Star Struck

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.

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