Popular Culture Heard 'Round the World--Gawker Stalker

Last week I happened to be checking out Gawker (www.gawker.com) and I came across the Gawker Stalker page at www.gawker.com/stalker/. I spent 30 minutes cruising the site and became immediately infatuated with the concept of celebrity sight-seeing around Manhattan in pseudo real-time.

For those of you who don't know, Gawker.com is one of the bibles of New York City, and Gawker Stalker is a section of the site where anyone can post a star-sighting from any location in Manhattan, and the post gets mapped out on a Google Mash-Up for all the world to see. You can track celebs around Manhattan and possibly create your very own sighting by "running into" them. It's similar to People and US Weekly, but live and closer to the real-thing.

The site is certainly addictive, but what I found to be most amazing is just how quickly word of this site spread through the Web! I'd say it spread like wildfire, but that would be an understatement. The site appears to have been live for four to five weeks, with a hard launch last Monday. It only took six days for it to become the focus of a feature on CNN over the weekend, where a number of celebs were up in arms because they see the site as an invasion of their privacy and a tool that lets real stalkers know too intimately what these famous faces are up to.

I can completely understand the concern of the celebs being tracked, but wasn't it inevitable that someone would set this up? People are fascinated by celebrities, spending gobs of money on magazines where paparazzi take candid photos of Lindsay Lohan doing her laundry, as a way to prove that celebrities are real people too. Sites like Celebrities.com (http://www.celebrities.com) perform a similar service, but without the real-world application. No; with the opening of the code for Google Maps, it was destined to be used for this purpose, but what's most interesting to me is just how quickly this site popped up and has become a phenomenon.

I typically write about the ways in which media are used by the consumer and how word gets spread, but this one even boggles my mind. I've never seen a site get so much publicity in less than a full week. YouTube seems to be the darling of the moment, but it took them at least six months to become a fad. Stalker did it in 6 days!

What's relevant to a segment of the overall audience typically spreads virally through that group, but what's fascinating about Stalker is that our culture is apparently segmented into many smaller audiences, with each of them holding one element in common: celebrity. Everyone wants his or her 15 minutes of fame, and everyone wants to see someone else who's taken his 15 minutes and done something with it, however menial or extreme.

The sightings ran the gamut when I checked it out on Monday; from Shaq and Moby to Claire Danes and, of course, Lindsay Lohan. There seemed to be someone for everyone on the site, so it's possible that the site appeals to such a large audience with specific information that this is an example to contradict one of my previous statements that popular culture is dying and being replaced with a more tribal, niche-oriented culture.

Of course, I may be overanalyzing the site--but maybe I just need to acknowledge that we all like seeing famous people in our supermarkets and bars. Maybe it's just the lowest common denominator for all.

What do you think?

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