Sunday, 28 August 2011

Celebrity by Awfulness Phenomenon (And how I learnt to stop worrying and love Jan Terri)

When You Tube was in its relative infancy, I stumbled upon a video that made me laugh so much I spilt tea on my keyboard. The late 90s and early years of the new millennium was the beginning of the Internet video cult phenomenon, a time when footage would slip easily through copyrighted nets and the for-father to the iplayer age.

I'd already discovered the power of the internet's time wasting capabilities - hours spent entertaining myself as a student building websites on geocities-  on Bargain Hunt's leathery badger haired David Dickinson; aging ex tennis players and their similarities to various zoo animals (of course my sites were hilarious [sic] and satire witticisms and not just er [sic]). I spent whole evenings looking up 'celebrity morgue.com' with my flatmates; finding out when I would die on deathclock.com; and conspiracy theories pages with flashing GIFs (the animated GIF - the comic sans of early internet elements - which naturally made any 'fact' seem less credible every time they, well, animated themselves)

But when it came to videos, I was left a bit underwhelmed. I enjoyed watching retro kids tv shows, like the rest of us. But I bored quickly with jackass stylee stunts, and UFO videos that were actually not-so-unidentified after all (It's a cloud dear). 
it was this one particular video that I must have watched hundreds of times. On a random video search for 'something full of comedy value' I found a music video by a singer/songwriter called Jan Terri. And it made me cry with laughter.


Jan Terri. A limo-driver from Chicago. She made two albums in the early nineties that originally gained a small cult following on their VHS releases - already their kitche awfullness attracting fans. But it was the internet that put her into the limelight - well before reality shows were making millions on the unashamed seemingly awful-attempts of people to make it big in the music industry. 

This particular piece is labelled 'The Worst Music Video Ever'. And sadly for Jan, this is possibly true. The camera work would be failed for GCSE media students, wobbling shots and jerky zooms; the choice of scenes a little unimaginative at times - Jan sat in the back of a limo - Jan stood at the water edge in Chicago like a badly-fitted-leather-clad fish out of said water; the man of her affections is like a Steve Coogan spoof-character - a mulletted biker who seems the most unlikely suiter for our dear Jan. Jan herself - frizzy blonde bouffant and dodgy leathers. And the music. Production means Jan manages to sound slightly off-key the entire way through; the synathised  backing sounds relatively prehistoric, and the lyrics deliciously bad 'My heart is open like an open book'....

However. When my original guffawing fits died down, something began to quickly trouble with me. It all seemed, well to me, a bit cruel. Maybe it was my inherent sensitivity to all things nasty (I'm boringly prone to the need for niceness, I must admit) but it all seemed rather unsavoury, like someone had filled the bottom of a lovely chocolate cake with salt icing.

Just as the Internet is so wonderful to spread and share information and creativity and knowledge; it can be equally as successful in sharing and encouraging negativity and cruelty. It is akin to the school bully syndrome. Let's pick on someone a little bit vulnerable, let's all jump on the bandwagon because then it means the bullies won't give their attention to me. 

Part of me actually admired Jan - she had a dream, wrote songs, recorded songs, filmed the videos. She went out there and did it. How many of us sit there dreaming up schemes or plans or wishes - and yet they never leave that initial phase; they never actually materialise into anything more concrete than thin air. But Jan went out and tried something - in an notoriously difficult industry. And are Jan's songs that bad? They're catchy with some nice little riffs. Certainly I would prefer listening to her songs than most Westlife efforts, although that's obviously my personal taste. 

This celebrity-by-awfulness now seems to be an entire business of its own. Reality tv shows combined with the internet give us all the opportunity to show the world what we don't have. TV shows will deliberately put forward bad singers on singing shows, or people who look strange, or have some kind of freak-show-talent - in the hope their terribleness will attract more viewers. You could argue if you put yourself up for this, then you only have yourself to blame, and this of course has elements of truth - but at the same time, it all seems rather exploitative - a patronising view perhaps, but they're making money on deluded dreams, publically making fools of people who perhaps don't know any different. 

In a way, Jan Terri was one of the early internet Celebrities by Awfulness. And in a way, I was almost a little jealous. Envious that she had the courage to go out and just did what she wanted to do. That she created something. Who cares that she didn't make her millions, at least she tried. And I was full of admiration for this, myself guilty in the past of becoming paralysed by the fear of failing. 

Whatever Jan is doing, she had her moment in the sun. Jan wins.

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