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The Microfame Game

There’s a new class of celebrity powered by the Internet. The stakes are smaller, but the rewards are within anyone’s reach. These are the rules.

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I moved to New York City a mere six months ago, expecting an anonymous existence while I struggled to make new friends. Things moved quickly, starting with my very first night out.

"I know you," said some scruffy guy who accosted me at the Magician, that Lower East Side bar overfrequented by bloggers. "You're the guy who Garrison Keillor tried to sue."

That happens to be true. A few years back I launched a T-shirt line with ironic slogans. One parodic shirt in particular apparently raised the ire of the Lake Wobegon creator: "Prairie Ho Companion." It seemed funny to me, but a micro-scandal ensued when the cease-and-desist for trademark infringement arrived from Keillor's lawyer. It created a silly blip on the Internet that day, followed by a couple of afternoons of online mayhem, as the story was picked up by Drudge, then Sullivan, then Kos, then Huffington. And then the mainstream media started to call.

My blog was suddenly, and briefly, a big deal.

This isn't rare. Many people have had moments like this, to greater or lesser degrees. Maybe your college band had a surprise radio hit, or your random blog comment launched a New York Times feature story, or you became a contestant on a reality show about bachelorhood, or you accidentally married Charlie Sheen.

Whatever it was, it wasn't exactly fame. It was more like microfame. But though I was content to let the moment pass, countless other people are trying to manufacture microfame, over and over again, to various ends—be it a book deal, a reality show, or just the simple ego gratification of having a lot of Facebook friends.

It's easy to be cynical about this new class of celebrity. The lines between empowerment and self-promotion, between sharing and oversharing, between community and cliques, can be blurry. You can judge for yourself whether the following microcelebs represent naked ambition, talent justly discovered, or genius marketing. The point is that renown is no longer the exclusive province of a select few. Nano-celebrity is there for the taking, if you really want it.


The Networked Celebrity

When we say "microfamous," our inclination is to imagine a smaller form of celebrity, a lower life-form striving to become a mammal—the macrofamous or suprafamous, perhaps. But microfame is its own distinct species of celebrity, one in which both the subject and the "fans" participate directly in the celebrity's creation. Microfame extends beyond a creator's body of work to include a community that leaves comments, publishes reaction videos, sends e-mails, and builds Internet reputations with links.

Where traditional fame was steeped in class envy on the part of the audience and alienation on the part of the celebrity, microfame closes the gap between devotee and celebrity. It feels like a step toward equality. You can become Facebook friends with the microfamous; you can start IM sessions with them. You can love them and hate them at much closer proximity. And you can just as easily begin to cultivate your own set of admirers. Though an element of luck often plays a role in achieving traditional fame, microfame is practically a science. It is attainable like running a marathon or acing the LSAT. All you need is a road map.


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