Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Small Town Blues

I live in a strange small town, the City of Santa Monica, where the median income is higher than that of Beverly Hills, and the Green Party is always represented on the City Council. Our proximity to major outposts of the largest hubs of the entertainment industry and significant nodes in e-commerce, the videogame business, and the digital arts more generally is unusual, particularly given the compact geography in which I can walk to the home of any of my fellow residents in less than thirty minutes.

It seems that our younger citizens have also been grabbing headlines because of their Internet practices, first as digitally insubordinate students and now as junior Internet celebrities. This weekend, The Los Angeles Times Magazine did a cover story on "The Secret Life of Cory Kennedy" that details how a sixteen-year-old girl who lives a few blocks away achieved fame and infamy via her MySpace page, YouTube music video, and other electronic social networks. (In the video, which has been viewed over 100,000 times on different pages, Cory is shown multitasking -- eating dinner while nodding along to the tune on her iPod; think LonelyGirl15 meets NumaNuma guy.)

If it's hard to characterize, it may be because hers is a dispatch from uncharted cultural waters. Never before have media, technology and celebrity collided with adolescence at such warp speed. Never before has it been so easy for, say, a middle-class kid with a curfew and no driver's license to rise to international fame almost without her parents' knowledge.

Put it this way: By the time Cory Kennedy's mother realized that her child had become, in the words of Gawker.com, an "Internet It Girl," the Web was riddled with photos of Cory posing, eating, dancing, shopping, romping at the beach, looking pensive and French-kissing one of the (adult) members of the rock band the Kings of Leon. She had European fan sites. She had thousands of people signing on to her MySpace pages. She had fashion bloggers dissecting her wardrobe

In general, unlike some other mothers on MySpace, I don't snoop on my child's Internet life. But I do know that my own teenage son, as his profile photo, has a picture of himself with the cover girl's sister . . . well, half this girl's sister, because if you are a teen not actually dating someone you don't want people to get the wrong non-ironic idea. So this story comes quite literally close to home, within a few blocks, at a house where I've dropped my kid off to spend the afternoon or evening. But I wonder how teenage boys are expected to compete in this hothouse electronic environment, when teenage girls are such a valuable Internet commodity.

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