21 July 2010
The most interesting aspect in the whole Jessi Slaughter/4chan/Stickydrama saga is Stickydrama itself. It's further proof of the trend towards user-generated content, encroaching on yet another Old Media phenomenon.
Stickydrama is a gossip site about internet celebrities. It's about people who don't have agents and aren't "famous" in the traditional media sense. But they're objects of fascination and notoriety to thousands, even millions, of internet users.
From the Star Wars Kid to Justin Bieber, internet celebrities can and do make the mainstream media, and plenty of them stay there. A day after eleven-year-old Jessica Leonhardt became the victim of cyber-bullying for her expletive-strewn online video rants, the only Google News hits for her were blog-style sites such as Gawker. A couple of days later, and her web name "Jessi Slaughter" generates hundreds of news hits from Fox to the New Delhi Chronicle.
Online drama is as real, as fascinating and far more tangible to its viewers than any television soap opera. If reality TV stars - more "normal", more accessible - were the inevitable successors to professional actors, then e-celebrities are the next evolution.
Without managers and studios to act as a fan-barrier, their followers can get full, raw access. You don't need to win backstage tickets, or wait in the rain by the red carpet for a glimpse of your idol, you can Friend them in a social networking services and track their every move and murmur. Uncontrolled, this online fraternising rapidly moves offline. In Jessica Leonhardt's case, anonymous internet users - "haters", rather than fans - managed to track down her real life address and phone number, and subjected her to prank calls and even death threats. She ended up in police protection, banned from the internet by a court order.
In the early 2000s there was a site called LJdrama.org that charted cyber-wars and meltdowns on the early blogging service LiveJournal. Back then most people had never even heard of blogging, many didn't even use the internet yet. Those that blogged tended to be younger people, students, and a few internet pioneers. Celebrities didn't blog, many didn't even have websites, Twitter and YouTube weren't even invented. Web 2.0 hadn't been coined as a term, since marketeers hadn't yet grasped the already-collaborative nature of the internet.
But the world wasn't yet ready to welcome LiveJournal's Deluxe Dolls into its newspapers and magazines, though today we see Pussycat Doll and Dita Von Teese-inspired burlesque all over the media. Members of the thousands of LiveJournal "ratings communities" - where users were only invited if their photos were voted as pretty enough - had no mainstream fora for their fame-whoring. Now we see TV networks hosting Model Searches where viewers vote on the next hot faces, who are then splashed across tabloids and magazines. The BeautifulPeople.com dating service - that only welcomes the aesthetically gifted - frequently makes news headlines.
When a YouTube video of teenage web sensation Kiki Kannibal spitting out gobs of saliva gets several hundred thousands hits, it's clear the days of the carefully-crafted, carefully-controlled celebrity are long gone. The internet community builds up its idols, enjoying the vicarious thrill of a "regular person" getting the Cinderella story, and then it dashes them down for sheer amusement (or "lulz").
Internet infamy is generally permanent. Jessica Leonhardt will likely never escape the stain of her foul-mouthed pre-teen rants: eventually, she may need to change her name to go to university and enter the workforce. But the tide has turned too far for the online wannabes to hand back to the professionals. Why worship Britney Spears if you can be worshipped yourself?
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