When did you launch cherscholar.com?
Why did you originally create the site?
Fan sites were just becoming more sophisticated in 1999. Cher had only had one fan site up through 1998. In 1999, she launched her first official site, www.cher.com. Many fans felt it was missing on many points: no sense of Cher history, no timely news, no cuddly feel. So fan sites were popping up around to fill the void. I had twenty-something years of Cher-thoughts rolling around in my head in need of being put to some practical use. However, I hesitated doing a fan website. I knew I didn't have the time or patience to maintain a fan community (forums), I wasn't tech savvy enough to create a flashy site, and I didn't have the graphic design skills to create beautiful visual pages. Plus, you have to ask yourself, "what's the point?" A large number of sites out there have nothing new to contribute to the world. They're often a wasted exercise in celebrity obsession — a waste of human energy and Internet space. I decided if I had anything new to contribute it would probably be quirkiness or humor, and some good essays.
Why don't you consider cherscholar.com to be a fan site?
To me there are two types of fan sites out there: the useless one that just expresses a kind of scrolling love for the celebrity and the comprehensive fan site. A comprehensive site is a communal hub and it's got an abundance of information categorized about the artist. How web masters categorize artist subjects is fascinating in an of itself. Comprehensive sites have plenty of things fans and non-fans search for (lyrics, photos, latest news). The three best (and most popular) Cher fans sites out there are www.justplaincher.net; www.cherworld.com; and www.everythingcher.com. So you have the love-fest and the comprehensive resource. My page is neither of these. My site has undertones of satire on those other fan sites. It's a bastard of fan sites. It borders on subversive. It could be more subversive, actually. I'd be happier if I could say it was completely subversive.
I'm uncomfortable with the idea of spending too much energy and time on my celebrity obsession. For me, this feels like one of the disturbing phenomena of our times (along with conspicuous consumption). I also wanted (needed) to create a tonal boundary with the site so I wouldn't get caught up in someone else's (in this case Cher's) identity at the expense of my own. So, refusing to be a straight-on fan site allowed me to eat my cake and make fun of it, too. But ultimately, even this is just a farce. I am still involved in what I criticize. I am not as absolved as I yearn to be.
Does the site generate any earnings?
Absolutely none. It's a loss on my books.
How does the site — and off site activity — contribute to charities related to Cher?
I doubt it does in any way. I do maintain a list of "Cherities" Cher has been involved with over time (which I need to update); but I don't think this influences many visitors to contact these charities. The page was more a statement to remind Cher-detractors that she does more than hawk shampoo and fitness. She has a generous facet to her that goes largely unnoticed. The Cher Convention (www.cherconvention.org) actually does more to actively raise money for one of her charities, The Children's Craniofacial Association.
Have you ever communicated with Cher or her "people" regarding cherscholar.com?
No. I have had a connected fan here or there try to excite me with the idea that they would get her a copy of my print zine. But I would rather they didn't. As a writer I can be blunt and offensive. As a person, I'm very sensitive to hurting other people's feelings. I would be mortified to know that I'd upset someone with some offhanded comment, Cher or anyone else. But this is inevitable because that's the way I write; that's my voice as a writer. So I'd just rather not know. I'd rather keep my head in the sand because that frees me to say anything. I am not interested in PR writing. I am interested in critical thinking about Cher as a cultural phenomenon. I may not be the super-duperest Cher lover out there who think she's the bees knees in every aspect; but I think I have a point of view that ultimately believes Cher deserves more respect in many areas. But this doesn't mean I'll be a good soldier. I want to investigate all facets of Cher (and in a larger context, celebrity obsession) as objectively as I can and fearlessly—from the gut.
If so, does the site have Cher's approval or acknowledgement?
I don't know and I'm not interested. Okay, well I'm interested but I know curiosity kills the cat. If you know someone is watching (with approval or disapproval) that changes your behavior.
How much time do you spend working on the site now, and how much time did you spend when you first created the site?
Updates happen in cycles. I'll make small tweaks once in a while when I locate mistakes. Major text revisions usually only come annually. Between ApeCulture.com, my poetry projects, my corporate website job, and my social life, this site gets no attention.
What kind of feedback do you receive from visitors?
Some visitors are just confused. They don't know what to make of it. Am I being serious? Am I being mean? They don't trust it. Those tend to be ferocious Cher lovers. They're feeling protective of Cher. Also, this site isn't immediately validating their level of Cher-love. I would say It's actually a smaller group of people who connect with the site. There are some fans out there, like me, literally starving for some academic Cher explications. Other fans just want kewl pictures. I'm down with that, too — but that isn't where my mad skillz happen to be. You can find something like this done well at Oh My Cher! (site since removed).
What do you enjoy about running the site?
It's been a crazy little ride over the years. It's lead to interviews with NPR and The Philadelphia Inquirer, which has lead to a few radio interviews "as Cher Scholar." I'm not sure I was quite ready for that. I like waxing philosophical about celebrities from the safety net of my computer. But I pushed myself to do it — and it was a good growth experience, to physically stand up and get behind what you think.
I've also enjoyed locating like-minded fans out there who get where I'm going. That's been immensely rewarding. I love doing the Ask Cher Scholar column. I feel like I'm channeling a sassy, drag queen voice when I respond to those. Writing some of the essays has been gratifying. I had a job once where I had absolutely nothing to do for a few days. I decided to write short reviews of all of Cher's albums to pass the time. I only looked up a few facts — probably less than five. It was basically just a brain dump of everything I'd read over the years and my loud-mouth opinions. Of course, I made a few mistakes. Only two have turned up so far but someone wrote in to call me on them (someone who knew Sonny & Cher manager Charlie Greene and someone who corrected my statements about a 1972 Cher album — whose astute comments I posted). This kind of feedback is great because often it leads to engaged conversation about these factoids. Even the extremely negative feedback is interesting. Fans play the Name That Tune game, for instance. (Quite a few winners have been from Brazil, by the way). One day someone e-mailed me this message: "These songs are two hard, you crazy bit#h!" I showed it to my Ape Culture co-editor who laughed hysterically. This was insane so I sent him a "what-the-hell" response. He apologized and said he was having a bad day; but that I should post newer songs. I say: No way, Jose! I laugh about it. But then I get disturbed by it. And then I chuckle again. It's an amazing sub-phenomenon: why do we care so much about a Name That Tune contest? Why not be furious about our national congressmen literally ruining our lives. It's got so many layers. Studying celebrity obsession is like looking through a mesmerizing but very disturbing kaleidoscope.