Fan mail

Group therapy

Time was when the aspiring global celebrity aimed to make the cover of a magazine such as Time. Now the ultimate test of celebrity status is whether you have an "alt.fan" newsgroup in your name. If you ain't got one, you ain't no one.

There are several hundred of these odd little fan forums, discussing everything from celebrities to cooked lemurs. I'm not making it up. Hollywood movie stars take up a lot of space, including most of the big names - Brad Pitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, etc. Other celebs represented include Jesus Christ, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Cantona and ... Chris Tarrant.

Much of the Hollywood fan talk is fawning gush along the lines of "Why is Brad so sexy?" and endless favourite film lists. But having an alt.fan newsgroup devoted to you can be a bit like being placed in the stocks - there to be pilloried as much as praised - and some celebs get rotten tomatoes in bucketloads. Madonna more than most, judging from the postings in alt.fan.madonna. Some of the insults are so vitriolic, you wonder whether they are from disaffected former employees. "Madonna still has fans?" begins one, before suggesting the exotic idea that she dreamt up the singer Alanis Morissette to undermine Courtney Love. "Madonna got jealous of Courtney's talent, so she created a little fake alternative diva to counteract Courtney's popularity. ... Anybody who finds meaning in these two's 'lyrics' must be officially brain-dead. Most of them are written by men and make me wanna hurl."

But that is nothing. If the newsgroup community really hates you, it will make sure you know it before you even read the postings. alt.fan.oj- simpson. die.die.die and alt.fan.oj-simpson.gas.chamber leave little to the imagination. The popular American footballer has the dubious honour of having six alt.fan groups in his name, more than any other personality.

But the alt.fan series is not just about personalities. Any cult, craze or obsession is eligible. Even if you have nothing to say about it: alt.fan.nicole- papa seems to have been empty for months, but I guess there is some kind of subtextual significance in its very existence. Subtext is meat and drink to the denizens of alt.fan.tarantino, where the argument over the contents of the briefcase in PF never stops. Contributions to the long- running debate on "How did Mr Brown die in RD?" are also invited. It is obviously taken for granted that if you enter this newsgroup you know what those initials stand for.

Things are taken even more for granted in the stiff-upper-lip world of alt.fan.british-accent. Unless you were actually present at the beginning, most of the discussions are impenetrable. In alt.fan.monty-python the postings were as daft as you would expect. Although some American had rather spoilt the fun with a posting entitled "The Stupidest F****** Show Ever". Python-fans were not amused

Andrew North

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