The new celebrity is local

Paul Raven @ 01-05-2008

There’s an older guy who drinks in the same pub as a number of people in my social circle. He’s well known for his, er, colourful and lively opinions, which tend to emerge incoherently at the end of the evening to the great amusement of everyone else. This unintentionally hilarious character is immortalised and discussed in a Facebook group, where the occasional picture or transcribed rant will be posted, and notable encounters good-naturedly reminisced upon.

I probably shouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that this phenomenon is far from unique; the exponential splurge of social media has created maybe hundreds of these minor geo-locative celebrities. Most of them, we can assume, are people who do not use the web themselves, and who remain unaware that they are the subject of scrutiny and discussion and (in some cases) a kind of hero-worship.

But is this a form of exploitation? Are we unwittingly mocking someone who is less connected to modern media than ourselves, or simply performing an enhanced version of the urban legend-telling that is probably as old as urban life itself?

And as the number of non-users decreases, will the perceived celebrity of those still not connected to the web increase as a function of their rarity? Will every town have a digital shrine to the last person without broadband?

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2 Responses to “The new celebrity is local”

  1. Justin says:

    Nice. I know Brighton has the Man Who Waves At Buses, and the Woman In The Middle of a Vortex of Gulls.

    So, what happens if they get online, discover their (unflattering) legendary status, and decide to sue?

  2. csven says:

    I’ve seen some of that behavior, most recently on a tumblr blog where someone has targeted a roommate for supposedly being unaware of some pop culture references. Personally, I think in general it says more about the people engaged in this activity than the target of their interest. And I wonder how much “cognitive surplus” will be dissipated in this non-constructive fashion. Too much, I’m afraid.