There’s a character in William Gibson’s Idoru who’s a world famous celebrity, yet is not, in actuality, a real person. Instead, the celebrity is a computer-generated “virtual” character – a being specifically designed and manufactured for the purpose of celebrityhood. Through good marketing, the character is successful and the Idoru does capture the imagination of the people well enough to be treated as a real live celebrity - which, of course, it is not.
Fame is like that these days – purchasable and no longer necessarily related to any sort of reality. Traditionally, the famous had acquired their status through noble birth or through actions which carried large social consequences. At least, that was generally true. Think of your Charles Lindberg or Henry VIII. Think of Prince Charles and Cleopatra. In the States, our own celebrities have generally been entertainers who through great success in their field have touched their viewers or listeners.
Since the early 80s (I believe), Angelyne has purchased fame in Los Angeles and beyond (particularly Germany for some odd reason). Her billboards, of which there have numbered in the thousands over the years, have made her a strange new type of celebrity – the kind who is famous for no other reason than for that of being famous – the kind you really know nothing about. Almost everyone in Los Angeles seems to know who Angelyne is and everyone’s heard a different theory as to who she is, how the billboards are payed for and why the hell all of this is being done. Very few have even claimed to have actually seen her. I’ve seen her pink corvette several times. It helps, because otherwise I’d have no particular reason to believe that Angelyne, unlike the Idoru, is, in fact, a real live person.
How easy would she have been to fake? Rediculously easy: just find unknown/disposable model, snap a few pictures of her, and you're set to go.". Of course, today it’d be as easy as just throwing a bunch of bodies into Photoshop and creating a nearly undetectable (to the normal human eye) combination, which would look like a real person, but would not represent any real living being. Even back in the early 80s, though, it would’ve been simple enough to make a few alterations to some photographs or even just hire any ole nobody to pose for the posters themselves. The point is, there was no necessary reason for there to be a real Anglyne for Angelyne to become and exist as a celebrity.
Angelyne’s posters have evolved from the bleached-blond California rocker-slut of the early 80s, to, well… cartoons. Apparently, Angelyne is now too old and wrinkly to pose for her own posters, so her photos have been replaced with a cartoon drawing. She is now represented as a cartoon simulacrum, which is truly bizarre. At the bottom, as always, is the number of her agent, since the poster claims that she acts and models. I did see her used in a catalog by a local Chevy dealer to advertise their corvettes, and they’ve given her a pink corvette (pink’s her color) to drive around in, serving as a roaving celebrity billboard. She also graced the pages of an IKEA catalog in Los Angeles. Have there been other cameos, modeling or acting jobs? None that I know of. I have yet to watch this woman move a muscle or speak a word, yet she’s one of the most famous people in my town. Famous for being famous. And since she, personally, has to do nothing to maintain her fame, she could die in a stampede tomorrow, but her public personality could live on. Every couple of years a new cartoon poster would replace the old. No one would be the wiser. No one would know that this “person” simply does not exist.
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I was told by the editor of gonzo.org, the net’s largest Hunter S. Thompson archive, that a rumor was floating around that Asterisk, one of our new contributing writers, was in fact, none other than HST himself. And who is Asterisk? Well, he identified himself as “howard roark” in his initial submission to us… I couldn’t tell ya if the Fountainhead reference was sarcastic or not, but I can tell you that I don’t know his real name. That is to say, he never gave me one – though, even if he had, how would I know that this was really his name? This is the nature of the Internet – the beauty of anonymity, which can go such a long way if it’s well planned.
Asterisk, who told me that this name, which he wrote under, has indeed become his legal name, didn’t do very much to clear the air. He denied being HST, though he insisted on complete confidentiality in all email transmissions, and never did give me any specific reason to believe he really was some other person. Though, come to think of it, it would’ve been easy enough for him to send me a picture of anyone else and claim that that was his and that his name was… oh, lets say, Mark Smith… that would’ve pretty much done it for me….
Is this really HST? Was it an attempt at capturing attention by Asterisk himself? Was it just a random rumor that somehow got started in the normal way that rumors do? How the hell are we supposed to know? And that’s the “beauty” of today’s media/communication – a character can be created anonymously and manipulated in such a way that it becomes to be regarded as a real person when in reality it’s nothing more than a simulacra.
Of the 3 options above, well, I’d be honored if for some reason Hunter Thompson decided to use underground.net as a vehicle for accessing the underground community in a way which strips the readers of their preconceptions of the writer. Still, I’d be a lot more excited if Asterisk is just a tag name for one Victoria Tilberton in Oklahoma, who through manipulation of the methods of communication at her disposal, has created out of the thin air of her imagination, a male writer figure and, on top of that, one that is potentially a pre-existing celebrity – all this for the creation a bit of celebritydom. You don’t even have to pay for it anymore. This is how easy it is. You just gotta make sure that you do it with enough style to get away with it.
And just who is Asterisk and why is he telling us about placing bets on school shootings with an oddball Indian? And why is he preparing to submit articles detailing his camaraderie with Keith Richards and certain members of Tool? Maybe he’ll tell us and maybe he won’t. Or maybe he’ll tell us, and that confession itself may be nothing more than a little more creative fiction from the Dr. himself. The truth is definitely “out there” (what a strange term), but its probably one that us – the audience at a distance – will never know.