Monday, September 11

Sacrificing The First Celebrity


So the team behind the lonelygirl15 YouTube mystery has come forward, claiming that lonelygirl15 is part of their “show” and thanking their fans effusively for tuning in to “the birth of a new art form.”

New? Not really.

In 1938, H. G. Wells led thousands to believe that an interplanetary conflict had started with invading Martians spreading wide death and destruction in New Jersey and New York. The broadcast disrupted households, interrupted religious services, created traffic jams, clogged communications systems, and, in one Newark neighborhood, prompted more than twenty families to rush out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee from what they believed was to be a gas raid.

Naturally, Orson Wells did provide ample announcements during the broadcast that emphasized the story was fictional. But in 1990, pop artists Milli Vanilli, who virtually had a similar effect on the public, did not warn the public.

It was during a live performance at the Lake Compounce theme park in Connecticut that their song "Girl You Know It's True" jammed and began to skip, repeating the line "Girl, you know it's-" over and over. Later, it was confirmed to reporters on Nov. 15, 1990 that Morvan and Pilatus did not sing on the records, causing a class action lawsuit that resulted in a multi-million dollar refund for anyone who wanted to return the record for any reason.

Just a few years earlier, in 1988, the public had chastised front-running presidential candidate Gary Hart for having an extramarital affair. Hart dared the press to "Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'll be very bored." Unfortunately for him, two reporters from the Miami Herald took up his challenge and observed an attractive young woman coming out of Hart's Washington, D.C., townhouse on the evening of May 2. By the end of the New Hampshire primary, it was clear that Gary Hart's White House hopes were over.

Orson Wells. Milli Vanilli. Gary Hart. While all three were ridiculed for the outcomes, all three also softened public expectations, opening the doors for the others to do virtually the same thing without any public backlash.

Ashlee Simpson received widespread derision, but survived, using a pre-recorded vocal track for a performance on Saturday Night Live in 2004. Bill Clinton was impeached, but largely survived his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a young female White House intern. And countless radio shows and movies have borrowed Wells' concept to create faux reality entertainment without any impact whatsoever.

Lonelygirl15 is nothing much more than the first 'vlogger' caught presenting fiction as fact, opening the doors wide open for similar Web programming in the future, where storytelling is sometimes difficult to discern from the real thing in what sometimes seems like a 'War of the Words' not 'War of the Worlds.'

Ironically, Loneygirl15 will not be the one who really benefits. I think documentary filmmaker Brian Flemming is right. The lonelygirl15 phenomenon has "jumped the shark."

Personally, whether the public will be softened to faux reality Web shows after ceremonially sacrificing their first 'Web celebrity' or not —open, honest, and candid communication remains the best policy for entertainers, marketing gurus, politicians, corporate executives, and anyone else who wants to survive longer than the fifteen minutes of hype. And that's advice you can take to the bank.

1 comments:

Rich on 9/11/06, 10:29 AM said...

Famous last words:

"I have decided not to do any interviews." - Bree

For the source and BusinessWeek's wrap up on lonelygirl15, visit The Strange Case.

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