Fame (finally)

Finally I'm famous. At least with Balail, Khalid, Mohammed and Hussain.

An English as Second Language teacher is using Steven Levy's Newsweek article about me as a reading and writing assignment for his/her students. Here are the questions assigned for the week of March 26:

READING COMPREHENSION: (Due on Tuesday)

Choose the correct answer for each item and write the corresponding letter in the space provided.

____ 1. In his new book, what does Andrew Keen say the Internet is responsible for?
a. giving idiots too much authority
b. damaging social connections
c. bankrupting the publishing industry
d. eroding people's reading skills

____ 2. Which of the following would Keen say has been most damaged by the Internet?
a. filmmakers
b. hobbyists
c. school teachers
d. experts

Mark each statement with a "T" if it is true, or an "F" if it is false. Rewrite false statements to make them true.

____ 11. Newsweek's Steven Levy believes that high-quality Internet content will eventually win out over junk.

SHORT ANSWER
Write a brief response (no more than a sentence) to the following questions.

21. Newsweek's Steven Levy compares the Internet with what past technological invention?

WRITTEN RESPONSE: (Due on Wednesday)

What is the thesis of Andrew Keen's book? What story does "Invasion of the Web Amateurs" tell about Wikipedia? How does Keen respond to the latest Wikipedia incident? With which of Keen's points does Newsweek's Steven Levy agree? To what historical invention does Levy compare the Internet? What do optimists like Levy believe? What does Levy think might threaten high-quality journalism? What irony does Levy point out about Keen?

Not sure if I could answer the last bit. I've never noticed any "irony" about myself. So if Balail, Khalid, Mohammed and Hussain happen to be reading this, perhaps they can send (ak@aftertv.com) their answer to me too. In return, I'll correct any grammatical mistakes and explain, exactly, why today's Internet is giving idiots too much authority.

BROADCAST YOURSELF

Logo_smDigital narcissism has made it into the New York Times. John Carney, in an article in Sunday’s Times entitled People Who Watch People: Lost in an Online Hall of Mirrors writes about YouTube, one of the most hyped paragons of the Web 2.0 revolution.

The tagline for YouTube is Broadcast Yourself. And that’s exactly what YouTube users do, abundantly, without scruple or shame. And, as Carney explains, the latest thing is for YouTubers to broadcast videos of themselves watching others watch videos:

“With the latest crop of videos, a new style has emerged, though, one that is at once absolutely mundane and completely postmodern: people posting videos of themselves watching YouTube videos.”

Carney writes about a young woman with the web name pizzelle2, who takes the broadcast yourself tagline literally. She films herself watching another YouTube user who is watching yet another user. This online hall of mirrors leads, eventually, to a woman in Wausua, Wis, called Nornna. Nornna has become the muse for 50,000 videographers. According to Carney, she has become a cult on YouTube for the simplicity of her life. Her videos – including ones of her making a peanut and jelly sandwich and watching tv – have been viewed more than 50,000 times.

One of Nornna’s voyeuristic fans, James98105, wrote:

“The reason why I love Nornna's videos so much is because her day-to-day activities in Wisconsin make me envious because I wish my life were that simple!”

James98105 comes at the end of a long tradition of making moving pictures about the obsessive art of watching others. From Alan Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad to Fellini’s 8 ½ to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation to my own favorite, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, it has been one of the richest themes in moviemaking history. In all these motion pictures, however, the art of watching is a complicated commentary on love or politics or sexuality or aesthetics. In all these movies, the movie camera points outwards, away from the cameraman, into the world.

Pointing a movie camera at something or someone is not, in itself, interesting. But in YouTube’s hall of mirrors, watching has become the-thing-in-itself rather than an art . The April 3 issue of Newsweek ran an excellent cover story on Web 2.0 entitled “It’s all about you.” Exactly. the YouTube service is the first mirror, the mirror behind all the other mirrors in the online hall. The user-generated content on YouTube is all about the watcher and nothing about the watched. The camera might be fixed on something else, but on YouTube it is actually pointed inwards, away from the world. Like James98105, pointing a camera at somebody else is really a commentary on ourselves. YouTube might call this “Broadcast Yourself,” but it actually just another example of the digital narcissism of the Web 2.0 world.

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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?