If the entertainment world was a billiards table and every pop culture reference were a stripe or solid sitting on it, I’d be the cue ball that careens around the table yet drops into the dark corner pocket of cluelessness without ever knowing what I missed.
That’s not an entirely accurate analogy, but it’s close enough. I see movies (eventually), I watch some television (albeit a season or seven behind everyone else), and I have the internet. I’m never totally unaware of what’s popular in any given moment, but it might require a very annoying internet meme to be passed around the interwebs like a plague before I find out why.
What I do notice is that notoriety has become more interesting to our culture than behaviour that would actually be deserving of praise. On the rare occasion when I flip through a gossip mag or check a site, they’re all reporting on who’s doing drugs, who’s the babydaddy, and who flashed the camera flash again. She looks fat, he looks homeless. She’s still trying to “collect the whole set” of World Children, and he slept with someone who’s only reknown by proxy. So how come we still have to get news about him and a reality TV “star” who fell from grace? Who really gives a damn about any of them?
Although Andy Warhol is credited with saying “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” I’ve discovered he later refined the concept. He’s referring to Studio 54 (the actual club, not the movie based on it) here:
It’s the place where my prediction from the sixties finally came true: “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” I’m bored with that line. I never use it anymore. My new line is, “In fifteen minutes everybody will be famous.”
But will we be famous for any worthwhile reason? Will it be our choice, or random unexpected happenstance? What is the Star Wars kid doing these days? Did Ghyslain Raza’s parents have to sue the parents of the kids responsible for his unwanted infamy? Maybe, maybe not. But those asshole students did not ask Gaza’s permission to take something he made for fun at school nor did he know they’d post it online so the whole world could mock his high nerd factor. Those kids didn’t even know who Gaza was. Newsweek has a great article about Gaza’s experience (among others) and how the internet is proving Warhol right.
For people who use blogs and social-networking sites like diaries, putting their personal information out there for the world to see, this presents a serious risk. “I think young people are seduced by the citizen-media notion of the Internet: that everyone can have their minutes of fame,” says Barry Schuler, the former CEO of AOL who is now the coproducer of a new movie, “Look,” about public video surveillance. “But they’re also putting themselves out there—forever.”
Shaming victims, meanwhile, have little legal recourse. Identifying posters often means having to subpoena an anonymous IP address. But that could lead nowhere. Many people share IP addresses on college networks or Wi-Fi hotspots, and many Web sites hide individual addresses. Even if a victim identifies the defamer, bloggers aren’t usually rich enough to pay big damage awards. Legal action may only increase publicity—the last thing a shaming victim wants. “The law can only do so much,” warns Solove.
We are long past the point where people will forget what we’ve done. We may sink into blessed oblivion for a little while, but everyone, everywhere, may be only one click away from the world’s attention.