What Would Warhol Blog?

By Rachel Dry

The universe of notoriety is bigger than it was in 1968 when Andy Warhol proclaimed, “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Today, though, 15 minutes no longer feels temporary. On the internet, 15 minutes is a long time.

Too long to watch a video of a guy dressed as a science fiction hero or stare at a doctored photo of a cat. Probably too long to spend reading a diary entry on Daily Kos.

When Warhol was musing on the fleeting nature of fame, Markos Moulitsas wasn’t even born yet.

Today Kos, as the liberal blogging pioneer is known, presides over a giant community of liberal activists and power brokers. The annual convention that brings them together, Netroots Nation, took place last weekend in Pittsburgh, a city chosen for its strong union roots and its eco-friendly convention centre.

Not officially, unofficially or probably even incidentally because it happens to be Warhol’s home town.

But that doesn’t mean the pop artist wasn’t in on the fun. The Warhol museum was the site of several parties. The Netrooters, this political force that was created, nurtured and made famous on the internet, were on Warhol’s turf. It’s an appealing collision: The web comes to the Pope of Pop.

It’s reason enough to call up a few people who knew the artist well and ask what he might have thought of the internet.

He’d love it.

He wouldn’t get it.

He predicted it all.

“He was a natural blogger,” says Victor Bockris, who worked with Warhol for six years and wrote a biography. Well, amend that a bit: He’d have an acolyte – “someone like me,” Bockris jokes – to listen and record his every thought, then post it for him.

“The internet would have suited his voice very well,” says Bob Colacello, author of Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, who worked with Warhol for 13 years. “But I don’t think he would have been a blogger. First of all, he couldn’t even type, and he evaded opinions. He wasn’t a person who was going to sit around a dinner table and say why he was for Obama’s healthcare program. His idea of an opinion was ‘she’s a beauty’; ‘he’s a beauty.’”

What Warhol would have appreciated most is the sheer volume of what’s available online. Brigid Berlin, who worked with Warhol at his Factory, as his studio was known, remembers telling him that she’d transcribed 30 pages of interviews one day. Great, he said, tomorrow make it 33. She realized she could pad the pile of paper – one typed page with four blank ones behind it – and he wouldn’t check. He just wanted the satisfaction of the work literally stacking up.

Berlin says Warhol once paid her 50 cents or so for every news clipping that mentioned his name – a 20th-century version of the Google alert.

“He would have been 81 on August 6th,” Berlin says. “I just don’t think he would know anything about the internet. He might ask questions: ‘Well, what is Twitter?’”

Well, what is Twitter, Andy? It’s essentially what you did anyway, by phone. Berlin says that every morning Warhol would call her to find out what she was doing, and what everyone they knew had done the night before. He craved status updates.

The internet is a Warholian idea, his friends say, a place of unlimited possibility and instant gratification. “The concept of being able to release whatever you want to say, to say whatever you want to say however you want to say it, and have the potential to reach such a large number of people instantly” is the essence of Warhol, Bockris says. “He was always very impatient to get out what he was saying.” He’d have enjoyed push-button publishing.

He would also have liked how the internet has changed the nature of fame.

Netroots godfather Moulitsas set up a community that facilitates internet fame: It’s open to anybody, and people’s works can achieve renown by being recommended by others, a kind of symbiotic celebrity.

Tim Hwang founded the event called ROFLCon, (“rolling on the floor laughing,” that is) a gathering of people who became famous by attracting large online followings. Internet fame isn’t about the traditional sense of celebrity – “that they’re incredibly beautiful and talented and you won’t be like them” – but about relatability, Hwang said. “It’s, ‘I feel I have a really deep connection with you in some sense because I identify with you.’”

Hwang thinks that the right internet-era iteration on Warhol’s famous phrase is that in the future, we will all be famous to 15 people. Or for 15 seconds.

Those who knew Warhol well think he would have liked that. Colacello believes the whole world has gone in Warhol’s direction: “Andy must be sitting up on some cloud in heaven, just soaking it all in and just loving it all.”

He’d even love being usurped by an online toy.

John Watson created the Pop Art Poster, formerly called the Warholizer, in the early days of Flickr. Take a picture, upload it, push a button: Presto, it’s pop art.

“I thought it would be funny to make a tool to mass-produce what he was mass-producing,” Watson says.

Warhol would love the fact that anyone with internet access and a digital camera can make Warhol-inspired creations – except for one key thing. “As long as they don’t interrupt the amount of money he was making, he would be very happy,” Colacello guesses. “People could Warholize their own dog and pay him a commission.”

That he’d like.

Dry is an assistant editor at The Washington Post.

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