When I think about the supreme, most profound honor any individual can receive, the noble peace prize immediately comes to mind. So last week, I was one of the countless individuals who took a moment to celebrate Doris Lessing, the 87-year-old writer, whose autobiographical stories won her the 2007 noble peace prize in literature, making her the oldest person to have ever received the literature prize and the second oldest Nobel Laureate in any category.
Throughout her long illustrious career, Lessing has touched upon pressing social and political issues of our time broaching communism, racism, and feminism around the world. Lessing’s writing has a sophistication and impact that has been revered by many. In fact, Irving Howe once described her as “the archaeologist of human relations,” and the Swedish Academy called her an “epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny.”
So how did Lessing’s fans react to the news of her great honor? Did they hold galas across the country to celebrate? Or perhaps feel inspired to go on a humanitarian trip to Africa? Nope. Instead, more than 100 people signed up to be her friend on MySpace.
Yes, Lessing has a MySpace account and by the end of this past weekend, Ms. Lessing had 240 MySpace friends, up from 125 before the announcement of her great award.
Jan Hanford was a Lessing fan who now runs Lessing’s Web site and MySpace page. She began the project in 1995 as part of her own Web site, and later, with Ms. Lessing’s permission, moved it to www.dorislessing.org. According to Hanford, “I want to put Doris out there… People want to feel connected with people they admire.”
Hanford’s impulse about feeling connected to our idols hits the nail right on the head. In actuality, Ms. Lessing’s MySpace page prominently states that she “is not online and does not access this page,” yet her profile does mention that she is divorced and a Libra and that she drinks, but doesn’t smoke. So while Lessing’s fans aren’t participating in an open dialogue with the author, they do feel they are getting to know her on a deeper, more personal level, which thanks to MySpace, is a simple feat.
In today’s technological landscape, social networking is becoming a preeminent force allowing us all to feel connected to the people we admire. So while becoming Lessing’s MySpace friend may at first seem odd and somehow unsophisticated, in reality it is a sign of the times. It’s a clear indication that the mystical, untouchable, celebrity is becoming a thing of the past. In 2007, I can say I am friends with a noble peace prize winner. If I may go out on a limb here, I think that’s pretty darn cool.