The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
Culture

Aiming for A-List? Time to Get Shameless

One self-promoting author reminds us of the thin line between crazy and crazy genius.

By Shannon Rupp 13 Sep 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Shannon Rupp was a Tyee contributing editor. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at)shannonrupp.com. 

image atom
Nothing has ever enabled shame-famers like the web. Photo via Shutterstock.

As the chatter about nude celebrity photos invades legacy media, it's hard not to recall the wise words attributed to PR masters a century ago: there's no such thing as bad publicity as long as they spell your name right.

Of course, publishing images of people without their permission is an offence that is even more offensive when the target is naked -- and in some jurisdictions it's a crime.

But to me, this sort of citizen porn -- I pinched that clever term from Brit writer Zoe Williams -- seems the ideal profile-raising scheme. A sex video was the key to Paris Hilton's rise to fame, after all, and her only obvious talent was shopping.

In a world where teens are sexting each other casually, does anyone make a moral judgment about celebrities snapping naked selfies? Of course not. It just intrigues existing fans and possibly attracts new audiences.

Other than Jennifer Lawrence and Rihanna, the targets all seem to be B-, C-, and D-listers likely to benefit from the attention, which is why so many critics have suggested it was probably some social-climbing D-lister behind the shocking -- shocking! -- invasion of celebrity privacy.

Before you dismiss this notion as cynical, give a thought to how notoriety is celebrated. For example, the potty-mouthed and barely-clothed Miley Cyrus is now so famous that she can add New York art show to her list of bizarre accomplishments. For Dirty Hippie, as the show is called, Cyrus has glued stuff she found around the house to other stuff, also found around her house. Her found objects include a dildo (naturally) a hamster toy (I'm not touching that), teddy bears, cameras, masks, and a pineapple. I'll spare you her insights into the magic of drinking pineapple juice, which inspired her to add this fruit to the gluing frenzy.

Sure, sex always sells. But for the marginally talented it has always been shame that leads to fame. Or, more accurately, being shameless.

From mediocre to meteoric

Nothing has ever enabled the shame-insensitive like the web. It has certainly been a boon for folks like the newly famous self-published author Stephan J Harper. He's no relation to our prime minister, but he has an urge to control what people say about him in a way that makes you wonder about the power of names.

Harper is an iBook author, one of the book trade's eternal optimists, who is willing to pay to have his peerless prose published on an eBook designed for iThingys. As part of the business of encouraging authors, Apple publishes a blog, called Tidbits, where Harper's latest book was reviewed in May. That led the author to pen thousands of words in hilarious response to the reviewer, his fellow posters, and as it turned out, the world.

I discovered Harper's obsession when he made the Guardian in a story headlined: "How not to respond to a bad review."

I disagree with that sentiment. If you're trying to market something mediocre, causing a stir is the quickest way to pull an audience. In this case, Harper's pompous prose and delusions of grandeur are the source of his newfound fame. He's like a reality TV star, only in text.

The book, Venice Under Glass ($2.99), is about crime-solving teddy bears. The author argued that his work could be compared to Fitzgerald and Keats after the reviewer had the nerve to call it "juvenile" and "workmanlike." Had Harper slunk away quietly, he'd have remained an obscure self-publisher in California writing a blog in the voice of a stuffed animal. Instead, he's hit the media big leagues and is the toast of the blogosphere, with notices from such major traffic generators as Reddit, Boing Boing, and the Daily Dot.

Crazy, or crazy genius?

Even before his performance at Tidbits, Harper clearly had a plan. He reviewed himself under a pseudonym, a practice he insists is common in MFA writing programs. Or rather, he wrote in the guise of one his teddy bear characters, Neville Addison-Graves III, at BasilBaker.com. That's the blog of another stuffed bear, and another character, who is the sleuth in Venice Under Glass. (It's just so meta.)

Once Harper trotted out the views of one stuffed bear to defend the story of another stuffed bear and prove the reviewer was oh-so-wrong, his fellow posters went wild (with laughter). As the old shampoo commercial said, they told two friends, who told two friends, and so on until the American story made it to French and British newspapers.

For writers and readers who might turn up their noses at the likes of reality TV's beauty pageant tyke Honey Boo-Boo, the adventures of Harper/Basil/Neville offer a similar thrill, with a literary theme. Is he insane or a marketing genius? You decide!

The whole four-month-long saga can be found here, capped off by the website editor's bemusement earlier this month as he announced he's finally shutting Harper down.

"We have been shocked by how this comment thread has gone viral, and we've been watching it closely, because many of the posts have crossed over the line of civility we require of commenters. It was so unusual, though, that we let it grow organically despite the vilification that Harper continually heaped on Michael's review and increasingly on his person."

I'm not shocked. That was a first-class publicity stunt. And I'd bet Harper's notoriety sold some books.

I tried to contact him to confirm my suspicion that his performance was less a psychological collapse than a marketing tour de force. Sadly, the email on the press release no longer exists. Even his fuzzy alter egos have been silenced. Basil Baker's seven-year-old blog hasn't been touched since last March.

I feel quite sad about this. I suspect Harper may have found the Holy Grail for which every self-published author is hunting. For novice writers, the big question is how to get noticed by mainstream media like the Guardian.

The chatter factor

Media attention is crucial to authors for the same reason it's crucial to celebrity-wannabes. While it's well known that reviews don't sell books, being part of the public chatter does have an impact on the sale of just about everything.

And it doesn't have to be flattering chatter. It's the equivalent of the way name-recognition attracts votes. People are more likely to vote for someone they've heard of, even if what they heard was bad. (This explains two mysteries: why the boring 50 Shades of Grey is a bestseller and why Toronto seems open to electing any Ford in a storm.)

With that in mind, I hope Harper isn't discouraged at losing his commenting platform. He's done some fine work with the teddy bear rants. And while his book is tedious, as a reality character he's more fun than a house full of Kardashians.

If a canny old PR genius like circus showman P.T. Barnum were here today, I'm sure he'd advise Harper to take a tip from the bare celebs and find a hacker to circulate photos of his bear characters. Preferably, they would be frolicking naked at picnics while drinking pineapple juice, smoking crack, and/or tying each other up.

And Harper needn't worry about embarrassing himself either. In the pursuit of fame, there's no such thing as being too shameless.

© Shannon Rupp. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at)shannonrupp.com.  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities

Do:

  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll