CeWEBrities: The Virtual Red Carpet
– Andy WarholCeWEBrities: an Internet personality who has elevated his or her status to celebrity.
Heroes are celebrated for their achievements. Stars are celebrated for their talent or beauty. Celebrities are just famous for being famous. Has Andy Warhol’s prediction come true? The term “celebrity” is used because it is the best word to describe this new type of subjectivity, a new type of understanding persona and individuality that needs an audience and is defined by its audience. This logic of celebrity permeates into the fabric of our day to day lives and is performed at exceedingly fast speeds on the web, creating a new type of persona, a CeWEBrity.
Due to websites like YouTube, Facebook, flickR and Myspace anyone can access fame and become an instantly recognizable figure. Indeed, everyone can be famous for fifteen minutes. Today’s social networking technology has created a generation (often called the millennial generation or Generation Y, defined as any person born between 1982 and 2001) of do-it-yourself cyber-celebrities. These computer and Internet savvy youths present themselves to the world via profiles, photos and videos, and promote themselves by manipulating crudely or sophisticatedly brand identity strategies.
As the first generation to grow up with state-of-the-art digital technologies, such as the Internet, cell phones and digital cameras, this demographic uses these tools with ease and comfort and is able to micromanage their identities online. Consider lonelygirl15, the YouTube video blogger (“vlogger”) who became the darling of the blogosphere. Bree, a 16 year-old girl, posted video diary entries on YouTube, then on Myspace, then finally launching her own website, sustaining a two-year project attaining an international audience of 110 million viewers according to Wikipedia. Anyone can start with a Facebook profile or a blog, and extend it into a specialized website, allowing personalities to develop their persona as they develop the delivery of this persona to the viewing public.
Digital media have superceded traditional forms of media (newspaper, radio, and television) to disperse information. No longer screened by producers, reporters, editors, or limited airtime, web personalities can easily broadcast themselves facilitated with the use of a combination of text messaging, instant messaging, Facebook updates, Myspace bulletins, blogs, personal websites, and email blasts. The process of becoming famous is speeded up, and in 15 minutes, anyone can become a CeWEBrity!
In the world of online self-promotion, success is based on the number of visitors you attract to the sites. Due to the software design, users can track the numbers of “hits” or visits to a website. CeWEBrities get bragging rights or a favorable market position if listed as a top ten or reach a hundred hits on YouTube, or reached a specific number of “friends” added to a MySpace profile. Whether the producers of these personalities are aware of it or not, they are employing a type of brand marketing that reaches a very broad audience on an international scale in a very short amount of time. Just as quickly as these images are dispersed, they are just as quickly forgotten by the latest Internet meme rising to CeWEBrity status.
Internet memes are simply files shared via digital means. Popular Internet memes are made by manipulating digital data (images, video, slideshows, music) and easily create a pastiche or collage with the material. With a variety of image, sound, and video editing software freely available, producers of memes can easily create files and disperse them at breakneck speeds. The speed of production not only affects the speed of attaining CeWEBrity status, it also affects the duration of its CeWEBrity. No longer are CeWEBrities able to sustain their fame for 15 continuous minutes, rather, they might be famous for one minute episodes at 15 different times.
Many Internet memes are rooted in urban legends, fraud schemes, slander or fictional news stories, or rumors. Regardless of source, these data are put on the Internet to swiftly spread its consumption, becoming an Internet meme with aspirations of rising to CeWEBrity status. Often Internet memes will include current pop cultural references, such as popular movies, celebrities or entertainment gossip. An example of this is the “Spartan” meme, referencing popular lines from the movie 300. This gives personal data or esoteric information popular form for easy like-ability and a quick laugh.
It is common to create fake “for sale” listings on sites such as Craigslist or eBay for no other reason than to amuse people. To monitor the verity of these web posts, websites such as snopes.com collect lists of such hoaxes or offer services by which users can check facts of popular claims they find on the Internet in order to determine the truthfulness of the source and whether or not the claim is reliable. Sites like Urban Dictionary and Snopes collect user-generated information about rumors, neologisms and other popular culture phenomena, many of which could be considered Internet memes.
CeWEBrity status is not only attained through fame and admiration, but also through infamy and disdain. Often, a person or company becomes infamous by virtue of an embarrassing video, e-mail, or photo posted on the web by another who documented the act or widely distributing videos and emails they have received. The poster child for this type of unauthorized distribution is the Star Wars Kid, a Quebec teen, Ghyslain Raza, who videotaped himself performing Jedi light saber moves with a golf ball retriever. Shot in his high school media studio, Raza thought he taped over the clip and left the video tape in the school basement. His classmates found the clip, and posted it on the Internet as a prank. According to Wikiperdia, “Within two weeks, the file had been downloaded several million times.” Raza was taunted and made fun of by his peers leading to legal proceedings against his four classmates. The case was recently settled for an undisclosed amount. Because of the Internet’s ability to spread information rapidly, someone with no desire to become famous can become a CeWEBrity very quickly. While some of the unintended celebrities revel in their newly found fame, others are extremely disturbed by it.
The phenomenon of the CeWEBrity breaks down the spectacle/spectator dichotomy. CeWEBrities are both spectacles and spectators. CeWEBrities not only create a spectacle of themselves but also watches the spectators’ reactions to posts. Through the use of webcams, video, audio, blogs, and social networking sites, CeWEBrities interact with their fans by responding to blog comments, other blogs, parodies and “versions” of their projects. CeWEBrities know their fans, and are obligated to continue their interaction to perpetually cultivate an audience who becomes more deeply invested in their CeWEBrity status.
The milieu of the CeWEBrity can be seen as an extension to the Internet’s democratizing function. As the Internet democratizes access to information, it also democratizes access to celebrity. It is this dynamic that informs this body of work. I am removing these CeWEBrities from their terrain of cyberspace where their CeWEBrity status thrive and continue to develop to placing them on the walls of the art gallery where they are re-imaged, re-imagined, and re-produced, as another gesture to extend access to ways of understanding this unique form of persona.