News, — September 2, 2011 10:41 — 0 Comments
Back in the day, when YouTube was a mere flicker on the monitor screen, Chris Crocker was one of the first ‘vloggers’, and it made him one of the first internet superstars, but what happened next?
When Chris Crocker invited the world to stop and watch him while he blinked twice it might not have sounded like the most inviting offer. But Crocker’s early video, posted on YouTube on 17 March 2008, was seen a million times within 48 hours and went on to clock up more than 7m hits in the months that followed.
Crocker, one of small but growing band of internet superstars, made his short film, Watch Chris Crocker Blink, to illustrate a point. He may have been unaware at the time of Andy Warhol’s prediction about the future of celebrity, but the flamboyant American teenager, who sees himself as an internet artist, was demonstrating just how magnetic fame can be. “I only need to blink to get the [number of] views I do,” he explained. And so it proved.
Now 24-year-old Crocker, real name Christopher Cunningham, has handed over the camera to a duo of documentary makers who are charting his rise from cult status to genuine internet fame to let it stand as an emblem of the strange new internet age of global communication. Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch are raising money to make Me At The Zoo. Their film, which takes its name from the first ever clip on YouTube and numbers REM frontman Michael Stipe among its executive producers, is intended to show how the web can both expose personality and disguise it.
“There is a whole generation that is coming of age at this time who are able to share their life experiences with a totally unseen public through the internet,” says Mourkarbel. “Chris wasn’t able to find a real peer group in the physical world around him. In the past, before the internet, he would have probably have moved into the city in his teens to try to survive within some subculture, but the subculture he has found on line means he has been able to stay at home where he is, and anyway that subculture is now the mainstream.”
Crocker began posting films he made alone in his bedroom in the Tennessee “Bible Belt” when he found himself marooned at home after a period of sustained bullying at school. Adopting a camp, outrageous personality for his online performances, he danced and screamed, talked about his homosexuality and even promoted the idea of an amnesty on swear words for the young in a video blog titled “Kids SHOULD Cuss”, swiftly gaining a cult following. But it was his notorious Britney video blog, or ”vlog”, posted almost four years ago, that shot his name up into the cyber stratosphere.
Common advice to fledgling vloggers in the early days was to brush up on unlikely skills such as lip-synching, burping or gurning; Crocker, however, got there by the neat trick of simply revealing how he felt. Using the fake intimacy of a webcam broadcast, he expressed his deep frustration with the press and music industry for the way they were hounding Britney Spears during her breakdown.
His emotional posting, Leave Britney Alone, which culminates in an outburst of eye-liner-blurring tears, is now one of the most-viewed rants in human history with more than 40m hits to date. “All you people want is more, more, more, more!” he screeches. “You are lucky she even performs for you! Anyone who has a problem with her, you deal with me because she is not well right now!”
Since that day Crocker has had to defend his authenticity many times. This weekend he says he sees the documentary about him as a way of responding. “It will be an answer to all those people who questioned if it was all genuine,” he says. When it comes to Britney’s plight, he still believes that once she dropped her “plastic doll-like” image and tried to live “an average life” the media and show business industry turned on her.
In that original Britney posting Crocker lashed out at those who had criticised her onstage performance at the 2007 MTV video music awards. Still one of the most discussed video blogs of all time on the YouTube site, the notoriety it brought Crocker saw him invited on to news networks such as CNN and Fox News and interviewed on The Today Show and The Howard Stern Show. He also earned mentions on top-rated chat shows and was satirised by actor Seth Green, who applied eyeliner and urged the public to ”Leave Chris Crocker alone!”.
Initially, Crocker says, he separated his online personality from the teenager he was the rest of the time: “I saw Chris Crocker as an outrageous, bitchy side of me. But the two people sort of joined together when I started being more honest.”
Now he is preparing to let Moukarbel and Veatch present a fresh version of this troubled performer. He knows he is part of the way they plan to explain the impact of changing technology on young people. “That is the most vulnerable thing about this film. Until now I have been in control of what I show, if not of how I am perceived. But I feel like this documentary is going to give me a chance to be less of a cartoon character, to show a more rounded person. I have always said I can only catch so much of myself by holding my digital camera out in front with my own arms.”
He hopes, too, that the film-makers will show how his emotional reaction to Britney’s meltdown was prompted by sadness over his own mother: “When I made that Britney video my mother was homeless through her drug use. It was at the height of her meth addiction so, because I saw my mother go through a lot of things like that, I felt I was speaking up for women that people give up on.”
Crocker’s grandparents have raised him since his mother gave birth to him in her mid-teens, he says: “They are really old-school religious, Pentecostal in fact, so they are in conflict with my liberalism. It has been difficult for them because a lot of what I do, people think is a reflection on them.”
Now, at least, their shame at their grandson’s explicit online contributions is reaping some reward. Crocker earns what he describes as a ”comfortable” living from his cut of YouTube profits through their Partnership Programme. “I don’t have a clue what I would have done without the internet. It is where I have found a job and an audience,” he says, adding that he is “honoured” that Stipe is supportive. “He is a genius and what he does is so different to what I do, but he still gets it. So many people have written me off as a joke.”
Crocker also makes music and has released several tracks, the latest of which, The First Bite, was released digitally on iTunes on 19 March 19 and has made number two in the electronic charts, he says.
Moukarbel and Veatch are appealing for extra funding to finish their film on the internet site Kickstarter, partly as a way of interacting with Crocker’s millions of fans. “It is a great way for a project like this to reach them and get them involved,” Moukarbel says. “We have a week and a half to go to reach the target and I think things usually pick up again at the end of the time.”
The film will look at Crocker’s early life then at the way that, unlike most vloggers, he became a celebrity. “We want to know what it is like to wake up every day and have tons of hate mail and threats from people he’s never met. It happened to Chris at a time when there was no precedent for that, so he was a whipping boy in many ways.”
The idiosyncratic internet star thinks he is now tough enough to ignore the insults. “It is just an extension of what I had at school,” he says. “I was made fun of in kindergarten when I brought in Barbies for ’show and tell’, so this is the same. I worry that other young people don’t know what they are getting themselves into though, when they just post things about what they are doing in their day then receive posts telling them that they are ugly and fat and should kill themselves. It is not a place for someone who is insecure.”
Although the documentary will tell a bleak story of teenage loneliness, it will also celebrate what Moukarbel calls Crocker’s “raw courage”. “He has lived his whole life in this unfiltered way now and he is symbolic of something. He is not interested in the fame really, it is a side product of what he really wants, which is to connect.”
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