Saturday 8 January 2011

Kenneth Tong and the Fame Game

This is Kenneth Tong. Until my significant other began ranting about him this morning I hadn't heard of him. But he's famous. His celebrity is based on a six day stint in the 2009 series of Big Brother and ... um, that's it. Why then am I introducing this towering luminary to AVPS readers? Because young Kenneth is sitting at the heart of a Twitterstorm. Kenneth fancies himself as something of a self-help guru, except his idea of self-help is encouraging women to starve themselves down to a US size zero. His Twitter profile declares "Proudly endorsing managed anorexia. Nothing tastes as good as thin feels." Here are some of his pearls:

Curvy is another word for fat when used by you. Stop hiding behind such a broad word that does not apply to your context. You are just fat.

Should be approaching lunch hour in Britain, although you really shouldn't take notice of this if you're not a size zero, carry on working.

All you non size zero girls need to keep a food diary, noting everything you eat & drink - review it daily and see how imperfect you are.

Females who do not aim nor want to be a size zero are simply uneducated and ignorant. To be skinny is to be perfect. Personify self-control.

There is no excuse for a Girl not to be a Size Zero. It is perfection. Skinny is so sexy, show's [sic] self control and is the epitome of beauty.
When Kenneth is not regaling Twitter with his observations on size zero he's busy channelling Conservative Future. Look:

Truthfully, when you are as wealthy as I am, you can say, do and think anything without penalty, as you have no one to be accountable to.

Lifestyle is far better out here, as "rich" as London is, poor people are far too prevalent and venues too accessible for the latter.

I do not do charity unless it adds a tangible value into my life.

Used to spend my days chasing and bedding Glamour Models, now I look at my £200,000 watch, counting down my next protein fix.
You'd think someone comfortable with their privilege and free from inadequacy wouldn't need to lord it over his 17,000 Twitter followers.

As you'd expect, Twitter has gone apoplectic. That said, I'm not going to critique this man's idiocy, especially as it's
already been done. But there are some interesting things Kenneth Tong says about Twitter's dynamics and how it can be used to play the fame game.

As far as I can tell, describing Kenneth as economically wealthy but socially useless fits him like a glove. Born into money he boasts about bedding models, holidaying here, there, and everywhere, and making cash on the currency markets. He is every inch the personification of Engels's 'coupon clippers'. But the one thing his wealth cannot buy him is recognition. Even in the world of the famous-for-being-famous, celebrity has to be rooted in something. Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian launched themselves as TV and paparazzi fodder off the back of sex tapes. Kerry Katona was a (minor) pop star-turned reality telly regular. Katie Price/Jordan was a glamour model. Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse sing. Anyone can do
Big Brother, but only Jade Goody, Craig Phillips, Kate Lawler, Anna Nolan, and Brian Dowling went on to bigger things. Those without an identifiable talent or reason for being in the celebrity firmament find their star falls very quickly indeed. And Kenneth is of this category. Apart from a blink-and-you'll-miss-him stay in Big Brother and a couple of minor TV credits there is no rhyme nor reason why he should attain lasting celebrity. And this must be an affront to a man with an overblown ego. Why should he be eclipsed by others, especially "overweight" women from working class backgrounds?

Well, Kenneth has found a possible way into celebrity: the public display of obnoxiousness. The "fame" housemates acquire through
BB is sufficient to land them gigs opening bars and clubs. And it's just enough to translate into a few thousand Twitter followers too, as hardcore fans of the show like to keep tabs on former contestants. Some celebrities count themselves among their number and will, like everyone else, correspond with (though not necessarily follow) ex-housemates and retweet them when they say something telling or funny. This reaches their own large non-BB audience driving further rounds of retweets and funnelling hundreds/thousands of followers toward them.

Kenneth's pig ignorant comments about anorexia were almost designed to take advantage of these dynamics. David Schneider said
this. Professor Green has jumped in with this. Simon Cowell(!) has got in on the act. US actor Sophia Bush publicised Kenneth's Twitter feed by writing an 'open' tweet, and finally - and no doubt much to Kenneth's satisfaction - Rihanna brought his name to the attention of her 2.7 million followers. Well done, celebs! Aware he's a hot internet property for the moment he's asked if Justin Bieber, Katie Price, and Gordon Ramsay would back his size zero campaign. And to wind the celebs up further he gleefully retweets any criticism coming his way.

Does it matter? After all, Kenneth only has 17,000 followers (though rising fast, he's gained a few hundred in the couple of hours since I started writing this). It's not as if we're talking masses and masses here - a point
noted by Loz on the reach of political blogging and tweeting. But it's a case of quality, not quantity. Because some serious A-Listers have taken offence to the moronic Mr Tong and he has successfully made himself a worldwide trending topic, I would be very surprised if the affair goes unmentioned in the Sunday papers or the mid-week glossies. I expect follow up interviews asking Kenneth to "clarify" his statements too, allowing him to enhance his notoriety. And who knows, more media appearances, more column inches, and perhaps further reality TV invitations off the back of the new man-you-love-to-hate await.

At the moment it looks like Kenneth is on the cusp of sustained fame. I wonder how long it will be before the penny drops and our celebrities realise that by condemning a monster, they've created one.

NB Gordon Ramsay fell for the trap.


Anonymous said...

You need to check twitter caches tweets where kenneth the little turd insisted that @harrodsoflondon exclusively would be stocking his size zero pill. That couple of tweets was at 11 am. Harrods forced him to remove that claim and are still as we speak saying sorry via twitter and assuring people that no such thing will happen.

Phil said...

Ah. So 'thick' is another adjective I can use to describe the venerable Mr Tong.

Dori Lukey said...

An interesting and in depth read. I hope more people will read this and not be taken in by this publicity stunt he is doing

Anonymous said...

" NB Gordon Ramsay fell for the trap." Don't think he has mate

Phil said...

He did - he mentioned his name, which was duly retweeted. I'm sure the viral would have got stronger had it not been the news from Arizona. Tong probably thinks it was a conspiracy designed to keep him from fame.

redmik said...

Prefer the adjective 'obnoxity' to 'obnoxiousness' (less syllabubs)

F x said...

He's an appalling little man - I'm not bothered over his comments about weight etc because everyone has different ideas on what's attractive - but endorsing "managed Anorexia" is bullshit. There's no such thing!

Phil said...

This is what he had to say by way of a reply on Twitter:

"Read your article, I enjoyed it very much, you're forgetting one thing, I don't care for the notoriety, my Size Zero Pill does."


Meanwhile David Allen Green has a few things to say about Kenneth Tong too. See here.

Anonymous said...

What does it say about Tong, me, and society that when I saw the name I thought he was a serial killer?

Simon said...

Johann Hari has written a great article about him and had their conversation recorded and transcribed. It's very weird, but Tong seems to be genuine until Hari bascially verbally beats him around the head. It's an interesting read (or listen).

Phil said...

Yeah, Tong came out as a fraud last week. He said he was going to make a donation to an anorexia charity to make amends. I hope they told him to eff off.