Paul Menter

Can someone please tell me who Cameron Dallas is, and why I need to care that he was arrested for beating someone up in Aspen? And along the same lines, who was that guy who rented that house in Starwood last January and posted a bunch of social media videos of himself trashing the place before the homeowners sued him (that would be Jake Paul)?

It seems to me that Aspen’s stature as a celebrity haven has taken a bit of a hit recently. D-listers seeking Andy Warhol’s elusive 15 minutes of fame, and a few bucks along the way, are garnering more and more attention for their visits to our fair valley.

There seem to be more and more local news stories about this unique and problematic cohort of the population — D-list internet celebrities that is — whose shenanigans while visiting the Aspen area have resulted in arrests and legal action. You know the folks I am referring to, Hollywood wannabes who troll the lowest common denominator of America’s social media universe. Their antics are a far cry from the heady days of yesteryear when Aspen police were arresting far more conventional celebrities like Charlie Sheen, for far more conventional crimes like domestic violence (that was way back in 2009 for all of you newcomers out there).

Does Aspen want to become the place where D-list internet celebrities come to attract attention to themselves? Well it might be too late to prevent it, but I certainly hope not.

The point in history at which the standard for newsworthiness ceased to be based on an event’s societal impact or relevance, and was replaced by the willingness of the unwashed masses to pay attention to it irrespective of its importance, goes way back. It didn’t start with Cameron Dallas, Jake Paul or their contemporaries. It didn’t even start with Jerry Springer and Maury Povich and their contemporaries. Its way older than any of us.

As the old saying goes, “dog bites man” is not news. But “man bites dog” is definitely a headline that people will read. News readers and watchers seek out the salacious. It’s just the way humans are wired. It’s ingrained in us to try and find the bottom of any issue. By knowing where the bottom is, I suppose we can understand how bad things can still get.

So, perhaps it’s natural that voyeurism masquerading as someone’s right to know is a long-term cornerstone dimension of America’s celebrity media culture. The supermarket tabloids perfected the art of printing and displaying gratuitous tripe decades ago. But in this day and age of instant fame, fueled by viral internet exposure, the tabloids seem downright stodgy. The social media onslaught of lowest-common-denominator attention seekers is establishing a new low in which its willing participants wallow, and if we’re not careful, through which the rest of us at least periodically wade.

So, when the man, or woman (in this case both were men) biting the dog incorporates into his calculus his return on investment from breaking the law, causing damage to private property, or inflicting pain on another human — some of which appears to have been the case in the two examples above — it adds a more troubling dimension to the question of its newsworthiness.

Relenting to the onslaught of this kind of social media exposure certainly contradicts Aspen’s image as a premier resort community. But is it possible for Aspen and Pitkin County to stem the tide the millennial nouveau riche D-listers behaving badly at local rentals and hotels? OK, at this point it’s more of a trickle, but you get my point.

Back in the 1980s, city and county leaders in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., finally grew tired of their reputation for college student spring break debauchery along their famous and aging strip of Atlantic Ocean beach. Rather than continue to tolerate wet t-shirt contests and drunken coeds jumping into pools from their hotel balconies (and sometimes missing), they cracked down.

It took awhile but the word got out that Fort Lauderdale no longer welcomed those looking to misbehave in extreme ways, and the drunken college kids starting going elsewhere. Fort Lauderdale’s beach went on to experience a renaissance of sorts, with new investment lured by the community’s desire to raise the bar.

I’ve lived both places and I understand that the Aspen of 2019 is not Fort Lauderdale 1986 (although had the city approved Mark Hunt’s proposed “affordable” hotels back in 2014, it might have been on its way). Aspen doesn’t need to raise the bar, but it needs to be cognizant of how its reputation is adversely impacted by the antics of internet exploitation artists looking to make a buck by acting as immaturely as possible on video. Aspen also needs to be aware of the message these antics send to the fans of such provocateurs — that Aspen is the kind of place such behavior is at least tolerated, if not condoned.

Whether our boom and bust economy continues to boom, or busts, interest in Aspen’s party scene endures. Not just from those looking to blow off a little steam and have a good time, but from those looking to profit off of their bad behavior by sharing their “bad boy” Aspen experiences around the globe via the internet.

Now is the time to get the word out that Aspen is not the kind of place where such behavior is either appreciated or condoned, before it really becomes a problem.

 

Paul Menter’s email is pmenter98388@gmail.com

Columnist