April 18th, 2008


Anne Other

As we've seen here (often), one of the things the internet allows us to do is to self-mediate. If I want to present myself as Paris Hilton, it's up to me. I go, girl!

Self-mediation is still virtuous in other media -- check this documentary about 1920s "It Girl" Clara Bow, known for her personality more than her beauty, and praised (especially by her contemporary Louise Brooks) for putting lots of her own "business" into her films; flipping up the tail of a toy dog in one scene, sprawling right across the boss' desk in another:

Though still virtuous in film or television, self-mediation in these big, scripted, collective, centralised media is difficult. Someone makes you up, someone else lights your shot, someone else again wrote the script. There are people responsible for interpreting your physical presence, and they're professionals. That means they mostly make you look like everyone else on TV. Sometimes it means they make you look really bad, too. After all, they don't know your Achilles heels as well as you do, your good and bad points.

Magibon, the vlogging superstar, the semi-silent "it girl" of the roaring Web 2.0ies, recently discovered this to her cost... in Japan.

Magibon established her brand and her legend at home, tilting enormous blepharoplastic eyes up at her wideangle webcam. Her genius was to reduce blogging to a pure minimalism of raw cuteness. On her vlog, Magibon speaks elementary Japanese, gestures, impersonates a manga character, lets the visual-cultural dialectic between her super-childish face and her big breasts set up its own disturbing resonances, or simply does what she does best: nothing. Here she is doing nothing with a fan. Here she's doing nothing with an empathetic look. This is nothing sideways and this is nothing pulling faces. And here's the original nothing -- Magibon doing nothing wearing a Real Thing t-shirt. Not since the 20s has silence been so potent a star-making device.

Earlier this month, Magibon achieved a longstanding ambition -- she visited Japan. She did so at the expense of a television company (which is odd, since for months Magibon has been collecting donations from her YouTube fans to make a trip of her own). The price she had to pay was an appearance in a Japanese television studio, using their lights and angles rather than her own. In other words, Magibon got to see the magic land of her dreams only on condition that she waive the power of her own control over her own image. She got to see the land of magic on the condition of losing some of her own.

The result was a self-mediator's disaster. A Magibon -- absolutely mortified by adolescent body-consciousness, and covering her face with her hands -- emerged who looked quite unlike the It Girl her fans were used to. This Magibon was baggy-eyed, lantern-jawed and tombstone-toothed, a sort of spinster librarian rather than the sylph-like manga sex fairy we knew. Television had transformed the IT-age it girl into plain old Anne Other.

There's a lesson for us all in there. You know me, here, as Momus Hilton, glamour tart, thinking woman's crumpet. But were I ever to appear on Japanese television (and I won't, I promise you I won't) you'd see quite a different me: a 48 year-old Nosferatu with thinning yellow hair and horribly yellow teeth. I'd lose my glamorous art and style press columns, my book and record deals, overnight. The Nick Carrie Bradshaw of postmodern self-mediation would emerge, under the pitiless glare of the studio lights, as a living nightmare: Nick Carrie.