I am 'friends with' Tairrie B of My Ruin fame on Facebook. She recently uploaded a photo album of old family portraits and it got me thinking about celebrities and the cult of personality they build around themselves, and how this has changed with the growth of web 2.0, in particular the growth of social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.
I remember when I first got into goth music. It wasn't about the music for me; the music came second, or third, to its aesthetics and its controversy. Whilst I did (and still do) appreciate the music), a big part of its appeal was to stand out, to make myself visible. A regular teenage rite of passage I guess, trying to carve out an identity and not get drowned in the mediocrity of the millions of other people your age. I was lent a Marilyn Manson album by a friend of mine when I was about 14. I was scared to play it. It was "Holy Wood" and had a picture of Marilyn Manson on the cover, jaw missing, imitating Christ. I'd heard a lot about Marilyn Manson, rumours I'm sure everyone had heard - he smoked bones, he had two ribs removed in order to be able to give himself head, he was half man, half woman. It has only recently occurred to me how much of a genius Marilyn Manson is. Whilst I'm sure he isn't the first person to have used PR in this way, what he did, using rumour, mystery and hearsay is impressive, whether you rate his musical ability or not. One only has to look at the video above to see how terrifying this artist can be, if one takes all at face value, and allows one to enter into the fictious nature of it all unquestionably.
I think this is what teenagers are very good at doing - they are passionate, they are dedicated - they believe, perhaps a little naively (although this is perhaps not a bad thing) in what is shown to them. They, not quite adults, not quite children, they hold a unique place in understanding. As a teenager I believed what artists like My Ruin and Marilyn Manson were telling me, and growing up at a time when the internet still hadn't hit us atomically meant I really read into lyrics and images as much as I can. I had limited resources to find out information about those I was devoted to, and yet at the same time my thirst was unquenchable. A good example here was when I heard the Dresden Dolls song 'Half Jack' about a character with gender issues, and automatically assumed that its writer, Amanda Palmer, was also the songs protagonist. I recall presenting my friends with this theory, along with a photo from Kerrang! magazine in which she had declined to shave her armpits - firm proof, my 16 year old logic asserted, that she was in fact, a man. Looking back on this now is laughable, but it is a potent example of what I'm trying to get at.
Ignorance is bliss, as they say. I think in this case, it is certainly true. PR is definitly harder these days. One only has to look at Lady Gaga - her aesthetics draw on similar themes as Bowie et al, yet instead of being celebrated and encouraging intrege, she is dressed down in the press, and mocked for her over the top style. This is the curse of new media - we know everything, we know too much. There is no mystery anymore. Celebrities have no aura, they are Real People. Ordinary People.
Some may argue that this is a good thing - it makes capitalisms job much harder, a more socialist writer may assert. This is perhaps true. We can easily see behind the polished Pussycat Dolls or Heidi Montag by simply visiting a gossip blog and there will no doubt be countless photos of them looking disgustingly average. Disgustingly normal.
Furthermore, we no longer see celebrities as perfect, ethereal creatures. They have spots, they have families. They didn't just appear as fully formed entertainment machines. We could list the numerous advantageous of this (perhaps most notably the ways in which it works against the effect airbrushed images have on the effects of young girls, although its success is questionable), however what we lose is that element of wonder, of magic.
But I want to argue that whilst we may feel like we've gained so much 'more', its important to recognise what we've lost. There'll never been another Marilyn Manson, another Bowie. There just isn't space for mystery in the modern world anymore. If I want to find out if Marilyn Manson really did have his ribs removed, I can Google it and find an interview of him denying it in less than five minutes.
I think this is why, perhaps more recently, we've seen the growth of novel/film adaptation fandom - one only has to look at the Twilight fangirls to see a fairly scary example. Harry Potter similarly, I think, is popular because it is in fiction/film fiction more than ever (as opposed to in music) that teenagers find this mystery to which they are so drawn.
I doubt I speak for the entire teenage population, in fact I doubt I speak for very many, but I do think a fair few will miss out on that excitement, that mystery, that not-knowing which bestowed me with so much joy. I'd know I'd have rather spend a Sunday afternoon discussing the meaning of a My Ruin album in my friend's bedroom than following Ashton Kutcher's tweets.
Note: Whilst I refer to My Ruin and Marilyn Manson in the same breath here, I recognise their differences. Marilyn Manson influenced my life greatly, however I currently find him stale and uninteresting. My Ruin, on the other hand, keep getting stronger and stronger. I am continually amazed at the output of Tairrie and Mick Murphy, and consider them strong, positive influences in my life.