So I was standing on the porch drinking a beer at Thanksgiving, talking about Star Trek. You know, like you do. And my buddy asked, “What happened to Wil Wheaton? Is he still alive?” And I, in my slightly drunken and totally appalled state, said, “Oh, no, he’s fine. He’s written a bunch of books and his Twitter feed is hilarious. Hot wife, a couple of sons. He’s been on The Guild, Eureka, Big Bang Theory, TableTop. Mostly small parts and cameos, but all pretty awesome shows. He doesn’t seem to do anything that wouldn’t make nerds happy. There’s this really cool thing called w00tstock…” At which point I trailed off because, my Trekkie buddy having wandered away, I noticed that no one I was talking to had any idea what the hell I was babbling about.
Such is my curse, this geekdom.
And I realized that I was talking about Wheaton like he’s my friend. And as much as I wish that were true, it simply isn’t. Someday, Wheaton, someday. Meanwhile, it got me thinking about the changing definition of celebrity. With the interwebs infiltrating our lives, even out here in the middle of bloody goddamn nowhere, I’m in constant contact with the media. I don’t have cell reception, access to Chinese food, or cable (these are my touchstones for reality in America – how shallow am I?). The people two houses down from me don’t have electricity. I have a buddy who runs his whole life on one solar panel and a car battery. Seriously, what the hell, hippies? But I, here in my electrified and internetted Babylon, manage to watch all my tv shows every week, listen to all my podcasts, read all my favorite blogs with my morning coffee, check my tweets, check my Facebook, check my email, read the BBC news feed, and still have enough time to do my actual job. So I end up feeling super connected to the real world even though I’m clearly not. There isn’t a human being close enough to hear me scream, but I can tell you what Neil Patrick Harris had for lunch five minutes ago, and probably show you a photo, because you know NPH is all kinds of into food porn.
And Wheaton’s a great example of this, right? I read his blog, follow him on Twitter, and watch his webshow. I just finished one of his books (Just a Geek – it was awesome). I’m in daily contact, somehow or another, with Wil Wheaton (not in a stalkery way, I swear). But it creates a type of theoretical, binary, electrical friendship which is totally in my fucking head. Maybe “friendship” is too strong a word. Familiarity? Acquaintanceship? Basic understanding of Wheatonalia? Putting aside my being painfully up to date on his goings-on, just these couple of connections give one the impression that he’s honestly a really nice guy. One of those who you feel like you could go grab a beer (an excellent and expensive dark beer, probably an IPA) with and have a good laugh. Or at the very least, walk up to him the street and say, “Hey, how’s it going? I’m a big fan,” and not get yelled at. The epitome of a celebrity non-douchebag, right?
But here’s my question about these sorts of modern fan/celebrity relationships: how many of them are fake fronts? Wheaton aside, because I think he’s on the level and a sincere kind of dude who wouldn’t lie to us and tell us he’s nice when he’s not. But I think some celebrities totally would. To make you like them and go see their movies or buy their albums or participate in whatever their moneymaking gig is. Because it’s a business, being famous. I think we forget that, as fans. It’s all about the money from their end (or from their wranglers’ perspectives, anyway). And, luckily, that’s changing. New media has given us the opportunity to make art for art’s sake, allowed people to do what they love and tell the corporate asshats to fuck right off. And I think that attitude has made artists less concerned about money, as long as they get to do the thing that makes them happy, that makes them complete. Which is a slow cultural change, but it’s a necessary one. Right now we’re still in the beginning stages, on a cusp, and it’s a hard transition. Especially for those old-school corporate scumfucks. They’re still hanging on, trying to use the new system to their advantage. Let us all rest easy in the knowledge that all those old guys will die soon and we can run this show any way we damn well please.
That came off super bitchy. Sorry. I don’t want any greedy old men to die.
But they will. Eventually.
Anyway. I just think it’s interesting, this interconnected situation in which I suddenly find myself. You guys may or may not know, if you haven’t been reading my blog from the beginning, that I went almost ten years without television or internet. In high school I could have built a computer from scratch and programmed it. When I moved to California last year, it was like I’d stepped into a whole new universe of technology. A lot of it was completely lost on me. The world keeps turning, whether we’re aware of what’s going on around us or not. My years of hitchhiking and Rainbow Gatherings and reading Kerouac, and the college years in which all I needed was a pen and a library card and beer and the occasional dose of ramen noodles to survive, and then the years of retail shilldom when I was too broke to afford internet service (yes, internet service costs money – it’s a luxury, not a necessity, remember that) – all those years seem to have added up very, very quickly. The growth is exponential, and it’s constantly becoming more and more necessary to be tech savvy just to get by. I’m just now catching up to where I feel like a normal computer-using human being, and lately I’ve been feeling like I need a fucking smartphone just understand where other people are coming from in conversation.
