Hits and missives from Internet users with an ax to grind against popular icons

WEB SPITE

October 22, 1997|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

In yesterday's Today article about celebrity hate sites on the Internet, an extra letter was inadvertently put into the Web address for the Drew Barrymore and Gwen Stefani site. The correct address is http: //home.earthlink.net/d_mentia/hehehe.html

The Sun regrets the error.

On Jessica's Web page, you can beat the living daylights out of actress Drew Barrymore, reducing her to a bloody, decapitated pulp. Or you can dismember Gwen Stefani, perox- ided lead singer of No Doubt, with a chain saw.

"I don't hate them; I hate the image they sell," says the 18-year-old University of California at Santa Barbara student, who refuses to reveal her last name because the site has provoked death threats. "Why would you put so much value into their images if I can deface them so easily?"

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Jessica maintains a "rogue" World Wide Web site. Such pages are devoted to an alternative, most often negative, take on a cultural institution or celebrity, according to James Cury, senior associate editor for The Web magazine.

Page titles are often prefaced with "I hate," as in "I Hate the Spice Girls." The sites may feature altered pictures, song lyrics, rogue slogans or games like Jessica's, in which visitors can mutilate chosen celebrities or institutions.

Though the Internet has fostered the proliferation of sites devoted to serious hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, what rogue Web pages represent is hobby hate: bashing celebrities and fads for laughs or to make a point.

The volume of rogue pages on the Net is impossible to estimate, according to Internet industry experts at the Web search engine Yahoo, Wired magazine and research firms such as Forrester Research Inc. But Net watchers find that these pages are mostly the work of college-age rogues.

According to Jack Graham, a senior Web developer at Information Inter*Clear in Chicago, people have been adding insult to Internet since the Web first emerged.

"Rogue pages started developing very shortly after fan pages developed," he says. "When the Web sprouted up, people started using it as a means of self-expression." He added that the pages are easy to construct, because all you need is some knowledge of your subject and a few ready-to-scan images.

Jessica created her page out of boredom one night. It was inspired by growing up in Southern California, where she saw legions of twiggy, barrette-sporting teens emulate impossible Hollywood physical ideals. Now, more than 5,000 hits and hundreds of frightening e-mail messages later, including death threats she's taken to the FBI and the L.A. police department, she has turned the popular site into a hobby.

Current hate trends go from the rabid, underground, 'zine-based I Hate Brenda movement, embraced by detesters of Shannen Doherty in "Beverly Hills, 90210," to Donald Trump insulting pop group Hanson on a recent MTV sound bite.

One-hit wonders and ephemeral icons such as the New Kids on the Block, Spice Girls, Hanson, Joey Lawrence, Barney and the Smurfs are popular subjects for rogue sites. These can also be targeted at the most sacred of entertainment cows, like the Beatles, or even technology itself. Hence "I Hate Bill Gates" or anti-America Online pages.

Simple soapbox

On the Web, high-tech hate is surprisingly low-maintenance.

"Take human nature, couple that with the accessibility and speed, and people can act on it instead of just think about it," says Ron Wagner, owner of Ironlight Digital, a San Francisco-based Internet provider. "The Internet is the perfect medium for this. The barrier-to-entry cost is very low."

With Internet access, anyone can use a simple programming language or software to create a Web page. Universities have made it easy for college students, who often are given Internet accounts and can take new-media classes to teach them what to do.

It's a lot cheaper than publishing a newsletter. The cost of an Internet account is free for most college students. And anyone in the world with Internet access can read a Web site.

"Putting out a newsletter would be way too much work," says Dallas Baker, 20. The Towson native, who attends Carnegie Mellon University, maintains anti-Paul Reiser and "Dilbert" sites, which have received nearly 2,000 hits cumulatively in the past week. "At Carnegie Mellon, we check our e-mail more than we get phone calls."

As far as time commitment goes, it depends on how elaborate the page is. It took Jessica about seven hours to construct her site, and she spends a few minutes a week responding to mail and updating the site. It took Linda Highland, who maintains an anti-Beatles site, even less time.

"It was like two hours in February," the 35-year-old Somerville, Mass., resident says. "It's not like a continuing effort."

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