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Rise and fall of the internet star

By Liu Sha (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2016-05-15 14:51

Instant fame can also be lost in a flash if objects of adoration prove flawed, but they often end up crying all the way to the bank

Most online celebrities can't tell jokes, they can't sing, they can't act, and they're probably not exactly conscientious workers. Fame fades quickly in the digital age. So, what's the endgame for these internet luminaries?

For those who rely on their looks, the fall can be particularly hard. Luo Xiaoyi, more widely known as Nansheng Guniang (南笙姑娘), was hailed as the goddess of Chinese otaku men after her photos in costume from the Republic of China period were reposted on online forums and popular fan site Douban.com. (Otaku is a Japanese word for those who are obsessive, such as about internet games.)

Rise and fall of the internet star

Rise and fall of the internet star

With that fame came invitations to real-life events, but soon people were saying that her unretouched appearance looked nothing like her photos. She went from goddess to "the master of Photoshop" seemingly overnight.

She still posts her pictures online, but most of the comments below are a variation on "I know it's fake".

"Once someone's true face is revealed and turns out to be different from what we believe, we lose interest in them," says Qian Yu, a computer engineer and former fan of Nansheng Guniang. He now runs an "online goddess" forum at Baidu Tieba that collects personal information and gossip about fashion bloggers and models. The forum has more than 700 active users, mostly male, all hoping to find a natural goddess who has never had plastic surgery.

"Fans don't like the feeling of being cheated, but they hate cowards more," says Qian.

Though not always made up of the most astute literary critics, the online world will not tolerate things like accusations of plagiarism. Tangqi, an online romance writer, has lost more than 50,000 followers online since July, when she was accused of plagiarism in her most popular novel. She allegedly copied the work of Dafeng Guaguo, who wrote explicit homosexual fiction - which has also made her hesitant to sue. Tangqi simply made the relationships heterosexual, the accusers say, and made a mint.

"The writing style, storyline, and plots from Dafeng Guaguo are almost the same; the only difference is ... the male and female characters," one former reader says, adding that he has left the QQ group of Tangqi's fans and started an online boycott of an upcoming TV series based on Tangqi's novel.

Tangqi apologized for "imitating" the other writer's style and insisted that she did not plagiarize, but she continued to bleed followers.

Pang Mailang (庞麦郎), who turned into a rags to online riches story for his viral song My Skating Shoes, captured hearts with his unconventional singing and a style that gave him the appearance of a starving artist. However, a feature, Troubled Pang Mailang, by Renwu, a Chinese monthly magazine, depicted his seemingly troubled mental status as a narcissistic personality.

In the article, the author writes that Pang seldom cuts his fingernails or changes his bedsheets. He often watches French cartoons even though he can't speak French, it says. He also called himself "Jonathan Pangmailang" and told reporters he was from Taiwan, despite being born in Hanzhong, Shaanxi province, it says. He was accused of having an intellectual fetish for internationalism, using foreign actors in his own music video to make himself look more international, Renwu alleges.

The article was enough to bring him down. Internet commenters attacked him with mockery and hatred, and many referred to him as a poser who manipulated the public to generate profits, reputedly a representative of the low end of the low bar that is popular culture.

An internet celebrity from a few years ago, Luo Yufeng, known as Sister Feng, emerged in 2009 after handing out fliers seeking a marriageable boyfriend who had to meet outrageous qualifications, and then making equally outrageous statements about herself. She became a person that others loved to hate.

As Pang Mailang and Sister Feng faded from the public eye, more have taken their place. Rather than starting out with agencies and public relations teams, they fight to establish themselves on their own and wait for companies to make sponsorship offers.

So before fading naturally or falling apart, most online celebrities grab at any chance to commercialize their fame: beauties become clothing or makeup shop owners; comedians join hands with advertising companies, and bloggers become book authors.

The glorious Sister Feng is doing better than one might think. Eventually, humiliating her lost its allure and she faded from the public eye. But it paid off.

Not only did she secure a US green card and move to New York City, she also got a column in a newspaper, was profiled by the New York Times, and writes in a mature, sophisticated tone - quite unlike her normal faux genius persona.

Her predecessor, Sister Lotus (芙蓉姐姐), grabbed attention in 2004 by posting photos of herself in revealing dresses and highlighting her "S-shaped curves" online. Like Sister Feng, she was laughed at for having no self-awareness and being too confident, "taking ugliness as beauty", as some netizens said. After 11 years, now that most have forgotten her, Sister Lotus is now trim and spends her time at charity events as well as volunteers with NGOs. And with the money she made as the internet's whipping girl, she managed to start a communications company.

Both Sister Feng and Sister Lotus were ordinary girls from small cities who turned their online theatrics into serious money.

The fall from fame doesn't have to be hard or humiliating. Many are happy to have the money that rolls in from their profiles for endorsing products; others go into business for themselves. In the end, they have what they've always had: followers - followers who didn't care where they were going.

Courtesy of The World of Chinese, www.theworldofchinese.com

The World of Chinese

(China Daily European Weekly 05/13/2016 page23)

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