(Originally published in Traffic, February 1996.)

David Siegel's Complete Guide to Auto-Mythology

Two years ago, celebrity was a privilege of the media elite. Now, as the world's biggest vanity press kicks into high gear, Andy Warhol's glib axiom has become the mindless mantra for anyone with a computer and a modem.

To assist novice fame-seekers in their efforts, a vast body of literature has sprung up. Go to your local bookstore; the shelves in the computer section are ablaze with the fat spines of books that promise to teach you how to master the Web. Some explain HTML, some delineate the intricacies of CGI and Java. Each has its own specialty, but they are all alike in what they fail to include: the one necessary skill every succesful Web auteur must possess...

That skill is auto-mythology, the ability to create a larger-than-life persona for oneself. The ability to "be" a celebrity.

The book that teaches this skill doesn't exist, but there is a site on the Web where such information can be found... is the work of natural-born teacher David Siegel. As casually as you or I breathe air, Siegel dispenses expert counsel: on HTML, on the principles of graphic design, on grammar and vegetarian cooking and even the best fertilization techniques for women at the tail-end of their child-bearing years. For some reason, however, Siegel masks the true purpose of his site. Perhaps like the Pat Morita character in The Karate Kid, he believes his lessons are more effective if you don't quite understand what you're learning. Thus, the people who visit may think that they're discovering the single-pixel GIF trick or why to use solid colors for their backgrounds; in reality, what they're actually being taught, through the thorough but veiled set of rules Siegel puts into practice at his site, is how to manufacture celebrity charisma, the preternatural sheen of Someone Who Matters...

Not everyone has the patience to learn in this indirect manner, however. Others simply lack the time. So as a public service to the Web, a Traffic research team has closely studied Siegel's site in order to distill the nine basic principles of auto-mythology it teaches. Here are the fruits of the team's labor:

1. Be Remarkable
Ambition, presumption, and persistence can take you far, but it never hurts to have at least a modicum of talent to fuel such motive forces. While Siegel isn't exactly the "master of all trades" he purports to be--witness the plodding prose style of his journal entries--he is a somewhat talented graphic designer. His work plainly shows his influences, and yet it's not without innovation. Tekton, the now-ubiquitous Adobe yypeface Siegel mid-wifed in the late '80s, may seem like nothing more than a computerized reproduction of architectural lettering, but when he initially got the idea for it, the concept of casual-looking digital type didn't even exist.

In addition to his design skills, Siegel is a dogged advocate for better HTML tools and standards. His latest effort is an essay called The Balkanization of the Web; stretches of it read like a B+ senior thesis, but it does offer a few interesting observations and some informed suggestions. If you're not very familiar with the Web but you'd like to be, you may consider it a worthwhile source of information.

By designing a visually distinct site when not many existed, by becoming a gadfly for better Web design tools, Siegel made his site notable. When it turned into a relatively popular attraction, the stage was set for him to deploy his next eight rules...

2. Be important
Famous people are assumptive: they take it for granted that because they are so important, you know who they are. Siegel works this angle extremely well, consistently dropping sentiments such as these:

"I'm probably more infamous than famous on the Web...I am the guy destroying what HTML was meant to do..."

"If you are doing a special class on me and my methods, you may print out my stuff and hand it out..."

"Is there a David Siegel News Group? No, net yet. I'd be interested if someone would start one..."

Now if you're starting to worry because you haven't inspired any college seminars, don't. Part of the beauty of assumption is that it often works even if you haven't done anything of merit. For example, Siegel has written a couple of books in the past, one on screenwriting and one on social/environmental issues. Neither one shows any signs of having been published (if they had been, he would be trying to sell them--see Rule 9 below), and yet Siegel confidently refers to them as authoritative, definitive sources in their field.

3. Associate with other celebrities.
It is a Hollywood truism that the biggest star-fuckers are the stars themselves. Siegel transports this attitude to the Web with admirable aplomb. He doesn't just drop names; he practically sheds them. Computer pioneer Donald Knuth...type legend Hermann Zapf...John Lasseter, the man behind Toy Story...Glenn Davis of Cool Site of the Day renown...Spotlet Tara Hartwick--Siegel hobnobs with them all. Now, these aren't "real" celebrities, of course; they're merely trade celebrities. That doesn't matter. If a name triggers even the slightest sense of notoriety, use it. People will think more of you.

