Self-Made Celebrities

Technology and social media have made possible an entirely new kind of celebrity.  Along with movie stars, and sports stars, and rappers, and singers, we’ve now got people who apparently are famous, at least among a segment of the population, for their YouTube videos or some other kind of social media presence.

africa-broadband-it-internet-technologyI’ve come to realize that there is an entirely unknown field of “personalities” when I’ve seen them as the subject of articles on the msn.com website, or the news stories that now pop up when I access the Google website on my phone.  One recent example was an article about the untimely death of somebody I’d never even heard of — a woman named Emily Hartridge, who was described as a popular YouTube personality for her video posts about herself and relationships.  And given the size of the internet and the different channels for social media communication, for every Emily Hartridge there are probably hundreds or thousands of other people who have become famous to their specific cadre of followers.

It’s an example of the how modern communications technology is more democratic and a lot more diverse.  You don’t necessarily need to be found by an agent or producer or record company executive to become famous these days.  Anyone who has a cellphone and a computer and something to say or something to show can take a shot at posting self-made videos and hope to carve out a niche for themselves and find an audience.  These days, people can become self-made celebrities.

It’s a step forward in some ways, but of course there are hazards, too.  How many videos out there espouse political views that contribute to the splintering of society?  How would the Hitlers of the past have used social media to disseminate their hateful ideologies?  And how many people, in their lust for self-made celebrityhood and “likes,” are tempted to film themselves doing dangerous things in hopes of attracting more followers and becoming one of those new personalities?  Just this week, a Chinese “vlogger” died while livestreaming himself drinking and eating poisonous geckos, centipedes, and mealworms in hopes of attracting new followers.  It’s hard to believe that any rational person could be so desperate and so reckless — but a personal tool as powerful as the internet and social media is bound to bring out the crazies, too.

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Searching For Snippets

Lately I’ve spent a bit of time in front of the computer at home, on the YouTube website.  I’ve been looking for some funny highlights from TV shows that are now decades old.  You might call it searching for snippets.

My initial goal was to find the “Sis Boom Bah” moment from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.  Featuring the redoubtable Carnak the Magnificent, in what I always thought was one of the best continuing skits on the show, it is arguably one of the funniest single moments on what was a consistently funny show.  (You could argue about other Tonight Show moments, like the Ed Ames tomahawk-throwing incident, but I digress.)  Sure enough, I found the entire Sis Boom Bah Carnak sketch on YouTube, and I’ve put it above in all of its early ’80s, totally un-PC glory at the top of its post.  The Sis Boom Bah moment is still hilarious.

There’s comedy gold to be found just about everywhere on YouTube, but you have to work to find it.  In that sense, it’s a lot more interactive than just watching TV and letting the cathode rays wash over you.   Let’s say that you thought the “Norm!” one-liners from Cheers were consistently funny, as I do, and just wanted to check out a few of them.  A few deft searches, and voila!   One example of what I found, with some of Norm’s choicest rejoinders, is below.  And whether it’s great moments from Seinfeld, or the title introduction to Hogan’s Heroes, or a favorite scene from The Dick Van Dyke Show, you can probably find it on YouTube.

 

Guitar Lessons

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In 1969, when I was about 12, my parents decided that it made sense for the Webner kids to take music lessons.  UJ and Sister Cath took piano lessons on the upright in our living room.  I didn’t have any interest in playing piano, which seemed kind of prim and stodgy, and it was the era of the early rock guitar gods, so I decided to take guitar lessons instead.  Mom and Dad bought me a basic acoustic guitar, and we were off to the races.

Of course, the experience was a disaster.  Sure, I wanted to play guitar, but couldn’t I somehow just acquire the ability by osmosis and by really, really wanting to play guitar like Eric Clapton? My teacher was a nice hippie-type guy with longish red hair and a straggly red beard — God knows how my uber-conventional parents found him in Akron, Ohio — but he was never able to motivate me to get past the dull, initial learning-the-basics stage to the actually playing a song you heard on the radio stage, and I was far from having the discipline to get there myself.  We started with some basic instruction book, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t really keen about practicing the exercises or the boring and stupid songs in the book and I didn’t have some kind of intuitive knack for playing music.  So I didn’t practice, and when I went in for lessons the teacher obviously recognized that I wasn’t practicing, and we both seemed to be okay with that.  Within a short period of time I quit the guitar lessons, the guitar went into the closet, and the dreams of rock guitar wizardry were permanently shelved.