And here’s the bottom line: all that shit? It’s not true. It’s not real. That same friend who I had the Wil Wheaton conversation with at Thanksgiving? I was bitching to her about missing texting and using cell phones (out here something like calling to ask The Husband to pick up milk on his way home? – completely impossible, and that’s a drag). And she put her hand over my mouth and said, “Do you love the quiet? Do you love seeing the madrone trees dripping with dew in the morning? Do you love not having to deal with assholes being all up in your space all the time?” (I nodded at this point because she still had her hand over my mouth.) “Yes? Then shut the fuck up.” And she’s right. As much as I appreciate the creature comforts that the real world has to offer, things like bookstores and fancy coffees and concerts and cell reception, I wouldn’t trade this life for that one. I like growing my own food. I like living off the land and getting dirt under my fingernails. I like swimming in the river in the summer and taking walks in the rain in the winter. I like playing music on porches and enjoying beers with my buddies while they talk about their plants like little old ladies. I like being able to go into the city and have it be exciting every time, and not just a run-of-the-mill hassle. I like being able to stand in my backyard and see all the way down the river valley to the ocean, so still I can hear the birds’ wings flapping as they buzz by me (probably on their way to devour my cherry trees, those awful, awful bastards).
And, as a side note, I should probably go ahead and apologize for my “what the hell, hippies?” comment earlier. It takes a lot to live this way, and it’s even more impressive to do it without your socially accepted “basics” like electricity. Mad props to those who kick it off the grid. I don’t have the stones to do it right. I enjoy being able to flip a switch and have lights. Maybe I’m spoiled in that regard. Lights and running water are my basics, but that’s not necessarily true for everyone. Much respect to those who do it up and find it somewhere in themselves to truly, simply, enjoy every single thing they have. And that particular friend I was referencing? He’s in his sixties. Fucking awesome old homesteader family. Amazing. They make things like the interwebs seem absurd, and I thank them for the perspective. Although I still stand by my statement that I would give away an extra body part for constant Chinese food delivery.
(Cue the completely sloppy post-script.)
I wrote this blog the week after Thanksgiving because that drunk-on-the-porch interaction was fresh in my mind and I was thinking about it a lot as I read Wheaton’s book (which is a weird coincidence, actually, that timing). Since then, something happened which is the perfect example of what I’m ranting about here. And it’s big and meaty and important, so I really felt like I should tack this bit on. Sorry this post is getting super rambly.
You guys remember my post about Amanda Palmer? I do love her so. She wrote a blog post the other week that made me have a sobbing breakdown. Her best friend has cancer and is starting treatment for it. Which is one of the hardest things anyone can go through. Fuck cancer. Then, this morning (as I’m writing this, not posting it), she cancelled the rest of her current tour and put up this piece about why. And good on her. Being there for someone you love as they lay there, sick and scared, is truly horrifying. But it’s necessary, and it’s the right thing to do, and showbusiness be damned. Here’s the thing: I sort of expected a tidal wave of outrage from asshole fans about not being able to see their favorite monkey prance about on stage. Instead what flew forth was the biggest show of love, support, and respect for Palmer’s decision. I hate to be corny about this, but it really made me feel like people can be alright sometimes, in groups. It’s a shame that so often it takes a tragedy to make us rally like that.
But you see, I realized that I’ve been thinking about those celebrity/fan relationships from my end and not from their end, and it kind of made me feel like a dick. Because sometimes life sucks, right? It’s inevitable. And being in the limelight can make folks feel isolated. So I wanted to make it clear that I am glad we’ve got this interconnectedness. The love and sympathy and empathy and support that Palmer’s getting is truly amazing (and I mean really astounding – I particularly like this piece from Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess). And I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that it helps her and all the people effected to get through this. The world is getting smaller. One tweet from me may not make someone’s day, but it’s a drop in a very important bucket, I think, especially at times like these. That’s worth something.