4. Tell people how hard you work.
The concept of "hard work" is the rationale that permits the privileges and excesses of celebrity; it's also a wonderful antidote to the feeling that you've been extremely lucky to get where you are. So be prepared to work longer than most people do, and make sure your efforts don't go unnoticed. Once again, Siegel provides some textbook examples:

"We've been working like shrews, staying in the office until between 11pm and 1am most nights, seven days a week...I was actually working on a client project at midnight on New Years' eve."

"Unfortunately, I can't run an HTML help desk in my spare time, because I don't have any."

"One third of my life is spent anti-aliasing this web site."

But don't make all this hard work sound like drudgery; you don't want people to think you're some kind of common laborer. Glamorize your work, give it some romance. In the following example, Siegel strikes a tone that echoes Hemingway as he describes the terrible burden of living up to the demands of one's talent: "You look at your pages and you decide they could be better, so you keep working and working until they are as good as you can get them."

5. Be humble.
Humility is so overused as a signifier of celebrity status, it has practically exhausted itself of meaning. Nonetheless, you should make an effort to exhibit some every once in a while, simply as a matter of form. In an age as media-jaded as this, however, make sure you keep the insincerity level fairly high:

"I drew a little typeface called Tekton that brought me a regular income for the next several years."

"Even though he was only going to announce the 1st (The Spot) and 2nd (Rocktropolis?) place winners, I felt glad to be part of it...I knew it didn't really matter what place I got. It was just great to meet all these hard-working people who were obsessed about their web sites."

6. Be impossible.
Celebrities don't wait in lines, they don't order off the menu, and unlike regular people, who may have a pet peeve or two, celebrities have whole zoos. They're fussy, arbitrary, and domineering, and if you want to be a celebrity, you'll have to cultivate these characteristics too.

It's really pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Consider Siegel's take on a parameter of the Netscape table tag he apparently doesn't like: "If your site has even one table border turned on, you will not hear back from me."

Employees make great targets for your antics, so if you're lucky enough to have some, use them! Once again, Siegel shows how: "I put my foot on the side of his face and grind his head back and forth into the carpet." Actually, that's his cat Gizmo he's talking about, but you get the feeling he doesn't make much distinction between his pet and the people who work for him. To one he's applied the nickname "Sparky"; of another he says, "If Geoff (whom I have carefully trained) thinks it's good enough, he'll send it to me."

And in return, Siegel probably tosses Geoff a biscuit...

7. Tell all, yet retain a sense of mystery.
The most compelling celebrities reveal everything about their lives; they know the public's appetite for vicarious experience is immense. Thus, Siegel describes in painstaking detail his failed relationship with a woman named Sabine, his showers with his cat, his desire for a Swiss woman, his lack of a sex life, the bugs in his mushrooms...

And so on and so on and so on.

Such promiscuous disclosure is not without its dangers, however. If you make yourself too familiar, your once-adoring public, ever-fickle, will get bored; they'll search for someone new to fixate on. Luckily, there are many strategies you can employ to retain a sense of mystery. Siegel opts for the "mixed signals" approach. On the one hand, he repeatedly yearns for that mythical Swiss woman who will rescue him from lonely nights of superfluous "Doritos" production. On the other hand, you have to wonder: can a never-married, Marilyn Monroe-obsessed, Judy Garland-loving, 36 year-old designer of such fussy typefaces as Tekton and Eaglefeather, with a penchant for fancy slacks, possibly be straight?

In addition to the sexual-orientation intrigue, there's the general strangeness of Siegel's fixation on menstruation, breast-feeding, and conception. Sure, at age 36, he's yearning to be a dad, but he takes it a few long steps past normal paternal curiosity. Consider the following excerpts:

"So can I ask you something? Are these new curved tampons from Kotex really any better? I always thought OBs seemed like the best choice, but I'm willing to learn something here if you can give me the real scoop."

"Meanwhile, men unfailingly manufacture a thousand sperm cells every minute, like they were just baking Doritos at the factory. ("Suck all you want, honey, I'll make more.)"

