This is going to be a little bit of a longer read, and for that I apologize. There’s just a lot to discuss.
The Downside to Internet Fame
This has been a topic on my mind a lot lately, especially over the recent Phil Fish controversy. In a lot of ways I find myself in the same shoes as Phil. My “reputation” online is not a very good one, and it often precedes me. No matter what website I go to, if I make an account and comment anywhere on the internet... those that dislike me will find me and make their presence known.
Part of the problem with being “famous” on the internet is that if you want to have a semblance of a normal life again, you essentially have to give up EVERYTHING that everyone else online takes for granted. I essentially have to give up twitter, Facebook, tumblr, DA, Pinterest, SA, YouTube, and pretty much any other website where I’m allowed to have a presence.
If I comment on someone else’s art, I risk bringing the haters to their work and starting a fight with me just because I commented. Anything I say or do, no matter if I later regret it, or said something out of anger or gut reaction, will be recorded via screen caps and posted on hate blogs for “posterity.” Going to conventions means opening myself up to the possibility of being physically attacked, verbally abused, or to have my image photographed or recorded to be used in mocking “parody” responses. Doing livestream sessions where I draw tend to get hopelessly overrun with trolls in the chat sections. Even when I don’t try to interact with anyone at all, people go out of their way to send me links to hate blogs, parody art, and response videos about me.
I really can’t... DO anything online without expecting some sort of backlash, and I imagine that for a good majority of people who use the internet, these are not concerns that they have to worry about at all. To have a normal life again, I would essentially have to give up everything that makes life normal now for everyone else.
And it’s not like I’m TRYING to force myself into people’s homes. I have no PR help. I have no one else but me to account for. I primarily post on my journal here on DA, and occasionally make quips over on twitter. I post my comics on DA and on my websites, and to my Facebook pages... and that’s about it. I honestly don’t do anything else to promote myself. The vast majority of my “reputation” wasn’t earned through hard work or kick-ass artwork... but because some people disliked what I said or did and decided to bestow lavish amounts of hateful attention on me. I never asked for this sort of “fame.” It was never a goal for me.
The Upside of Internet Fame
All that said, however, there have been positives to being “famous.” I’ve met a lot of really amazing artists I normally wouldn’t have been able to meet. I’ve had the opportunity to work on collaborations with people I admire and respect. I was given the opportunity to travel to another country to promote my work. And while there is clearly a vocal minority of people who scream as loud as they can on my work, I have a very dedicated group of fans who support me silently from the sidelines and who sometimes send me lovely thoughtful notes and messages.
A lot of the times the messages I get are about how they were having a shitty day and seeing my comics pop up helped them cheer up and get through it. I’ve had a couple notes from people who said that they read my work because it makes them happy and it gives them hope that they too can make art and gain a following one day as well. 9 times out of 10 I’m so use to getting hateful messages that these genuinely positive ones take me back and I don’t know how to respond to them. They are the reasons I keep making artwork and sticking through the worse the internet has to offer.
On the Expectations of Being Famous
One of the things I dislike about being famous on the internet is the impossibly high level of expectations that people have of you. It can be downright frustrating at times being held back by these perceived ideas of who you “actually” are as a person. Any small slip-up can come back to haunt you, and I’m still facing repercussions for stupid things I did over a decade ago when I was less experienced and able to manage my temper. A bad word choice can be nitpicked to death and become the sole reason why you should “never be taken seriously” as a person. Likewise, the expectation that EVERYTHING you produce MUST be of a certain high-standard level of quality all the time. The belief being that your sole purpose is to produce high rates of FREE artwork for the criticism and benefit of everyone else around you. And so on...
But the truth of the matter is that I (and many others in my situation) am just a person. Prone to the same mistakes, hiccups, and brain-farts as everyone else. I make comics and art because I enjoy doing it. Sometimes I just wanna throw together some stupid doodles and post them, but I often refrain from doing so because I fear people will attack me for “not putting effort” into my artwork if I did.
Many of the expectations people have are an even higher level than most professionals actually working in the field... yet they tell me I’m clearly not a professional and am only an amateur. If I’m just an amateur, why hold me up to such lofty expectations? Why am I not allowed to have FUN making my art and posting shitty doodles and jokes whenever I want? Why must everything I produce be demanded to be at some absurd level of skill that I haven’t reached?
I’ve been pondering this over recently not only because a recent batch of comics with mere “suggestions” on things to do in comics has blown up into a hot topic kerfuffle, but because I’ve been seeing the way the internet reacts to internet personas “becoming famous.” John Green (the Fault in Our Stars) has a movie based on his book out in theaters now. Watching him go through the struggles of being a YouTube celebrity to a “mainstream” celebrity is fascinating... and a little scary. People are demanding he act and respond a certain way just because of a movie that he didn’t have any say on came out. He’s even mentioned several times that although he got paid for the movie rights, he was not paid a cent for the production of the movie, and he won’t be getting any of the ticket sales from the movie either. He is still the same person he was before the movie came out... but the internet is treating him a lot differently.
It kinda scares me to a degree. If that’s the sort of stuff one can expect to have to deal with just because they’re “famous” then I don’t want that responsibility. I don’t want to be in the public eye so much. I share about my life (and even then I censor what I share quite a LOT) because I think my fans would be interested in hearing what’s going on with me. I do not do it to “gain attention.” Frankly I don’t really WANT that sort of attention anyway. I make comics and talk about my political beliefs because I want my voice to be heard and I want things to change for the better.
More or Less
It’s times like this when I’m pondering about Internet Fame that I am reminded of this quote by the aforementioned John Green:
“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”
~ John Green
His book, Paper Towns, deals so much on how people project their own ideals and beliefs onto other people and how very dangerous that can be. Much like how people assume they know everything about Phil Fish’s personality from just watching a documentary. You’re only seeing a piece of a puzzle. One where the final piece that fits everything together is not accessible except to those closest to them. No matter how much I talk online about stuff, no one really knows me as a person except those whom I’ve allowed to get close and be my friends.
Some people deal with Internet Fame better than others. Some people are able to brush off negative comments and focus a lot on their fans. Others, like me, have a more difficult time doing so. Sometimes I just wish that I could just ignore the haters and not focus so much time and energy internalizing their hateful rhetoric. Maybe I’m too empathetic? Maybe it’s because I was bullied as a kid that I’ve developed a desire for people to listen to me and be taken seriously?
My experience with internet Fame hasn’t always been positive, but it has had it’s ups and downs. As the old song goes:
I'm inclined to believe
If we weren't so down
We'd up and leave
We'd up and fly if we had wings for flyin'
Can't you see the tears we're cryin'?
Can't there be some happiness for me?
That’s pretty much all I have to say on the matter right now. Like I said, it’s been a topic that’s been on my mind for a while and with every rage-filled backlash flareup that I endure, I think about this subject a great deal. Weather it’s really worth the frustration or not.
What about all of you? What’re your thoughts on the subject of internet fame? Do you notice yourself or others treating other people differently if they start becoming more famous? Should famous people be upheld to high standards, even if they never anticipated being famous or wanted exposure? Please let me hear what y’all have to say on this subject, I’m curious.