What should we do when everyone can be famous?
As the Internet makes more and more ordinary people famous, where to draw the line between honest intent and exploitation for profit?Fame in the era of social-media-driven Internet does not come overnight - it arrives even faster than that. In addition, today's kind of fame materialises like lottery wins being announced around the clock. The difference is that anyone can "hit the jackpot", whether they like it or not. A family video on YouTube can go viral almost instantly. A binge recorded for Facebook friends can spread like wildfire in a third country. A boy's rant about school affairs can make the front pages for days.
It seems that the very nature of fame is changing. In an age when anyone can become famous, it's hard to keep track. Today's celebrity, therefore, can easily become tomorrow's nobody. This is good in a way because it keeps everyone on his toes. "Charlie" can live a normal life, although his biting of his elder brother's finger was watched and adored by hundreds of millions of viewers, some repeatedly.
No matter how "tricky" fame has become, the parents of Nong Dylan are not taking any chances. The half-Thai toddler who lives in the UK has earned the status of YouTube sensation after being filmed rattling off the Thai alphabet the way Thai children do. The video, meant for relatives across the world, is Thailand's talk of the town. Parodies have been made. A comedian has impersonated the boy. Advertisers are hovering.
Dylan's father, Peter Hall, said he and his wife would do their best to keep him safe from the clutches of advertisers. It's largely about privacy, but it's also about the essence of life that the couple wants to teach Dylan. His parents "see a difference in him getting publicity for being himself and in getting publicity for being forced to do something". They won't let him appear in TV a commercial unless he wants to and is old enough to understand what it means.
Everyone knows what a "flash in the pan" is. But when millions witness the flash in the pan, or hundreds of millions, one can easily get carried away. Internet success can be a springboard to something bigger and more solid, but it can also be deceptive. The jackpot can be genuine, as one plain-looking Korean entertainer - overweight, approaching middle age but now staging concerts around the world - can testify. Or it can be just an illusion that looks real for a few days.
Unknowingly, Nong Dylan has advertised himself by being himself, albeit with a little prompting from his mum. Like Psy, the South Korean performer of the "Gangnam Style" dance, he had no idea that the world would go crazy about it. It was "art for art's sake", and the Internet helped make sure that the rest would take care of itself.
Commercialising Nong Dylan's appeal is totally the opposite of what was intended. You can bombard viewers by placing a product before their eyes at every step, but this is an era in which ingenuity has to go toe to toe with profit-driven make-believe. In the past they said no one could stay famous forever. Today they say no one can monopolise fame.
Maybe the Internet is teaching us lessons about popularity. Nong Dylan is now famous simply for being himself, while the old school of advertising - or conventional advertising, to be exact - requires so much external tinkering, in effect a total facelift. The latter is still working, but it's no longer the only way that works.
Nong Dylan has earned himself one type of fame and his parents will try to keep him from the other. This kind of decision is not new, and will become even more commonplace in today's world. The crossroads, where one has to decide when to put a lid on "popularity", are everywhere, showing up like round-the-clock lottery results.