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Reality Celebrities?

Andrew Graeme | 13.12.2007 02:57 | Culture

the article is a light hearted look at the new phenomenon of internet celebrities, people who have become famous through mediums such as You Tube etc

Reality Celebrities?

As a full time cynic it’s no surprise that my initial reaction upon discovering the new found celebrity of the nauseating Chris Crocker was one of unmitigated horror.

I could actually feel myself becoming stupider as I sat and listened to the whiny histrionics of a third rate actor who is also, unfortunately, a suave PR man. What stands out as so bad about this new internet phenomenon is not so much the content (which let’s be fair is dire) but rather the fact that it has become possible to become an “internet celebrity”. There is something rather disturbing about the idea somebody could become rich and famous for having a nice personality. What happens to those of us who have perfectly adequate personalities but decide not to vainly exploit ourselves for the financial gain? Is personality a talent?

If the very nature of celebrity is contrived and fake then the very nature of a reality celebrity is tragic, so where does that leave an internet celebrity? Previously you tube has lead to fame and fortune for the rather hilarious Gary Brolsma from the numa numa video ( and the poor, unfortunate Star Wars Kid. ( what makes these videos stand out is the fact they were never intended for public consumption, what they represent is a sense of reality.

Of course Brolsma’s “sequel” video was not so hilarious. ( Marx said that history repeats itself first time as a tragedy and second time as a farce and true to form Brolsma has cynically bled the cash cow dry with the promise of a third outing. In a press release explaining Brolsma’s motivation we were told he said

“I heard from so many people asking when I would do another video. If people can watch this new video, enjoy it and get a laugh out of it, then I’m happy with that.”

However reading further in to the press release we can find Brolsma’s true motivation.

“The media attention was overwhelming and despite the immense popularity of the video, the Brolsma family never made a cent from Gary’s fame. Like many lower-income American families, the Brolsma’s struggle daily to make ends meet.”

Of course while one can sympathise with the family’s financial problems it is also apparent that this is a cynical marketing exercise. One of my pet hates is when famous people do something saying it’s for the fans, be it a rock band who reform for a money grabbing tour or a writer who moves to a new and larger corporate publisher to “spread their message to a new audience”, when in actual fact it is apparent to anyone with half a mind that the sole motivation is money. For example if Madonna had donated her services to Live 8 out of a desire to help the poor and the needy then why did she insist on playing a new single?

What this contempt for general human beings shows is not just that Brolsma’s perfectly happy to whore himself out as a clown but also that he won’t be the last to do so. Where there’s money we can guarantee there will be internet/ reality celebrities. Of course in this regard internet celebrities share a lot with reality TV contestants.
What’s important in the industry of reality TV is narrative. Think of how many of us got emotionally involved in the facade of Shilpa Shetty’s redemption during the last season of celebrity Big Brother, or the story of Pete’s struggle against the odds in BB7 which ended up seeing the launch of a book, a series of commercial interviews, the launch of a band, and what I would cynically suggest was a staged relationship with a fellow contestant.

My latest habit is to always ask who benefits from every turn in these reality affairs. The answer is usually Channel 4/ ITV etc who seem to always reap dividends from these programmes, after all their final goal will always be profit. The term reality TV is actually an oxymoron, surely when something is made in a closed and controlled environment then it ceases to be reality? Surely as soon as someone speaks to a camera they are ceasing to be themselves?

This year Hell’s Kitchen famously saw Jim Davidson and Brian from Big Brother fight it out for the cameras. ITV of course would have us believe that they put the contestants in the kitchen with good faith. This is of course total rubbish. Harmony is bad for viewing figures, of course in putting together a blue comedian and a flamboyant gay presenter they did so knowing fine well it would result in fighting, to say otherwise is to not only court gullibility but to insult yourself.

The other ridiculous thing about this whole affair was that in the process it left me with the impression that the producers were in themselves quite homophobic. Davidson calling Brian a “shirt lifter” was not very pleasant, on the other hand if he did this outside it would be unlikely that a TV producer would intervene and remove Davidson. The impression I was left with was that ITV were under the homophobic impression that Brian couldn’t look after himself, this lead them to alter the “reality” they had put together and remove Davidson for bad behaviour… Just like real life?

To tie this all together a quick scan down the profile I have provided of Crocker shows what the real motivation for this new found celebrity is. As any of us could have predicted he is becoming involved in acting, indeed he has exploited the supposed pain of his favourite manufactured pop star in order to further his own “career”. Of course the video is insincere; the only thing admirable about it is just how frivolous it is. Being seen as a clown is obviously no great bother to Crocker as people tend to remember clowns.

Crocker is one of many “internet celebrities” and alongside people like Brolsma and fellow melodramatic star William Sledd (who has just scored a big money contract with NBC) represents a form of disposable, throw away, air headed celebrities. The common link between them all is an overwhelming lack of sincerity. What is dangerous about such people is not the fact that they are popular as individuals but the fact that they represent such a strong and growing movement and that this distasteful assault on art has just begun. As the nature of our icons gets more fickle and plastic I believe there will only be a further dumbing down of our artistic culture.

Earlier tonight I was listening to Allen Ginsberg and reading Alasdair Gray and it struck me that in 5 years time Crocker and Sledd and others like them will almost certainly be better known and richer than both of these artists. If this possibility becomes a reality and narcissism wins the battle against integrity then it will be the day art may as well be declared defunct.

Andrew Graeme
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