Originally created 04/02/97

Web `prank' so funny we forgot to laugh



I had planned this week to tell you all about Gena Lee Nolin's plan to deliver her baby on the Net. But the joke's on me.

In the April issue of The WEB magazine, and on her own Web site, Nolin, one of those talented actors on "Baywatch," announced she would have streaming audio, a live chat room and instant photos of her baby's arrival.

"I really just want to give something back to my fans," the story and a separate press release said. "And share the joy of motherhood around the world."

But then, late last week, the magazine announced that the whole thing was a joke.

"It is an April Fools' joke that The WEB magazine coordinated with Gena for our pranks issue," James Oliver Curry, a senior editor at the magazine, said in a press release. "This good-natured prank comments on celebrity, how information spreads via the Web, and what the public expects to experience online."

Boy, I'm splitting a rib laughing about this one. I was ready to believe this, but not because of the Web or the public's expectations. Rather, this seemed believable because of the lowbrow, completely mindless approach the entertainment industry has taken toward the Internet.

Publicity stunts have found a fertile petri dish with the Web. You can almost hear the clueless agents telling clients how doing this or that Web site will make them appear hip or attract a new audience.

Of course, they're not without justification. Magazines such as Curry's are flooding the newsstands. Piled up next to my desk are dozens of publications that didn't exist a year ago, all trying to outdo the others in showing the public what a wacky, fun place the Net is.

Why else would the last two issues of The WEB have covers that look more like People magazine than a computer publication? Last month it was "Telling Lies with David Bowie," this month it's "Gena Lee Delivers!"

And Nolin's Web site provides a nice example of the mindless content so many celebrities and publicists are posting. Every page has her cavorting atop a big log while menu choices offer snapshots from her house, the previews of her calendar and a chance to join her fan club.

If the online birth thing was a hoax, then they forgot to tell whoever does Nolin's Web site. Along with details of the pending online delivery are her sonograms and the baby's recorded heartbeat.

Do I want this? Does anyone?

Look, I know there's a difference between entertainment sites and, say, the National Institutes of Health. And certainly lots of people have personal sites for far more insipid ideas.

But if you're going to spend money on a site, and clearly Nolin has, shouldn't we expect an experience that offers something more than screen high jinks intended for the lowest common denominator?

Curry explains that the stunt was inspired, in part, by Timothy Leary's announcement that he would die live, so to speak, on his Web site. But the fact is Leary didn't die on his Web site, http://leary.com; he used his site to talk about the meaning of death and his perspective.

Nolin says she, too, has insight to share with other expectant mothers. She hosts a weekly chat on America Online in the LoveAOL forum. Increasingly, she says in her magazine interview, people want to talk about the baby.

But even Gena acknowledges her lack of experience here, sort of.

"I'm used to acting in front of a camera, but being on TV hasn't prepared me for this role," she says.

Does anyone have a clue for sale? We could make it a shower gift.