It’s Chris Crocker Bitch! Obsessions with idols is nothing new, but add the Internet and it undoubtedly warps and distorts people’s minds into a whole new, toxic, dimension. Take Chris Crocker for instance. Wait do you even know who Chris Crocker is? Shooting to ‘fame’ in September 2007 for his Leave Britney Alone, YouTube video, Crocker’s heartfelt/really intense defence of flailing pop princess Britney Spears‘ comeback performance at the MTV Video Music Awards reached over four million views in two days and has since been parodied by the likes of South Park and Seth Green amongst others. Sure Spears’ performance was dismal, but Crocker just really loves Britney OK? And hey, people are harsh, so what’s wrong with standing up for someone you love, taking a bullet for them in some semi-removed, behind the ‘safety’ of your computer screen kind of way?
However the most interesting thing about Crocker (a stage name due to him being raised in the Bible Belt, in a particularly small town in Tennessee, and fearful of being persecuted for his sexuality amongst other things), is that despite the haters, parodies, and genuine fear for his life, he is kind of famous at the end of the day and seems to be loving it for all the right reasons. But what is the price to pay? This is explored in the HBO documentary Me @ The Zoo which premiered last night. Already having screened at Sundance this year and made with funds from his Internet fans, the film, directed by Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch, explores how video sharing and social media have shaped the way people share their stories and go about their lives. Me @ The Zoo also touches on cyber bullying and the real price of fame.
Wanting to create a populous film, directors Moukarbel and Veatch didn’t initially set out with Crocker in mind, however their fascination with such an accessible creative outlet is surprisingly something that has never really been explored this closely before by the relative mainstream. Crocker, who started posting videos online in 2005, predominately on MySpace (remember that old thing?), began with dances and then moved into somewhat opinion pieces, gaining a cult-like following in 2006 with his video This and That. While Moukarbel admitted to Sundance, “It’s not performance in the traditional sense of acting, the generation has grown up with reality TV, and this idea that your personality, your character can be consumed by an audience, you don’t necessarily have to create a character,” Crocker’s persona does raise the question, is is an act or is this the real Chris Crocker? Is he just obsessed with being famous?
Take his failed reality show (an attempt to channel Britney & Kevin: Chaotic anyone?), which he Crocker would present his true self to the public. With outrageous behaviour, not dissimilar to that of his idol, Crocker came under fire again when he made flippant remarks about 9/11, mocking vapid celebrity behaviour. Crocker told V Magazine, “I hope it comes across in the film that I wasn’t serious… I wish I hadn’t done it.” While it does come across that Crocker has learnt from his mistakes, he does know what his doing, also telling V, “When you’re posting, you know people are watching, you see the comments, but you can choose not to read them. In a theater you involuntarily hear their reactions, if they laugh or don’t. It’s very awkward. But I’m used to awkward places, so I liked it a lot.” So there is a thought process, but why would you want this attention to begin with, especially if outside of the Internet, you feel threatened?
Veatch explained, “I think that we all have online personas, and it’s like kind of stressful, or not, or whatever, but that is the future, and how you represent that online persona and leverage it for your own capital gain is the reality. It’s gonna be how you get a job in the future, it’s gonna be how you go to school in the future, it’s going to be a social currency, or it already is a social currency. The entire notion of what lives are worth and how energy all shifts around is being transformed by these platforms and how we use them and how they ask us to behave is so interesting.” However the strange thing is this emphasis to use social networking to its extremes; is this really necessary? Surely this isn’t the only way to get a job, or if you really want to be ‘famous,’ for a creative pursuit, what happened to pure talent? Apparently in the age of Chris Crocker that isn’t relevant.
Surprisingly though it seems Crocker has calmed down, and although initially he may have come across as a fame hungry, and very clever manipulator of the Internet, his story is nothing short of endearing and you can’t help but be on his side. Most notably, Crocker’s appearance has changed dramatically; gone is the extremely effeminite blonde who lived as a girl for two to three years complete with hair extensions and created the infamous video at the age of 19. Now a 24 year old Crocker wouldn’t look out of place in an Abercrombie & Fitch commercial. However, despite appearances, while Crocker is used as a tool throughout Me @ The Zoo, he claims that his heart was in it due to the aspect of uncovering bullying, whether it be over the internet or IRL (to use some internet slang on y’all).
In Leave Britney Alone, Crocker seems to disassociate himself from that time in his life stating, “Leave Britney Alone was so misconstrued and made fun of, and so many darts were thrown at me during that time and no one really understood that it was from a sincere place, my mom was dealing with a lot of drug use, the same year that Britney was going through that and I’m just really defensive of women going through a really hard time because of things in my family.” Surprisingly, Crocker has not only received homophobic bullying, but also what he describes as ‘gay-on-gay’ hate for not sticking to his feminine nuances, to which he says, “I’m just trying to represent myself, not a community”; It’s his prerogative…
To this day, Crocker has reached over 270 million views on YouTube, so he must be doing something right, or wrong enough that people want to watch, people want a piece of him. While Crocker’s life could have easily paralleled Spears’ think, he has come out of it relatively unscathed and thankfully although still idolising Spears, not completely following in her footsteps.