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Saturday, October 22, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Inbox

Getting validation from celebs

Special to The Seattle Times

It appears that every celebrity on the planet has a Web site. While they vary considerably, there are two universal traits: Keep their flame alive and communicate with their fans. This can also vary. For some, the latter purpose means keeping their admirers at arm's length.

Take a look at www.madonna.com (turn the speakers down first) and see how a true celebrity handles fans. There is no feedback option at all, and the menu for "e-mail link" allows you to send the URL to a friend.

Because those of us who aren't celebrities get more than enough unwanted electronic mail, it's hard to imagine what a famous person — like Madonna — gets in her inbox. You would not expect her to spend her time online, answering lame questions or suffering the criticism that any controversial person attracts. On the other hand, her flashy, arms-length site doesn't really make you want to drop her a line.

There are varying formats, both honest and disingenuous. Some provide what appears to be a direct link, but it will no sooner find its target than a note addressed to president@whitehouse.gov would. Others provide message boards, to which they may or may not contribute — or even read. And those like Madonna (Bob Dylan, U2, et al) don't even suggest you could ever get an answer.

In any case, the same rule applies to celebrities as anyone else: If they spent all their time answering e-mail, they wouldn't have any time to be celebrities.

Which is why I like Ian Hunter's site (www.ianhunter.com). Hunter had a brief flash of worldwide fame in the 1970s as leader of Mott the Hoople, and has operated under the radar ever since. His online "column," dubbed Horse's Mouth, has evolved since the first issue in April 2000. At first it was a typical online diary, what he did over the last month. After a short time he began a dialogue with fans, selectively answering questions in context.

He found his voice soon enough. The columns now have a snarky sense of fun, as if all the fans are waiting at the stage door asking questions. He occasionally provides a deep answer that will interest everyone, but they are mostly meant for the recipient only. Who else understands a notation such as "Chris Jerome: Noted" but Chris?

People can write in a question, and be sure that it will reach the Man Himself. He answers them indirectly, and addresses only what falls within his comfort zone. This is more interesting than a bulletin board, because it doesn't contain nebulous opinions from bored fans. Hunter stays close enough to his fans, giving them something back for their support while controlling the situation. Perhaps he is following the advice that John Lennon bestowed on his contemporaries: "Fans are great if you don't let them breathe on you."

Hunter has found the right blend, but the quality of feedback depends on the site and the celebrity. There is always the notion that a unique message of substance will eventually reach its intended recipient. On the other hand, there is the idea that people with something important to say won't spend a lot of time online seeking validation from famous people.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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