Taking a chance on instant celebrity

Like it or not, this instant-celebrity syndrome doesn’t figure to go away anytime soon. Grandly aided and abetted, as the phenomenon is, by the titanic power of the Internet, we should all by now be resigned to the idea that characters will continue to pop up who, despite the absence of any recognizable bona fides for so-called celebrity status, suddenly seem endowed with what it takes to assault our consciousness every which way.

Why, for instance, simply because of the obligation John McCain had to some right-side extremists, a lame-brained female is actually being thought of (evidently by way too many) in connection with the American presidency? By what stretch does it become the slightest bit rational for Sarah Palin’s name to be linked to leadership of the free world? The instant celebrity of being a presidential contender’s running mate, along with a determination to milk this, long term, for all it’s worth, has seen Palin attain these heights of hero worship that conceivably no one in her circle would have seen coming a mere couple of years ago.

A little buzz is all you need to have going for the notoriety to start feeding on itself. There’s been some stirring recently around the name of Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor, in terms of his establishing the kind of presence that would make him a credible entrant in the 2012 GOP presidential stakes. Contributing largely to this Christie boost, it seems, is the careful packaging of the governor via a torrent of YouTube videos, which could boast some 770,000 views, as noted in a recent New York Times report. Just a year in office, Christie and his team are obviously locked in big time to whatever looks to be a solid instant-celebrity enabler.

One of the latest to invade the popular culture space with a vengeance has been Julian Assange, whose plan of action for his WikiLeaks Web site has precipitated tremors in the upper reaches of government in the U.S. and elsewhere in the international community. However he went about accessing hundreds of thousands of communications among government parties, some of them definitely of a sensitive nature, Assange has reportedly caused some heavy-duty damage control machinery to be rolled out by the likes of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Pentagon and one would imagine, the president himself.

How this pretty boisterous arrival on the scene by Assange will pan out is anybody’s guess, but here in the early going, it’s been anything but smooth sailing. Apart from the presumed satisfaction of making some major names in the administration uncomfortable and, we guess, running for cover, Assange and his crew seem to have been as much forced to play defense as the administration they’ve sought to bring to heel. For one thing, there was an uptick of hacker interest in the site, some of them mounting attacks that caused disruption and compromised the site’s ability to stay online. Reportedly, there were in some instances hints that a sense of patriotism inspired the negative hacker reaction, the feeling being that the WikiLeaks move to make public some of those secret documents was clearly reckless and without regard for how much America’s national security might be jeopardized. To what extent some corporate big guns were similarly motivated by patriotic concerns is not known, but they also rained on Assange’s parade from that quarter, including MasterCard, Visa, Amazon and PayPal. Predictably, withdrawal of support services from these and others put a crimp in WikiLeaks’ works.

One of the more brazen WikiLeaks demonstrations of “don’t give a damn” arrogance was the revealing of information about specific locations around the world that the U.S. considers vital to its national security interests. In this age of al Qaida, chances are even unreconstructed liberals would have a problem with such potentially risky behavior at the public’s expense. Even so, to no one’s surprise, there was counter-reaction by certain cyber activists to the buildup of anti-Assange sentiment. Behold the trappings of cyber warfare!

If identifying those previously mentioned top-secret locations around the globe was brazen, Lord only knows how one characterizes Assange’s call, in a Time magazine interview, for Secretary Clinton to resign. She should in fact do so, he said, “if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations.” Here indeed was smoking-gun evidence that there had to be something seriously the matter with this gadfly wannabe or whatever it is the precocious Australian is up to. From all we can gather, it appeared to hit home to him not at all that Clinton’s staying on, being fired or anything else was no concern of his. Small wonder we would hear, in the midst of Assange’s time in the bright lights, that some key lieutenants of his had earlier left WikiLeaks, citing him as being “autocratic and capricious.”

Of course the Swedish sex crimes allegations that got him thrown into jail in England only underscored that we seem to have a real live one here. Assange’s apparent theory that the role of “leakmaster supreme” was a sure-fire ticket to a lasting romp among the darlings of popular culture may well have gone bust. A cautionary tale, perhaps: Beware the instant-celebrity trap; wrong turns come with this territory, too.