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The Dark Side of Internet Fame

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This is very good news. They continue to be in breach, like so many whales. It is a big day of gladness at the Sober Valley Lodge because now I can take all of their bazillions, never have to look at whatshiscock again and I never have to put on those silly shirts for as long as this warlock exists in the terrestrial dimension.
– Charlie Sheen, after being fired from “Two and a Half Men”



Uptight Pagans notwithstanding, Charlie Sheen is the talk of the world right now. For all the wrong reasons. And for all the talk about “winning,” Sheen may come to find out that he may lose in the end.

The rantings of Charlie Sheen are not only indicative of a bigger problem in pop culture, but stand as proof positive that one of the oldest adages in media and PR has been proven wrong again. You’ve probably heard the sayings—”Any press is good press,” or, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” or anything to that effect.

Those sayings have now become fallacies. And Charlie Sheen, much like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan before him, is proof.

All three of them had very loud, very big public meltdowns that happened over a period of time. All of them were in front of a whole new generation of onlookers who had internet access and the subsequent up-to-the-minute loon bombs that each of them dropped. And these weren’t one-off instances; in each case, this was a gradual process of celebrities caving in to the demands of fame—particularly the demands of an audience who were now accustomed to instantaneous media gratification and who now demanded that on a consistent basis.

The result of this has been a brand new effect on the careers of musicians, actors, models, what have you…celebrities who are constantly in the public eye and now have their every move on display for a hungry internet-connected audience. In past times, the meltdown or arrest of a celebrity would take anywhere from several hours to several weeks to make headlines—long enough for damage control to have already been assessed, processed, and spun in to an angle by the appropriate PR handlers who could ensure the career of said celebrity remained on a smooth road.

In many discussions about Charlie Sheen, the point has been made several times that Robert Downey Jr. went through the same thing Charlie Sheen is going through now and not only survived, but has made an amazing comeback. There are quite a few obstacles to that argument. Downey’s downward spiral wasn’t as big or, more importantly, as LOUD as Sheen’s has been. Downey popped up in a few Entertainment Tonight reports, went away, and came back rehabilitated on the road to going back to regular work in Hollywood. Downey’s exploits weren’t dwelled upon, analyzed, commented on, and mocked every second of every day.

That is what Charlie Sheen has to deal with. That is what Britney Spears dealt with—and her career, while not over by any means, has yet to return to the plateau it once occupied, if it ever makes it back there again. Lindsay Lohan has dealt with the same thing, and her career remains floating in Hollywood’s toilet bowl. The best she can hope for, at this point, is that nobody flushes.

A sad side effect of being in front of an audience that is more connected than ever to every move you make is that there is so much more to capture their attention at any given moment. With so much information and entertainment at our fingertips, it’s well-nigh impossible for anyone’s attention to remain focused on any one thing for any length of time. Many jest about the short attention spans of consumers, but what other result is to be expected with a relentless bombardment of news, music, entertainment and other media? Patton Oswalt once lamented the phenomenon of “ETEWAF” – Everything There Ever Was, Available Forever”…and that diatribe was met with controversy by many. The entire point of his article, however, may be putting a microscopic focus on a smaller issue and overlooking a bigger predicament that’s affecting pop culture as a whole.

Forget that some kid somewhere won’t be the first and only to discover a band or a game or a movie that he can share with his close-knit circle of buddies and then feel rewarded when the rest of the world finally catches on. Much of that audience could care less about the next artistic gem because many of them are focusing on the lives of the public figures who provide that entertainment. It’s almost as if produced, scripted entertainment has taken—or, at the least, is about to take—a back seat to the entertainment found in following their every move and pointing and laughing at their every screw-up or insane quote. It’s almost as if the paparazzi have become the new film directors, and the scripts are non-existent because the public figures we gawk at are providing dialogue more entertaining than anything that could be thought of and put down on paper.

Charlie Sheen opened a Twitter account and gained 1,000,000 followers in one day. By that rationale, it could be assumed that a studio executive could approach Sheen and offer him a movie deal based on his newfound “fame.” The problem with that, to paraphrase a tweet from my friend Hex, is that there is a vast difference between appreciating the talents of a performer and rubbernecking at a car wreck. Make no mistake, Sheen is firmly planted in the latter category. Those million followers aren’t following a man they’re a fan of, but rather looking for the next nugget of madness they can discuss at the water cooler the next morning. If there was a shred of Sheen’s actual reputation left from all of this, he wouldn’t have been fired from Two and a Half Men—his biggest gig in the last decade, a television sitcom—in the first place. Once the constant stream of “goddesses” and wild porn parties dries up and there’s nothing left to be entertained about in Sheen’s personal life, the audience will file away, looking for the next celebrity to poke fun at for disintegrating under the pressure of the public eye.

Much like Lohan and Spears before him, Charlie Sheen may be in for a rude awakening when the “unemployed winner” discovers that his Twitter description is a contradiction in terms when it comes to the celebrity life, at the very least. Whoever else may follow in their footsteps still believing that “any press is good press” may do well to heed the warning that, in the age of instant gratification and constant information, that adage no longer applies.

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About Michael Melchor

Michael Melchor has covered pop culture in all its forms for several publications and websites, including BackStage Pass magazine, 411Mania.com, and Examiner.com.