gained, however fleetingly, without a squad of professional media manipulators on the payroll is both refreshing and disturbing. It’s refreshing that brilliant people are noticed and rewarded without having been vetted, homogenised, and coached into banality first by Big Business. It’s disturbing because real people are fragile, and not necessarily able to handle global attention. It was always the case that doing something out of the ordinary, good or bad, would get you the attention of your community; now your community totals 6.8 billion. That’s a lot of stares.
The divide in Ted’s case has already set in; cynics among us suggest that his discovery might have been staged, and the hard-hearted sneer that a petty criminal and down-and-out deserves no reward, no matter how syrupy his tones or articulate his confession. To go from sleeping on the streets to global phenomenon overnight can’t be an entirely positive experience, more’s the pity; Cinderella’s story cut out before the reader had to share her struggles with snooty servants and the handsome prince’s disapproving parents. Off the top of my head I can think of two sudden superstars from 2010 with two different experiences: Antoine Dodson, whose impassioned call-out to the sex offender who broke into his sister’s bedroom went viral, and Jessi Slaughter, the most annoying 11-year-old on the planet, whose attention-seeking rants lead to a 4chan raid and resulted in her father’s furious, clueless response going down in meme history as one of the most unintentionally hilarious things ever broadcast to the whole world.
Antoine’s experience has been pretty positive. Despite some proclaiming that his rant from the Projects reflected badly on the African American community, he was largely hailed as a hero; his sing-song rant went on to be autotuned into a damn catchy track made available on iTunes, the proceeds from which enabled Antoine to move his family to a better house. As for little Jessi Slaughter … Jesus. The wrath of The Mob visited on an idiotic preteen is no beautiful thing. This was Celebrity, 2010.
Ah, but. Even as the rise of the instant internet superstar changes the very definition of fame, dumbed-down, common denominator, focus-group rubbish continues to permeate pop culture like a seeping carcass used as fertiliser. Snooki, the drunken imbecile from MTV show Jersey Shore (basically a sponsored freak show starring people too stupid to understand what they’re consenting to) has written a novel.
I say “written a novel”, but “signed off on a hazy collaboration” might be a better description. Snooki, who makes Jordan look like a Victorian governess, has confessed that she’s only read two books in her whole life, one of which was Twilight, the drug of choice for mouthy illiterates. Here’s an excerpt!
Conclusion? The Mob might be well on the way to choosing its own celebrities, building them up and taking them apart as the hive mind decides, but we’re not there yet. This is what the powers-that-be has chosen for us to gawp at in the interim.
The revolution would want to hurry its arse up.