It’s a familiar scenario for many parents.  Your child decides they want to take music lessons, or you decide they should take music lessons, you buy an instrument for them, and the experience is a dud.  They complain about practicing, you hector them to at least try, and ultimately the two sides reach an uneasy armistice in which music lessons are flushed down the memory hole, never to mentioned again. I blame myself for my guitar failure; I admittedly was a really crappy student.  But I also wonder if there was something creative that red-haired teacher of mine could have done to get me to the next step, where the enjoyment of playing compensated for the drudgery of practicing.

I thought about all of this when I saw an installment of The Daily Callus, an instructional program on YouTube.  My nephew, Miles Greene, is a highly regarded schoolteacher in the Oakland, California public school system.  He’s also an accomplished guitar player who, among other gigs, played the processional when my niece Annie walked down the aisle.  So it’s logical that Miles would combine those two aspects of his life and start teaching guitar — via the internet.  Miles’ focus is in teaching the tools of blues and rock guitar work, and The Daily Callus is the result.  That’s Miles pictured above, and you can watch him displaying his teaching skills — and I hope, subscribe to his teaching series — on YouTube.

I think it’s pretty clear that Miles is a very good teacher, and it makes me wonder if I should revive those old guitar god dreams, work through The Daily Callus installments, and see where it takes me.  Hey, where is that old acoustic guitar, anyway?

The TSA And The Teddy Bear

Let’s face it:  a lot of people really don’t like the Transportation Security Administration.  They don’t like waiting in lines to go through security, they don’t like the uniformed officers telling them to take their laptops out of bags and to remove their shoes, and belts, and overcoats before they go through screening, and they don’t like having to madly scramble around to reassemble their attire and gather their things after they come rolling out of the x-ray machine.

https3a2f2fblueprint-api-production-s3-amazonaws-com2fuploads2fcard2fimage2f3196242f0a03fd4a-0903-4e30-921d-6a63a0fb3fd8So when people heard about TSA officers taking steps that kept a gigantic teddy bear off a plane, and then posting, on Instagram, a sad photo of the bear, slumped over next to a trash can, people were quick to label the TSA this year’s Grinch.  They assumed the bear was a gift for a kid and thought the TSA was heartless.

The real story, though, is that the TSA was just doing its job — and the bear wasn’t a gift for a kid at all, it was part of an effort by an adult man to make a YouTube video.  After the outcry about the pathetic abandoned bear, the TSA explained that even though the YouTuber had a ticket for the bear, the bear was simply too large and too dense to be effectively screened.  In fact, the TSA has previously found a disassembled gun and ammunition hidden in stuffed animals.  If the TSA can’t effectively screen a carry-on item, then obviously that item shouldn’t go onto a plane.  And the airline also determined that the bear was too big to go into the cabin of the airplane, anyway.

So I’m with the TSA on this one.  Going through security at airports is a pain, but the vast majority of the TSA officers I’ve encountered in my travels are friendly, professional, and just trying to do their job.  If anybody deserves the blame for the pathetic Teddy Bear Tale, it’s the guy who thought it would be a good idea to create a potential problem for the TSA and an airline just to make a YouTube video.  It’s totally inconsiderate — toward the TSA, toward the airline, and toward other travelers who might have found themselves on a plane with a guy who’s trying to carry an oversized teddy bear down the crowded aisle and then seat the bear next to some unsuspecting traveler who’s just trying to get home.

Does everybody have to make YouTube videos about everything these days?  We’ve got enough to worry about without self-absorbed people trying to get a few minutes of internet attention coming up with stunts that inconvenience the rest of the world.

Racism, And The Internet Veil Of Anonymity

Cheerios has a funny and touching ad on YouTube, shown above.  A cute little girl asks her mother if Cheerios is good for your heart, Mom reads the box and says yes, and next we see Dad waking up on the couch to discover to his surprise that there is a pile of Cheerios spilling off his chest.

Hard to believe that such an ad would provoke an outpouring of bigotry — but it did, because the Mom is white, the Dad is African-American, and the little girl is biracial.  The ad has provoked so many racist comments, in fact, that General Mills has shut down the comments function on the YouTube web address for the video in order to avoid collecting more hateful invective.

