DIGITAL NARCISSISM

Images_6In "Celebrity Death Watch,", an intriguing piece in this month’s New York magazine, Kurt Anderson suggests that America’s “insane fame fixation” might be over. His evidence? The decline in the popularity of Paris Hilton:

“But the designated media gatekeepers are saying that Paris Hilton, the very embodiment of modern celebrity black magic, is over. Maybe she’s the canary in the mine, whose end heralds the end of this extreme era.”

Anderson’s argument is that our obsession with celebrity is “cyclical” and that today (as in the Sixties), he is forecasting – and clearly hoping – that it will ebb. But he also acknowledges that there is more to our current obsession with fame than just another historical cycle. He acknowledges that in our Web 2.0 world of fragmented media, the celebrity business has changed forever:

“However, one difference this time is the fractured nature of mass culture: Because Americans no longer all watch the same TV shows and listen to the same music, they may feel a more desperate need to immerse themselves in the private lives of a few, almost arbitrary pseudo-superstars (Jessica Simpson?)—to feel the glamour by stalking the performers, since the performances don’t matter so much anymore.”

Anderson is getting close to the great structural shift in postmodern media – the move from broadcasting to “egocasting” (to borrow Christine Rosen’s term) in the age of digital narcissism. So what happens to celebrity when everybody becomes an egocaster?  Here is Anderson on the increasingly personalized nature of our celebrity-transfixed media:

“Would you like to receive messages from (okay, about) your imaginary friends? People offers instant wireless “celebrity updates.” Enter the Matrix; embrace the fantasy. According to the Times, fashionable young women in cities like New York have now started wearing warm-weather clothes during the winter because they are unconsciously driven by ubiquitous “images of demiclad stars pushing strollers and sipping lattes” on “E! Entertainment and [in] celebrity magazines”—to make-believe they’re in Brentwood or Malibu.”

But Anderson doesn’t take the next step, which seems the most interesting one to me. When will the penny drop for the consumers of celebrity? When will they realize that the empress is naked? When will it become obvious that they, the celebrity watcher, are no different from Paris or Hilary Duff or Madonna or Sarah Jessica Parker?

When will the warm-weather wearing wannabes in New York City understand that they themselves are the celebrity?

With the Web 2.0 revolution, of course, anyone can now author their own celebrity, Narcissism, once the preserve of the rich and famous, has been democratized by the digital revolution. So who will be the first self-manufactured celebrity? When will the Internet produce a democratic Paris Hilton of its own?

In an age of digital narcissism, when everyone acquires the means to broadcast themselves, what is the fate of “celebrity”? Andy Warhol promised each of us five minutes of fame. But what happens when everyone is famous, all of the time?