As the co-founder of Napster, former president of Facebook and a member of Spotify’s board of directors, Sean Parker is more responsible than most for making the web what it is today. But now the 33-year-old billionaire tech entrepreneur has grown troubled by his creation, following a widespread online backlash over his $4.5m (£3m) fantasy-themed wedding, which took place at a California beauty spot on 1 June.
Parker, portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the 2010 movie The Social Network, this week published an epic, 9,500-word response to his critics on Techcrunch.com, in which he laments, “The mediums I dedicated my life to building have … become the very weapon by which my own character and reputation has been mercilessly attacked in public… Users of these mediums are happy to attack me publicly, in plain view, using their real names and identities.”
The passionate essay, entitled “Weddings Used to Be Sacred and Other Lessons About Internet Journalism,” is equivalent in length to a 20-page, single-spaced Microsoft Word document, or approximately 20 per cent of The Great Gatsby. In it, Parker recounts the meticulous planning of his wedding to singer-songwriter Alexandria Lenas, rebuts media claims that the ceremony damaged a delicate local ecosystem, and rails against online gossip.
He begins by explaining his and his wife’s shared love of fantasy fiction, specifically the works of JRR Tolkein. After falling in love, Parker writes, the couple “began fantasising about our wedding day, which, we both agreed, should take place deep within an enchanted forest.” For two years, they hiked through many of California’s magnificent redwood forests in search of the ideal wedding location, which they hoped might resemble “Lothlorien, the mythical home of [royal elf] Galadriel in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings”. Finally, they found the perfect spot: a coastal campsite beside the exclusive Ventana Inn at Big Sur.
Parker, whose foundation frequently donates to conservation charities, says they chose the site partly because it was already developed, which would limit the environmental impact of their plans. The couple even, he writes, “asked the Save the Redwoods League to send their Director of Science, Emily Burns, down to the site to advise our landscape architect”.
That landscape architect then decked out the forested grounds around the resort with fake ruins, waterfalls, bridges, ponds and a cottage. Meanwhile, Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings costume designer Ngila Dickson was hired to design “elaborate fantasy-inspired costumes” for each of the 364 guests. An iron entrance gate was erected at a cost of $250,000. The staff required to make Parker and Lenas’s dreams reality numbered 450, including 24 tailors and 100 artisans. The wedding was also attended by 10 rabbits, five goats and a pony.
Though their guests assured the couple the nuptials were “beautiful”, “tasteful” and “epic”, the newlyweds nonetheless awoke the next morning, Parker claims, “to a media backlash of epic proportions, a firestorm of press attacking our wedding with the most vitriolic language we’d ever seen in print. At the same time, a mob of Internet trolls, eco-zealots, and other angry folk from every corner of the Internet unleashed a fury of vulgar insults, flooding our email and Facebook pages.”
Lenas was attacked as a “gold digger” and a “whore”, while her tech mogul husband faced such insults as “jackwagon” and “douche canoe”. Almost as wounding was the fine they unexpectedly received from the California Coastal Commission, for alleged environmental infractions. Parker says he paid £1m in penalties and legal costs simply to avoid a court battle, and even donated an extra $1.5m to the Commission. But above all, he claims, “The biggest mistake we made in wedding planning was forgetting about the media: that silent, invisible dragon breathing down our necks all along.”
In an email to reporters a fortnight ago, Parker insisted coverage of the wedding had been grossly unfair. “My wife and I should be happy right now, elated to have been married,” he said. “Instead we are being spat upon by complete strangers while walking together on the street.”
His lengthy diatribe comes in a week when at least two other celebrities have taken to social media to hit back at critical or inaccurate media reports. Singer Rihanna responded to a disparaging piece by Liz Jones of the Daily Mail by posting an unflattering image of the columnist on Instagram, describing her as “a sad sloppy menopausal mess”. Actor Alec Baldwin attacked a Mail showbiz reporter on Twitter, for a story claiming his wife had tweeted from a funeral.
“It’s easier to generate traffic with snarky stories than hard news,” Parker complains, “and there’s no downside for getting the facts of a story wrong, or even making it up entirely.”
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