I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people who approach me about articles I’ve written in the past year. Perhaps this is because I’ve become more available online again and just overlooked the conversation, or perhaps it’s because that Google emails me every time my name appears online so I know when I’m being talked about now, or when something I’ve written is being passed along in Internet forums ((I really wish y’all would instead create something inspired by what I’ve already written and post that in the forums and flora out there.)) It’s an odd feeling to get a letter or a Myspace comment saying, “Are you that Diana Rajchel???” I feel especially bad for the elderly lady living in the southeastern United States who also bears my name and possibly has some genetic tie to me. I can just imagine how she must feel if she flashes her credit card to the wrong employee at a Barnes and Noble, especially since odds are in favor of her being a Catholic with some degree of devoutness. While I am (usually) flattered at the recognition, I do cringe on her behalf, too.
I’ve also been experiencing increased recognition with my work on Etsy, and in other endeavors I have created situations where people know who I am. It’s peculiarly like being a senior in high school again, where all the underclassmen knew my name and I was thoroughly bewildered as to how they knew. Except this time, the how is much more evident, which does comfort me a little. It’s strange, though, to find my name travels when I’ve only been on television a few times in my life and when I write for a national but very narrow market.
But I’m not alone in this experience – there are others I know who have achieved recognition in specialized areas, usually as a direct result of participation in the Internet. Everyday people are finding they have fans.
Celebrity Worship Syndrome (somewhat misnamed, according to the entry linked to) or Celebrity Obsession is, in actuality, pretty new. Before the distribution of mass media, we pretty much knew our leaders and our entertainers; if we thought of a person as a “great mind” it was likely because we spent a lot of time thinking about the same things. If someone whose worked we admired did not live in the same locale, then an exchange of letter writing would commence. Those connections formed on paper were far more intimate and personal than anything we would have space for in today’s view of celebrity.
Mass media led to depersonalization, which led to being able to see people and have the illusion of intimate familiarity without knowing those individuals at all. So when watching shows like the Real World, or even outright fiction (Buffy, anyone?) we have a sense we “know” these people when really, we’re simply projecting our interactive imaginings onto them.
Something about not being able to directly touch or get an immediate response from that person creates that celebrity obsession, and it seems to happen on the Internet in the same way that it does with television and movie actors; people develop “net crushes” and individuals gather followings, whether it’s through blogging, through becoming a Big Name Fan, or becoming a well-recognized and followed voice in a message board. Sometimes just recognizing a person’s name from somewhere else is enough to accord them some fame, favors and privileges that they might not enjoy if those people were among the “hordes” of a given messageboard or blog.
A friend of mine was telling me about a forum she frequents, and about an unrelated issue where a friend of hers is solving a financial issue for her. I feel kind of guilty accepting her help, my friend tells me. She’s one of my fans. My friend has a very high profile on the message board she met this person on, and feels guilt about the privileges and favor people offer to do for her because she her persona is so well-known. And while I can tell she’s flattered to have fame, she senses a burden of responsibility – she admits herself that there are a lot of examples she’s set in her online behavior and in daily life that she would prefer people not follow. And while making mistakes is a necessary part of continuing adulthood, those who are observing our experiences from the outside may not recognize that we are finding out what lies at the end of the action, not just blazing a trail for them to follow.
In a fandom forum I frequent, some friends I met through fandom are being interviewed. They are highly notorious in this particular fishbowl, and I’m thrilled to see them getting positive recognition that they deserve. But the first volleys I see towards them are critical: Why are you so mean? is one plaintive question. The comment and work my friends have done in that particular fandom are exceptionally low-stakes; there is no possible way to build a career or solve the world’s problems through this particular avenue. Yet they are treated with the most severity, though what they’ve done is the least deserving of criticism. The fishbowl has warped the perspective, and their impact is viewed as much larger than it actually is. ((I contend that perception equaling truth is corporate baloney, drawn upon conveniently to fire people at will.))
This suggests to me ever more that fame is not and should not be a goal. Becoming a household name is meaningless – our names are known around multiple households these days, whether by our given names or by Internet handles. And as each of us can pursue ever-narrower points of interest, the people we know who share those interests become inflated and more important – and strangely, ever the more disconnected.