"Women think I'm weird because on the first date I ask if they'd be willing to breast-feed for two years."

"I'm dying to know if those new curved tampons from Kotex work better or not. I'd appreciate hearing from some users...Aren't OB better, anyway, or am I out of touch in the feminine hygiene department?"

Ummm. Maybe just out of touch in general...

Indeed, there's something almost Tesh-like about Siegel at times. Is he for real? you wonder. Is it an act, or is he truly that odd? You start getting the feeling he could crack at any moment. But, as with Tesh, this works in Siegel's favor.

It makes him Someone To Watch.

8. Have a cause.
Or several. It's a way to give back to the world that has given you so much. It's a way to demonstrate your leadership and vision and compassion. Now, a lot of new celebrities make the mistake of picking a disease to champion. Diseases, however, are limited in scope; they only affect the people who get them (and the friends and families of these people, but still, in the big picture, it's a limited audience). You want to pick something that matches your own broad horizons. Something that affects everyone. As Siegel so aptly puts it, when describing his relative indifference to the AIDS epidemic: "It's just my nature to care more about humanity than individual men or women."

So, Siegel doesn't mess with petty viral catastrophes. His cause is much bigger than that; he is out to save the planet. His means for doing so include:

1. Population control

2. Veganism

3. Anti-materialism

It is an ambitious, inspiring, all-encompassing vision. As an aspiring celebrity, you should study its tenets closely and attempt to incorporate all of those that comfortably fit within your particular lifestyle. And maybe even a few that don't. With a vision as broad and ambitious as that, you're bound to embody some contradictions.

Take Siegel, for example. Believing that the key to population control is the political empowerment of women, he declares himself a feminist (albeit a rather gynocentric one). He is devoting one of his pages to women's issues (at last check it was still under construction); he takes pride in the fact that many of the people who visit his site are women; he is curious to learn more about Sweden, because he has heard that women comprise half the government there. On a global basis, he believes it is women who will ultimately save the planet.

On a more personal basis, he seems to really like their hair:

"Sabine had great hair. Sabine was the major love in my life."

"I sat briefly in the same subway car as a beautiful woman with long, tightly wavy Sonja Braga hair. Pounds and pounds of this beautiful, shining, glistening hair...I was paying particular attention in Paris and did not notice too many of the "stylish" young women wearing bangs...Being a longtime no-bangs advocate, I had heard that recent trends in Europe were toward bangs, and indeed this is the case in Italy, where bangs have been more prevalent anyway. But in Paris, I was safe. There were very few women at all wearing bangs."

Also, while Siegel has encouraged women to submit material on a volunteer basis to his site, his attitude toward actually paying them for their work is less clear. Of the four or five employees of his that he cites by name, none are women.

Such contradictions, however, should be left to the quibblers of the world. Celebrities don't have time for details; they're too busy doing dynamic, consequential things. If you want to accomplish anything worthwhile in life, you're going to step on some toes. You're going to contradict yourself on occasion, and make yourself look like a blowhard.

It's the price of fame. So be prepared to accept it.

9. Sell. Sell. Sell.
When you become a celebrity, you become a brand. And brands exist for one purpose only: to be sold. This is no time to be subtle; you have to make your ambition explicit. While you must always take care to appear busy, you must also constantly promote your availability and have merchandise ready to go. Sell your services, sell products, sell yourself, sell skills you don't even have yet. Once again, Siegel ably demonstrates these principles:

"If you have any friends who want a site for $20,000 or more, please have them call me..."

"Jeez! I spent $450 on t-shirts, because people said they wanted them, and in the two weeks they've been for sale, I've only sold two!"

"I'm concerned about the lack of growth in my readership here...I'm interested in leverage, and I won't have it if the choir is missing...It's what leads to ads, and ads are something we want on our site, but not on anyone else's."

"Not everyone is born a TV personality. I'm willing to learn. I spent half an hour with Richard Hart...I learned a lot from him...I'd love to give it a shot and spend a bit of time testing for them. Don't you think I could learn?"

So there they are: the nine basic rules of auto-mythology. Start putting them into effect, and you should be famous in no time. Who knows? If you employ them skillfully enough, you might even get to lunch with the Master Himself...

-- G. Beato

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