We are not worthy ...

Dead or alive, celebrities from Marilyn Monroe to the Queen of Hearts have their own place in Virtual Valhalla. Andrew North logs on, bows down and gets into Web worshipping

Doors fans who flock to Jim Morrison's grave in Paris every year may soon have much farther to go. There are rumours that his family wants to repatriate the Lizard King's remains to his original home in the bohemian LA suburb of Venice. But don't worry. You no longer even have to go to Pere Lachaise cemetery because now you can pay your respects at one of the singer's many "virtual shrines". At Jim's Grave, you can see the headstone (http://fermi.clas.virginia.edu/whb5a/Jim_Morrison.html). There is also an official shrine to The Doors (http://www.thedoors.com). "Although Morrison is no longer with us, his spirit, poetry and music can be found here," promises the home page.

True, lurking around this Virtual Valhalla cannot compare with the atmosphere of hanging out next to Jim's real grave with other Doors fans, most of whom were not born when their hero took that ultimate bath. Where do you put your joss sticks? And poking around the official Elvis shrine (http://www.elvis- presley.com) is not a patch on the King's real home. For diehard fans, the idea that you can "worship" your chosen star on the Web is sacrilege. But that has done nothing to dent the growing popularity of virtual shrines. When The Independent did a search, it found thousands devoted to celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Madonna and Cindy Crawford running on computer servers across the globe. Although Hollywood stars account for the vast majority of virtual shrines, Web worship is not just an American phenomenon.

Neither are shrines just for celebs, dead or alive. There is no priestly committee to vet entrants into the virtual hall of fame, so anyone can be venerated in cyberspace. Yes, dear reader, in the democratic world of the Web, even you can have your own shrine, however unremarkable your life.

Many of the personal sites running on the Web servers of Internet service providers have just that feel. They have addresses like "members.aol.com/xxxx3333" and typically consist of an author's mug shot, followed by a limp biography and a pseudo-intellectual quote. They must get very depressed at the trickle of visitors they receive.

But why do people create Web shrines to celebrities? What possesses them to put so much electronic effort into eulogising people they have almost certainly never met? Many virtual shrines are labours of love, rivalling sites created by teams of Web designers in their complexity and size - pages and pages of trivia, picture files, sound clips and all kinds of special effects.

Most Web shrine creators seem to be school or college students. Few of these sites are run by official fan clubs. In a survey of virtual shrines, Computer Life magazine equated the practice with teenagers plastering their bedroom walls with posters of sports or movie stars. "The obsessions themselves are not new, only the medium is." The Web, it said, has become "just an enormous virtual bedroom".

Whoever is being venerated, the aim is always the same. The worshipper is saying: "This person is cool and I want you to know I think that and you must think that, too." The Web allows anyone to push this belief to a worldwide audience, institutionalising it and turning it into a kind of religion. Many virtual shrine creators hope that the star they are worshipping will eventually notice and, who knows, send them an e-mail!

But for students using university Web servers to host their shrines, it is not easy getting attention. As soon as they graduate, their shrines disappear. The two movie star lists at GTN Hotlinks (http://www.gtn.net/movstar1.htm and http://www.gtn.net/movstar2.htm) try to keep pace with these moves. They have links to almost 400 virtual shrines, for stars ranging from Pamela Anderson to Kate Winslet.

Rock shrines also tend to melt away, especially if record sales decline. But stars such as Jimi Hendrix seem to shine for ever. There are hundreds of Hendrix shrines, plucking over every last bit of his life. Among music stars who are still alive, Michael Jackson initially appears to top the rankings. But on closer inspection, it seems that many of these sites are anti-shrines, dedicated to destroying his reputation. So that makes Madonna the winner in the rock category by default.

Sports stars are nowhere near as popular as movie or music stars, perhaps because their fans tend to be more locally or regionally focused. This applies to even the biggest American sports stars. For instance, Michael Jordan has hosts of shrines set up by American basketball fans, but very few British ones. One exception is Diego Maradona, who has a global following. Check out Tribute to Diego Armando Maradona (http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/1862/maradona.html).

Some of the most obsessive shrines are those devoted to cult-celebs such as the Princess of Wales. Di's global following stretches from Britain to Israel to Argentina to Korea. As well as bulging picture galleries, many sites offer a facility for sending messages to the Queen of Hearts. "This page is dedicated to the beautiful Princess Di," declares the Israeli- run Princess Diana page, "with best wishes for future happiness." The site claims 40,000 visits a month. So great is the cyber-worship of Diana it looks set to last long after she dies - and even increase, if the number of virtual shrines devoted to that other cult blonde, Marilyn Monroe, is any guide. At the moment, Marilyn is narrowly ahead in the all-time rankings.

The Virgin Mary herself cannot begin to compete with this level of devotion. But there are plenty of shrines dedicated to her. "The Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the 20th century" (http://members.aol.com/bjw1106/ marian.htm) lists all the places she is known to have appeared.

Hard as they try, political leaders do not seem to inspire serious devotion in cyberspace. Even figures such as Maggie, Marx and Mao do not appear to have virtual shrines. Perhaps their admirers are embarrassed. At least there is a site "in honor of the greatest president of this century" - Ronald Reagan (http://www.dnaco.net/bkottman/reagan.html). "We fight the tide of liberal lies," the page declares. Good capitalist that Ron is, this shrine would not be complete without its gift shopn

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

    Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

    £26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen