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Fans seek personal connection with celebrity blogs

Fans seek personal connection with celebrity blogs

from> DUBLIN resident Brian Johnson sits down at his computer with his morning cup of coffee. He pulls up the Internet and browses the news from New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and . . . from his favorite techno musician, Moby.

Increasing numbers of people are clicking in to read online journals, called “Web logs” or “blogs” for short, that are written and maintained by celebrities. While blogs can be kept by anyone, celebrity blogs, which contain everything from daily recounts of a celebrity’s life to personal musings on politics to promotion of charity organizations, are the ideal medium for direct communication from celebrities to fans or other curious browsers.

From actor Jeff Bridges to humorist Dave Barry to notable actor/singer/transvestite RuPaul, more celebrities are adding blogs to their Web sites, and those interested in what these celebrities have to say are checking these sites regularly.

“It’s part of my routine media consumption experience,” said Johnson, a business adviser. He reads the blogs from Moby and William Gibson, author of “Neuromancer,” daily.

“You can be exposed to fascinating experiences, interesting information, opinions, reactions. . . It’s both entertaining and enlightening,” he said.

According to Ananda Mitra, an associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University, one of the initial allures of reading a blog is the “voyeuristic component,” he said.

“There’s something that draws people to celebrities who are willing to be watched,” Mitra said. In fact, the blog as a format for celebrities originated from pornography Web sites, where viewers could obtain videos and then read the postings from the participants. The blog as a complement to pornography is still used today, such as the blog maintained by porn star Asia Carrera.

What’s available to public

Mainstream celebrities picked up the blog format for use on their Web sites as a way to pick and choose what information about themselves was available to the public. “The status of celebrity is dependent on how much people know about you,” Mitra said. “Celebrities are always spoken for on shows such as E! television and other tabloid media. The blog allowed a celebrity to speak for his or herself.”

From there, different stars used their blogs for different things. Some made it a “commercial component” of their site, utilizing it primarily as a public relations device, posting nothing more than promotional material about whatever project the celebrity was working on, said Mitra.

Others, like George Takei — better known as Mr. Sulu on the original television show “Star Trek” — began their blog as Web site filler, a platform to write about their experiences and opinions, delivered directly and uncut to their fans.

Most celebrities combine the writing and promotional element. For example, while fellow “Star Trek: The Next Generation” alum Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) uses his blog to discuss his life and air his opinions. He also urges fans to write “Star Trek” convention organizers ” a brief, polite, friendly letter, to tell them that you’d be willing to fork over 5 bucks to meet your old pal, TV’s Wil Wheaton.”

These approaches still differentiate celebrity blogs, and readers are careful to look for blogs where the celebrity is actually writing and discussing matters other than their latest movie or newest book. “There is a real question of authenticity,” said Mitra.

“The main thing you check out is if the person is actually writing it, or is the blog just part of the PR (public relations) machine?” said Johnson. “Usually it’s obvious, if there is a consistent tone, it’s a real person.

“There’s a tremendous difference in tone between blogs of authors, or musicians. . . You can pick up on it.”

Some celebrities may use blogs to promote other things outside of their career. Actress Melanie Griffith dedicates a portion of her blog to discussion of various charitable organizations, featuring a different one each month. She often writes in support of the SABERA Foundation, an organization supporting humanitarian efforts for the children of Calcutta in which she is active.

Takei, the chairman of the board of the Japanese American National Museum, said he likes to “write about issues involving Asian Pacific Americans, with the hope that my words will reach a large mainstream audience.”

Sharing political views

Other celebrities use their blogs to air their political views. This is unsurprising in the blogs of more politically active celebrities, such as filmmaker Michael Moore; however, for celebrities not as active in voicing their political views, blogs often give readers an inside look into the ideologies of people usually only associated with entertainment.

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Johnson says he enjoys reading about Gibson’s political views on his blog. “He’s processing information about the news, and doesn’t mind talking about politics. When figuring out if a blog is any good, you ask, are they willing to alienate part of their audience?” he said. “(Gibson) just states his opinions, and sometimes politics comes up.”

“I enjoy writing about provocative subjects, such as my displeasure with George Bush’s economic policies,” Takei said. “Nothing is off limits.”

All in all, celebrity blogs are popular because they make “people feel important,” Mitra said. Because the journal is often of a personal nature, much as e-mail that one would receive from a friend, “we imagine we are having a conversation with a celebrity,” he said. “They say what they want. . . . It’s right there in your face.”

As celebrities write, they often discuss the times they share with other celebrities and their friends and families. For example, the blog of actor Ian McKellen reveals the following excerpt about fellow movie star Hugh Jackman:

“The Jackmans — Hugh, Debra Lee and Oscar — were close by in a Hollywooden extravaganza of a palatial duplex over the suburban shops of Kitsilano. Another great place for sunsets and parties. The evenings always ended with Hugh sitting with friends round an al fresco fire (gas) and chomping on a fat cigar.”

Reading about the inside stories of their lives, no matter how trivial they may seem, make people feel connected to this celebrity lifestyle, Mitra said.

All in all, though celebrities may have loyal readership of their blogs, this does not always translate into any professional benefits.

“I haven’t really discovered a connection between my working career as an actor and my maintenance of a Web site,” said Takei.

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