To become famous, you used to have to shoot for the stars -- but not anymore. Now all you need to shoot are a couple of naughty photos or a random act of violence, post them on the Internet, and 80,000 hits later, you've go t… fame.
More than 70,000 new videos get posted every day on YouTube.com alone. One of the most recent rise-to-fame stories is that of Adam Schleichkorn, self-proclaimed inventor of the sport of "fence plowing."
The Rise of 'Fence Plowing'
Schleichkorn was visiting family in Florida, happened to see a fence in the post-hurricane aftermath, and thought, "We could run right through it." And run right through it they did.
The "first guy runs through -- just barrels through," he said. "The second guy, my cousin John, gave up halfway, got stuck midway through. I think that was another twist to the comedic aspect."
Their horseplay on Schleichkorn's family's property was initially meant to be seen by a list of maybe 30 friends, but those 30 friends sent it to their friends, and so on. At one point, he retitled his video from "Guy Runs Through a Fence" to "Fence Plowing," garnering thousands more hits on YouTube.com.
It wasn't long before Schleichkorn and his cronies were being mimicked by other boys who saw their video. The difference is, those boys crossed the line between horseplay and public vandalism, resulting in their arrest.
"It really took off around the end of January, when the five kids in Deer Park [N.Y.] got arrested," Schleichkorn said. "They were basically copying my video. … They were doing it to public property, to property not owned by them. I was doing it on my cousin's property and of course … I really have to put it out there: I really don't promote vandalism at all."
Fame Can Be Just a Few Clicks Away
Schleichkorn has used his newfound fame as both a lesson in marketing and a catapult toward a career in the music industry -- he is starting his own record label.
While becoming famous may be just a few clicks away, there is one caveat: Grabbing your 15 megabytes of fame requires increasingly extreme measures. Suddenly not only is the line between horseplay and vandalism being crossed, but the line between shocking and violent or obscene is as well.
Take, for example, a recent incident involving a 13-year-old girl in North Babylon, N.Y., who was beaten up by three other girls. By filming it, a 16-year-old boy was an accomplice to the attack, and then they posted it on the Internet for fellow students -- and the world -- to see. They called it "E-venge" against the 13-year old for dating one of her attackers' ex-boyfriends.
Parry Aftab, cyber lawyer and executive director of the Internet safety and help group organization WiredSafety, said, "If you're not more outrageous than the profile and video before you, you're not popular enough on these sites. These kids designed this attack for their page to become popular on YouTube."
According to a young girl who participated in a forum for teenagers conducted by WiredSafety about "cyberbullying" -- in which people use the Internet to bully or abuse others -- "If you beat up somebody but nobody sees it, you don't gain from that. If you beat up somebody and you film it and put it on the Internet, then everybody can see it and everyone can respect you and everyone can fear you."
Not only did the students in North Babylon draw attention from their fellow students who saw the video on YouTube.com or on MySpace.com but from school officials and police as well. The three attackers were suspended from school until at least April and charged with juvenile delinquency; the boy was suspended for five days and charged with unlawful assembly, a Class B misdemeanor, and is scheduled to be arraigned on March 22.
Another teenager who participated in the WiredSafety forum, Josh, said that people post ever-more shocking pictures and videos on the Internet to gain as much attention, short-lived though it may be, as they can. "So they go that extra step to be shocking so people will go see their video, which outdoes someone else's video. It's all about competition, about who can be the most obscene."
Jenna, another teen who participated in the forum said, "In my school, some high school girls took some pictures of themselves naked from the neck down and sent them to some senior boys in order to get them to ask them out … then the senior boys sent them to friends who sent them to other friends and now it's just all over."
She added that there are many sexually explicit movies on the Internet posted by girls in school and "they just do it so they can get boys to like them and other people think they're cool for being outrageous."
Fame, Whether You Want It or Not
In the cyberworld, some achieve fame and some have fame thrust upon them. Such was the case for "American Idol" contestant Antonella Barba. While taking her initial steps toward fame on the show, she unexpectedly skyrocketed to the forefront last week, thanks in no small part to the Internet.
There has been a media storm over sexually charged photos of Barba recently posted on a Web site called "IDontLikeYouInThatWay.com." There were also sexually explicit photos that the anonymous contributor claimed were Barba.
The less-explicit photos still showed Barba in provocative poses. They were taken from a calendar she had made for her boyfriend, and during a vacation she and friends took to a topless beach. The rest of the photos, according to Barba's best friend and co-contestant, are not her.
Needless to say, while Barba's fame and fate on "American Idol" lies in the hands of "Idol" voters, there is no telling what could lie ahead for her as one of newest, though unintended, winners of the Internet celebrity lottery.