The Boys of Buzznet
By Japhy Grant
Clint Catalyst is the elder statesman of the online scene. He's a bit cagey about his age; his MySpace profile says he's 69, but I'd guess he's in this 30s. He was a minor celebrity off the Internet before he became one on it, back when he lived in San Francisco and spent his nights working the doors of nightclubs and doing meth. (One of the truths about being an Internet celebrity is that your life is an open book -- forever.) Clint has a pasty China doll-like appearance and was asked to pose for the cover of Sons of Darkness, an anthology of gay vampire fiction. More modeling gigs followed, including a cover shoot for his own drug-fueled roman ' clef, Cottonmouth Kisses.
Eventually, he cut ties with his San Francisco friends, sobered up, and moved to L.A., where he found himself having to go back to working at clubs to make ends meet. That's how he first encountered Jeffree Star. 'He was kissing my ass to get in,' Clint says. 'They don't hire door people to be nice, so with him I was, like, 'No, you and one friend.' I can remember this girl was like, 'I love that you give Jeffree Star so much trouble.'' Clint didn't know whom she was talking about. 'She used this term -- 'web celeb.' Then I saw [his MySpace] and went, 'Oh.''
Clint admits that his own first forays on the Internet were modest. 'At first I treated my MySpace account like I would a nightclub and let very few people through the door,' he says. But after checking out Jeffree's profile, a lightbulb went on. Soon he was developing his own following on multiple sites, and when Buzznet contacted him to let him know they had set up an account for him complete with his own banner, he joined the crew.
When I interview Clint, he gives me an envelope with press clippings inside -- if you care what old-school media has to say, LA Weekly named him one of 100 people to know -- and on the front, written in neat block script, is a list of his upcoming projects. At the top it reads, 'For Lisa Hammer's movie Pox, I was cast from my MySpace profile.' A starred item at the bottom notes that two directors he's worked with since are Screen Actors Guild signatories, and that this will soon make him a card-carrying actor, all without going on traditional auditions. 'With my look and my mannerisms,' he says, 'I know this wouldn't have happened without the Internet.'
The relationship Buzznet's stars have is quid pro quo. They sent Audrey Kitching -- one of Buzznet's punk princesses and another of Jared Gold's models -- out on the Warped Tour summer concert series to blog from the road, and Clint was their official host on the red carpet at the Emmys. With his flamboyant appearance, Clint was his own draw for celebrity interviews. Clint gets exposure, Buzznet gets free talent.
Clint has enough perspective to see the impact that Jeffree, Matthew, and he have on how the current generation of teens perceives gay people. 'A lot of them see I'm from Arkansas and go, 'How did you end up [here]?' I say, 'The same way you did, and the same way you can get out if you want -- or the same way you can stay there and be content. You just have to know there's a bigger world.''
All three notice they have very few gay fans. At the Jared Gold show, while Matthew was being mobbed by girls, I asked a gay guy beside me what he thought of Matthew Lush. 'He's a douche bag,' the guy said. 'Anybody can set up [an automated] bot to go out and get hundreds of thousands of friends. It's pathetic.'
But if the key to social change and equality is visibility, maybe we need these fame whores. At long last, for mainstream Middle American tweens, the popular kids are weirdos and outcasts. The girls who obsess over Matthew, Jeffree, and Clint will probably grow out of it, the same way women before them grew out of their love for Zack or Slater. But they won't lose their exposure to a world where gay boys cuddle with bunnies, cross-dressers fight back, and former meth addicts become unintended role models. It's not sanitized or polite, but for this virtual generation, it's what's real.
Matthew says his fans have no choice but to accept all sides to him equally. 'I'm an activist, I'm vegan, I'm gay,' he says. 'They're more eager to see what's behind everything because they think I'm cute. It's like a complete package that they have to accept. It just happens to be a very pretty package to them.'
Even more so than simply just being out there and gay, the message these guys send is, as Jeffree puts it, 'pro-expression.'
'If I can use my celebrity power at all,' Jeffree says, 'it would be to make people more open-minded about everything, whether it's sexuality or how you look. So many people write me and say, 'My mom hates me because I'm gay,' or 'I don't want to dye my hair blue because everybody at school will call me ugly.' It makes me sad to hear people say that. I just want everyone to stop caring what everybody says.'
You can find writer Japhy Grant online, too.