Saturday, February 7, 2009

Jonathan Coulton hang in there!

A minor celebrity named Jonathan Coulton just got interviewed. In the interview he described what it is like being both a fan and a celebrity-- that there is a welcoming in of 'kind' or just because of sameness.

(this is highly edited to take out repetitions and "y'knows")

JoCo: One of the strangest things that has taken a lot of adjusting for me is my increased access to famous people. And this is a weird ancillary benefit to becoming a semi-famous person, is that you, for whatever reason, are sort of in the club.
And it's much easier--I don't know if it's an internal thing--it's just easier for me to approach people, or if it's something in the way I carry myself--but I--*laughing* they recognize me as part of the tribe.
But I've had contact with a number of people that I have been a huge fan of and the contact is not like I get their autograph, it's like we hang out and talk. Y'know? It's really weird.

Q: Any names you want to drop?

JoCo: Yeah, well, I most, the most recent one was is Adam Savage from MythBusters.

Q: Even the Stuff with Neil Gaiman has got to be really strange.

JoCo: Yeah, that's another one. Like Neil Gaiman. Like I--I--*laughs*-- I had drink's with Neil Gaiman...that's crazy! Why do I get to have drinks with Neil Gaiman?

Q: It is kind of funny.

JoCo: Yeah. But it's great. I mean it's--it's fantastic. Because I am a fan of famous people I recognize what happens when people come up to me after a show or at PAX or on the street --wherever. You feel like you've come to know this person because you've consumed their work--you've listened to their music or you've seen them on television or you've read their books or whatever--and you kind of feel like it's kind of a one way relationship at that point, but you really have this desire to make it a two way relationship. I don't mean in a gross way but you want to connect with that person the same way they have maybe even unknowingly connected with you. And unfortunately in an autograph line it's not always possible to make that kind of connection, and so when I get to meet Neil Gaiman because Neil Gaiman happens to have come across some of my stuff and liked it--we have this dorky appreciation moment and then we just talk. And we do get to have the time and the comfort zones that let us just relate to each other as people, and that's totally thrilling.

Our society has tiers with commonfolk (the layer I like to lump everybody in) making up the bulk of it. But the human mind can't stand chaos. It likes to categorize, organize, and find patterns. Within the crowd certain people get named 'leader' or 'unique' in some way. If enough people recognize him/her then I imagine that person is elevated to a higher social status (based on notoriety). And this level is where Jonathan Coulton was when I (actually) got to talk with him in April.

However, there is another social structure at work in our culture, financial wealth. Financial wealth has all sorts of consequences, not the least of which is it's affect on a person's social network. Typically money is associated with things/stuff. The more expensive 'things' a person has, the more money that person has (qed). The highest ranking money level can also afford to have a social 'insulation' layer. Bodyguards, fancy airs, even the stuff: expensive fabrics kept clean saying 'keep your distance'.

People will mimic the wealthy to affect importance. Common people like me go out of their way to buy fancy clothes. "Bling" fashion is one example of this.
Business executives generally have receptionists, if not layers of very tall buildings to socially isolate (and thereby elevate) themselves. Even our country's president has an entourage of bodyguards at all times, both a safety issue and an obvious social pedestal. For the most part people are considerate enough: Fancy clothes, airs, bodyguards? Leave them alone.

And here's where my concern lies: JoCo's fame comes partly from his being approachable. You can drop him a line on the internet and chances are he will read it. However, what if JoCo's fame grows? He won't be able to interface on a direct level anymore. He might eventually have to hire someone to read the e-mails for him,, and choose which ones get through based on merit! This is the level of fame at which you have to know someone to get in. I'm a little worried that if Coulton reaches this level that I may never get to go see him again. His agent will raise ticket prices, and too many other people will want to go, and the fame will carry him away from the reality he knows with only money and his ever diminishing social circle to hang onto...GYAHHH!

Perhaps, however, I am underestimating Jonathan Coulton. Perhaps he got to this level of fame a long time ago, and instead of getting swept away in it, somehow deflected it and remained grounded, recognizing his constituents' need for the illusion of being connected, and using the principle of intermittent rewards so as not to burn himself out on too many commitments.

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