Believe it or not, there was a time long ago when the Internet did not exist. This was an era when people were forced to wait until an album was actually released before they could listen to it, when auctions of a cupful of Elvis Presley's water or a grilled-cheese sandwich bearing a resemblance to the Virgin Mary were nothing more than a snake-oil salesman's pipe dream, and when jokes were greeted not with a hearty "LOL" but with actual laughter — out loud, even.
And if you held in your heart secret desires for a 24-hour wrestling network, or a 20th-anniversary DVD version of "The Karate Kid," then those desires remained just that: secret. And if a particular pop star really got your goat, there was little you could do besides yell at your TV.
But we were all given a new way to vent in 1999, with the creation of www.PetitionOnline.com, a discreet and nondescript Web site where the ticked-off write petitions and gather signatures, appealing to network execs and label heads to save shows, kill off characters, and — as is the case more and more these days — to end the careers of a whole lot of musicians.
Like, for example, Ashlee Simpson, who in the wake of her "Saturday Night Live" lip-synch debacle (see "Ashlee Blames Gastric Distress For 'SNL' Lip-Synch Snafu") has become the subject of the site's most-accessed petition.
Authored by one "Bethany Decker," the "Stop Ashlee Simpson" petition has gathered more than 64,000 signatures from concerned Net denizens. The petition is addressed to Simpson's label and management company, demanding that she cease "recording, touring, modeling and performing."
"We, the undersigned, are disgusted with Ashlee Simpson's horrible singing and hereby ask her to stop," the petition reads. "She cannot match the sound of her voice that can be found on her CDs, when she sings live. She simply yells the words (sometimes the wrong ones) into the mic."
And Ashlee is not the only artist bearing the brunt of Internet citizens' wrath: More than 4,000 Britney Spears critics signed a petition demanding she "give us a live concert and not lip-synch the whole thing." Fans of DMX, feeling betrayed by his disappearance from the spotlight, created the "DMX retirement" petition, asking Def Jam Records to force X back into the recording studio. Concerned Metallica fans can sign a petition asking the band to "sever your working relationship with [producer] Bob Rock."
With more and more people signing online petitions, the author of one such appeal has issued a formal statement asking that his submission be taken a little less seriously. Since James Clarke's petition to get Ozzy Osbourne fired from Black Sabbath for his "lack of commitment" to the band was mentioned in a news item on Blabbermouth.net on Tuesday, it has been covered in a slew of newspapers and Web sites, prompting Clarke to release a statement to Blabbermouth apologizing to its site, Black Sabbath and the band's fans for his petition, which he said was "meant to be facetious."
Several entreaties on PetitionOnline.com seek changes in the music industry. A group calling itself "The Mindset Army" drew up a petition addressed to the Recording Academy, asking the organization to ban Kanye West from this year's Grammy Awards because it claims he bought the song "Jesus Walks" from an Indianapolis-based MC named Rhymefest. The group has only received 323 signatures so far, and the Recording Academy said it wasn't aware of the petition or the Mindset Army.
"This is the first I've ever heard of it," Academy communications coordinator Lourdes Lopes said.
Which brings up an obvious question: Just how successful are these petitions? While the site claims that "results will vary," online petitions garnered an apology from Microsoft's WebTV (due to a petition started because of poor service provided to subscribers) and a faxed apology from the senior vice president of CNN (in response to a petition started by viewers who felt offended by anti-Muslim comments made by a guest on the network's "TalkBack Live" program.) But it seems doubtful that Simpson's record label or the Recording Academy will take seriously any petition that counts amongst its signees "Jeff Lebowski," "William Hung" and "Bart Simpson" (twice).