I'll kick off 2009 with a confession. At this point in my career, I don't have a whole lot of fans. Those fans I do have, I've probably eaten lunch with at some point in 2008. This is not due to a populist streak in my genetic celebrity makeup, but more likely the fact that I'm still at the point where fan = aunt, or somewhere in that relative intimacy of previously established relationship. The ones who don't fall into that category are probably more like "appreciators." They don't dictate my moves yet.
This is why I can write this column now and get it out of the way, because when I do get the call from Brass Ring Inc., I'm going to go all Vanilla Ice on you and completely rewrite my past. The somewhat serene lower-middle-class streets I grew up on will become harder and more gun-ridden. I plan on referring to myself in the third person at times, but I won't make up a nickname for myself, like Joe Daddy or StarJoey.
That's a promise. From me to you.
But for right now, I can speculate a little bit on the price of fame without sounding like one of those celebrities who doesn't want their picture taken unless they're on a red carpet and/or adopting something.
This is a bad time to have fans.
I know that sounds a little hyperbolic, but the math is starting to add up in trendville:
1) Too much fame. The fragmentation of the entertainment industry has brought about more and more channels of delivery, lowering the barriers to fame across all industries.
2) Too much access. The emergence of the Internet, especially the social Internet (i.e. us) has created a critical measure to essentially replace a media that wasn't doing it's job anyway
3) Too much risk aversion. A toxic economy has exacerbated a process by which a couple bad reviews mean no more work, unless you're Eddie Murphy.
Add it all up and you wind up with more people getting famous quicker for the wrong reasons, creating vast quantities of cynicism in the entertainment buying public, who then loudly eviscerate anyone who makes any misstep, creating seas of instant negative buzz, which causes the whole entertainment universe to be negatively reinforced into putting forth nothing but the safest, blandest, and most readily consumable product possible.
This is how Marley and Me got made with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston and not Corey Haim and Bridgette Nielsen.
Again, the dots here are kind of hard to connect. How does lonelygirl15's meteoric rise and subsequent disappearance explain how Jim Carrey winds up eschewing films like Eternal Sunshine for Liar Liar 2, I mean Yes Man?
Butterfly flapping its wings, right?
Sort of. I can prove this theorem but the problem with doing so within the realm of celebrity is that those folks are always going that extra mile in the disintegration marathon. Like I could point to Tom Cruise, who just a few years ago was the box office king, and note that all it took was one crazy couch-hopping session on national television to bring him down and prevent him from being able to take the kinds of risks that put him at the top in the first place. But there are several holes there:
1) It wasn't just the couch-hopping. It was the Matt Lauering, the Scientoliging, and a whole fistful of random crazy.
2) Valkyrie was a huge risk, but it also stank.
3) Despite all his box office draw, his riskiest work to date remains Cocktail.
I kid. That Dustin Hoffman movie where no one remembers anything about it except the Wapner and fart stuff was pretty good too. But I'll tell you this, if dude can get Riskier Business greenlighted, expect it in 2010.
So if you want a crystal clear sign that the fans are getting restless, look no further than the pinnacle of fan power at this very moment in time: The NFL.
I can make this connection for a couple solid reasons. The NFL has not-so-quietly become a juggernaut in entertainment -- just as big as television, movies, music, you name it. Sure, baseball has its historical cred, albeit perpetually asterisked, the NBA has serious name draw now that the thuggery has taken a backseat, and they still play hockey in certain cities like Nashville and San Jose, but what tops the Nielsens every year?
Also, the same factors that drive notoriety and downfall can be found in, oddly enough, coaching.
1) Too much fame. We know too many coaches' names, and also know that some of them have been hired or at least interviewed for nothing more than managing a Dairy Queen really well.
2) Too much access. Again with the Internet, but throw in call-in radio, an endless boom in the "analyst" position, and the emotional investment brought about by fantasy football. Did you see those "Had a Bad Day" commercials over the holidays? Those weren't actors.
3) Too much risk aversion. Parity has turned the famous phrase "We play to win the game" into "We play to not get beaten by double digits at home on national television."
Only the result here is that too many coaches are getting fired for reasons that are only tangentially related to coaching and more related to winning. Kiffin, Linehan, Crennel, Marinelli... OK. Mangini and Shanahan? How about a +5 in the win column? What about 2 Superbowl rings and more respect than a don - and I don't mean Shula (or maybe I do).
I know what you're thinking. Even the die-hard football fan doesn't shed too many tears for these coaches, who aren't making Will Smith or even Peyton Manning money but are in the millions nonetheless.
The fallout comes in those moments when risk is what wins the day, makes the game worth watching, makes the product worth making. Consider back in 2001, when New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe goes down for the season. In an environment where the fans have their fingers on the triggers, does Bill Belichick heed the calls to sign a solid, proven, veteran who can carry them safely into the playoffs? Or does he turn to sixth-round draft pick Tom Brady and hang with him while his passer rating stays below 80?
And if the Patriots hadn't won a whole bunch of Superbowls shortly after, do you think Belichick might be wearing that tattered hoodie with his apron on the floor of Home Depot?
We kind of hope so, right?
That's the thing. Fandom, even rabid, histrionic fandom, is not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps things, as the kids say, "real." The problem is two-fold.
First of all, those who look to create fans usually lose their understanding of what fandom means somewhere in the, I don't know, 100,000 fan range. That number might be off. Like I said, I don't have a whole lot of fans, so I'm going off of Rock Band and when I'm willing to risk "Gimme Shelter" on hard instead of medium.
But more importantly, we've become the kind of fan who will burn down the whole operation if they push us too far.
"Heroes is the greatest television show ever made!"
"OH MY GOD! When are they going to kill Maya and make Mohinder a little less stupid and Hiro is a ten-year-old (really?) and does Claire have to be the answer for everything and why doesn't anyone chop Sylar into little pieces when they get the chance and will someone please get ALI LARTER TO CLOSE HER DAMN MOUTH?"
And then we wind up with a season full of... are you ready for this?...
Fears, Regrets, Desires
Howie Do It
Superstars of Dance
And that's just NBC.
And that's just during the 10 hours of primetime that isn't a Jay Leno talk show.
And there's a drama called Merlin. And it's about that Merlin. Only also kind of like 90210.
Ah, it appears they've already found the solution. When you want to avoid the fickle nature of fans, you simply toss out a schedule full product that no one would ever admit to being a fan of in the first place.
So those of you who call yourself fans, you might want to give a little leeway and hold dear those things you love in 2009. And you famous people, take a risk now and then. You may wind up making this year's Slumdog Millionaire. Worst case, when you wind up on your C-List reality show, you won't have to talk about "that dog movie" over and over again.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
1.2.09 @ 8:26a
"Merlin" can be 2009's "Bionic Woman." But...it DOES have Anthony Stewart Head as Giles...I mean...Uther Pendragon.
Did you say something about football?
1.6.09 @ 8:20a
Is there a great quarterback Tom Cruise can play? That might do it.
1.7.09 @ 5:21p
Um, isn't it the Super Bowl? Two words?
1.9.09 @ 9:00a
No, Mike, it isn't. It is correctly written only as "Superbowl." I done spoke. We (that's the royal we) don't want to waste another capital letter on it, since we only have so many of them to last a lifetime. It's like possessive "its," we don't want to waste apostrophes either.