The press, and by that I mean the old style traditional stuff like newspapers (remember them?), often describe the internet in a negative way. The majority of published, print stories regarding world wide web activity feature paedophiles, hackers, scams or pornography – it’s all Gary Glitter or spam mail. The press paints a bad picture of the web because the web is full of bad things; it’s not that unfair.
One sector, the celebrities, are usually considered to receive a fairly harsh treatment with regards to web coverage. The freedom of speech, the potential audience of millions and an overpowering desire to know everything about the stars that populate our film and television screens has been, on occasions, a disastrous mixture. A mixture that has driven some more conservative folk to criticise the net over the way it treats celebrities, suggesting that certain things, even for celebrities, should remain out of the public eye. Perhaps our desire to see lewd videos, private pictures or stolen emails of the famous is a reflection of how low modern culture has sunk…
I’m here to disagree with all that.
Celebrities and the net can share a relationship in two very different ways. On the one hand you have people who, through their actions solely on the net, have gained notoriety. On the other hand you have those who are famous through traditional means, who then receive extended fame through what happens on the net. It’s generally perceived that those who gain fame in the first manner, like the Arctic Monkeys, are always positive. And those who gain extra notoriety from extended coverage of their life on the web, such as John Leslie, are always negative. This very simple understanding of internet celebrity however, does not do justice to what the internet offers.
"Had it not been for the internet, Paris Hilton would have most certainly disappeared into disrespected anonymity"
Take, for instance, Paris Hilton - queen of all trash celebrity of the modern era. She was elevated into minor celebrity through her MTV show, but she didn't explode until her rather rude video was exposed on the internet. A porn video traditionally would have spelt the end of any prospective celebrity's career in a bygone era; yet, thanks to the internet, Paris is now one of the worlds most widely known names. Rather than sink into shame, the internet has allowed Paris to flourish. Like a beautiful blossoming flower she has now become a brilliant movie star as well as a pop star. Had it not been for the internet, Paris Hilton would have most certainly disappeared into disrespected anonymity; just another millionaire's daughter.
Okay, so perhaps that is a bad example of the internet working in good ways. Or is it? As much as people like to complain about Paris Hilton, slate her in the press and laugh at her questionable acting skills, there must be something we like about her. Maybe it’s her good looks and her youth, maybe it’s her performance in the bedroom or maybe it’s the fact that somewhere deep down we respect her ability to turn a bad situation into a good one. Essentially it’s unimportant, what is important is that she is a figurehead of popular culture, and the internet put her there.
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For celebrities the internet acts as the ultimate voting poll, it allows us to decide who we make famous and who remains in the shadows. Take the case of John Leslie, who went through an almost identical situation to Paris with his leaked sex tape. For whatever reason, things went very differently for John. Perhaps it's his lack of sex appeal, or maybe that the public couldn’t forgive him for his dreadful morning TV performance. Either way, when John Leslie’s video was leaked the public through the internet, the public went out and used to internet to decide John’s fate for him.
The internet acting as a polling service is no better demonstrated than at places like MySpace and Youtube. Bands like the Arctic Monkeys and actor/directors like David Lehre have used the internet as a medium to be catapulted into the public eye. In this case it's no bad thing, as the national print loves to advertise: “Band popular through internet downloads!” If you read the papers headlines when Arctic Monkeys hit the big time, you saw that they were a novelty for the national press to play with. I love the fact that MySpace helps talented people achieve the fame they deserve, and I’m sure it will happen more often .
"The internet acting as a polling service is no better demonstrated than at places like MySpace and Youtube"
But there is a downside to internet celebrity.
The internet has, to some extent, become bloated with people all attempting to seek fame. Bands are starting to think that by sticking themselves on MySpace they are guaranteed a record deal. Companies are starting up, aiming to sell you the information on how to turn yourself into a blog-celebrity and easily earn millions through advertising. I fear that the rapid introduction to the Web 2.0 phenomenon is giving people a bloated sense of their own importance and potential. There isn’t a fast track to celebrity status; you still need to offer something unique or special that singles you out from the crowd. Celebrity isn’t an easy quick fix.
So if it still takes something special to be a celebrity, is it really all that different than the old ways? Yes, because it's turned us
into the judges of what content we care to see. Those who criticise the net because it doesn’t conform to the traditional way of dealing with news, that the internet is primarily a nest for unsavoury reports, are simply out-dated. Coverage of the world, especially with celebrities, is evolving in a positive way.
Sure there are undesirable aspects to it; and yes, perhaps there is some weight behind the claim that our desire to see celebrities naked with one another is a bit sad. But if that is what the people want, then I am all for it. The dynamic voting station that is the internet is a far better way of judging who deserves fame and for what than any individual magazine or newspaper. If we want to condemn those in the public eye for whatever reason, then it’s our right to do so. The internet is the ultimate tool to perform such a task.