Perils of Microcelebrity


As blogs, Facebook, Twitter and photo sharing sites like Flickr have exponentially increased the ranks of would-be “citizen journalists,” they have also increased the chances each of us has for moments of microcelebrity.

St. PatrickWriter Clive Thompson coined the term “microcelebrity” a few years back to describe the way that DIY (Do It Yourself) media has increased each individual’s chances of “being extremely well known not to millions but to a small group — a thousand people, or maybe only a few dozen. As DIY media reach ever deeper into our lives,” Thompson noted, “it’s happening to more and more of us.”

It’s happened to me a few times, mostly through by Flickr photo site. My latest encounter with microcelebrity was last week when Los Angeles Times writer Rene Lynch emailed to ask if she could use my photo of the statue in front of St. Patrick Church in Stoneham to illustrate a story she was writing for St. Patrick’s Day. Then, on March 17, my photo of the St. Patrick statue appeared, with credit, on the Los Angeles Times web site atop Lynch’s story, Happy St. Patrick’s Day: Six little-known facts about St. Patrick.

US Senator Scott BrownIn early 2010, I got an email from an editor at Boston Magazine. They wanted to use a photo I had taken of then Senator-elect Scott Brown at a rally at the Kowloon in Saugus. I agreed, not knowing which photo they would use of the dozen or so photos I had posted online. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the upscale glossy selected the least flattering of the photos to depict the new Republican senator.

McWank'sBefore that, I achieved a measure of international microcelebrity when Britain’s Guardian newspaper contacted me about a photo I had posted on my Flickr site of a fast-food restaurant I came across in Canada called “McWanks.” They were doing a story on restaurants with funny names, they said, “and your photo would illustrate it brilliantly.”

As I’ve come to realize, there’s a reason that they call it “social” media. People get to make comments.

In the old days, fan mail and hate mail required of the correspondent the investment of a stamp and a trip to the mail box. In the age of social and DIY media, they don’t even have to get dressed. And the more people who see your work, the more people who get to comment on it.

Call it the price of microcelebrity.

As a result of my occasional brushes with virtual fame, I have formulated the following set of policies for dealing with the various forms of communication from those becoming aware of my existence for the first time.

• Polite expressions of admiration are met with a note congratulating the sender on his exquisite taste.

• Anyone asking for money. No response, unless from Nigerian princes.

• Requests to read to elementary school classes. Unequivocal refusal.

• Invitations to tour middle schools. Trash bin.

• Complaints about my latest caustically witty column. A vigorous click of the “Like” button.

• Invitations to “dine for a cause.” Who’s paying?

• Messages from prisons. No response. (Unless it’s a women’s prison, in which case I request a recent photo.)

• Invitations to participate in focus groups. Polite refusal.

• Handwritten letters. No reply unless accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed envelope. (I’m not in this to lose money, after all.)

• Correspondence from dowagers seeking pen pals. Offer to review their investment portfolios.

I think that about covers it. No one said that the life of a microcelebrity was going to be easy.

[This column originally appeared in the March 22, 2012 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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