Star Struck

Celebrity worship seizes the Net


| Web Specials Archives


America's long-standing love affair with the rich and famous is alive and well in the digital culture of the 1990s -- but with a twist. As Entertainment Weekly recently noted (May 19, 1995), the Net is breeding a new generation of star gazing and could surpass fan magazines and late night talk shows as a mecca for celebrity worship. Scores of fans are already trading virtual pinups, constructing home page shrines for their idols, and chatting 'live' with soap opera stars, film divas, rock gurus, and other personalities via commercial services like America Online and Prodigy.

Some critics are casting the activities as a pathetic case of collective dupedom. Writing in the alternative weekly San Jose Metro (syndicated on AlterNet, Sept. 1995), Jeff Elliot offers a satirical account of fans who logged into the AOL Oldsmobile Celebrity Circle to 'share the very special experience of having an online chat with Victoria Principal.' Elliot pokes fun at the confused fans in his 'online row' who thought Principal could see their comments and was following dozens of simultaneous conversations at once. In reality, the only questions Principal saw were selected by a moderator, and most of them involved her upcoming TV movie and the 800-number for her line of beauty products.

In a review of Joshua Gameson's book Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America in the latest issue of the Web journal CTheory, Deena Weinstein further trashes the commercial flair of today's online celebrity activity. 'Celebrity exists as a product of the media-net to seduce bodies into the Net,' she argues. In a society 'waist deep in the big mud of commercial culture,' celebrities are 'walking commercials,' advertisements for their selves and 'any product to which they are connected.' This being the case, says Weinstein, the real question is what drives so many of us to worship celebrities like gods, or godlike simulacra as the case may be.

Original to Utne Reader Online, September 1995.