It’s very sad to get such direct confirmation that there are still so many racists in the world, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who does much browsing on the internet.  On many news websites, the comments sections are full of odious, bigoted statements from people who are hiding behind a pseudonym and therefore feel free to bare the dark, twisted kinks of their souls.  Whether it is racism, anti-Semitism, gay-bashing, anti-Catholicism, the repugnant Islamic jihadist lectures that apparently radicalized Tamerlan Tsarnaev, or some other benighted views of latter-day Know-Nothings, the internet is home to some awful, despicable sentiments.  My theory is that the form of anonymity that is available on the internet acts like the hoods worn by the KKK, and allows the racists to indulge their passions without being outed as stupid bigots.

I don’t want the government deciding what should and shouldn’t be said.  I’m a big believer in free speech, but sometimes free speech is ugly, offensive, idiotic speech.  Those of us who use the internet shouldn’t tolerate racist and bigoted comments and should call it out whenever we see it.

Striking A Proper Real Life-Virtual Life Balance

Lately lots of people have been talking about Pinterest, another new form of social media and on-line interaction.  Pinterest allows participants to explore and develop their interests in different topics — food, home decorating, body art, and the like — by “pinning” news articles, pictures, video, and other items to their “pinboard” for other people to see and comment upon.  Family members and friends have used Pinterest to plan weddings and vacations, share their views on books and TV shows, and find special articles of clothing.

photo-95My Pinterest friends sound like they become almost obsessed with browsing other people’s “pinboards” and filling up their own with interesting and exciting content that reflects well on them.  Similarly, we’ve all got friends who spend a lot of time posting things to Facebook, or blogging (guilty as charged), or playing fantasy sports, or doing the countless other social networking activities you can do on-line.  This shouldn’t be surprising; the internet is a constantly changing, interesting environment that puts the whole world at your fingertips and allows for all kinds of communication.  All of these nifty on-line interaction websites also can allow you to reconnect with high school and college classmates and faraway friends and keep track of how they are doing.  But when does the attraction of the internet pull your home life out of balance, leaving you tapping out a Facebook message or chuckling at a YouTube video while your spouse or girlfriend or children or friends sit idle for hours?  How do you strike a workable real life-virtual life balance?

People have always engaged in solitary activities, like reading a book or playing a musical instrument or jogging, but obsession with on-line activities seems to have special risks.  Studies suggest that people who spend lots of time on-line often struggle with depression and sleep disorders and tend to neglect their need for physical activity and in-person social interaction.  And, of course, the on-line world, with its anonymity and ability to create weird, fake relationships such as the one that has humiliated Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, involves all kinds of potential personal, financial, and criminal hazards that would never be presented by reading a library book or knitting on the sofa while your spouse watches a basketball game on TV.

We all need to figure out when to step away from the computer.

Clint Speaks — And Not To A Chair

Clint Eastwood has given an interview and discussed his legendary appearance at the Republican Convention, where he spoke to an empty chair representing President Obama.  Appearing in the Carmel Pine Cone — the local newspaper in the town where Eastwood once served as mayor — it’s an interesting read.

Among the highlights:  he had three broad points to make during the appearance; his remarks weren’t vetted beforehand because he hadn’t decided what to say; and the decision to use the empty chair as part of the presentation was a last-minute inspiration that occurred when he saw the chair backstage and a stagehand asked him if he wanted to sit down.  His remarks were intended to be impromptu and “a contrast with all the scripted speeches, because I’m Joe Citizen” and “have the same feelings as the average guy out there.”  Eastwood says he knew his presentation was “very unorthodox,” but he didn’t realize he had provoked a firestorm of comment — pro and con — until a day later.

The Pine Cone interview leaves no doubt — if there was any — about his political views.  He’s quoted as saying that “President Obama is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,”  and that “Romney and Ryan would do a much better job running the country, and that’s what everybody needs to know.”

Eastwood said his presentation “was aiming for people in the middle.”  It’s not entirely clear whether he hit that target, but one thing is certain — people still are talking about it and watching it.  If I read the YouTube data correctly, the various videos of Eastwood’s performance have been watched more than 2 million times.