Image by Caroline Goldfarb
Caroline Goldfarb is a very 21st century product. As the curator of the bombastic Instagram account Official Sean Penn— focused on glittery celebrity shrines and weed, not the greasy Oscar winner—she's amassed a dedicated online following. Her work is a strange emulsion of digital, pop and fan art. With 270k followers she's parlayed her rainbow coloured take on the world into an online store, column on Broadly and most recently a podcast.
I've spent hours of my life in Caroline's world. During that time I stopped seeing her as a mere destination for weird celebrity news and began to recognise her off-the-wall fandom as a warped mirror to modern fan culture. She's one of the purest examples of a fan I've ever seen: her work offers reverence to A and Z listers. You won't find eye-rolls here; instead, you'll discover an open hearted celebration of modern culture through a rhinestone-encrused lens.
Like so many kids who grew up on the internet and now posses an innate understanding of the world it created, Caroline's not planning to remain a meme-machine forever. She's got big plans to create her own media empire, and take her unique brand of celebrity commentary to the world. It would be cool if the next Rupert Murdoch loved weed and aliens this much.
When people ask you what do you do, what do you say?
I think it's really ghastly when people use terms like "internet personality" or "instagram famous person" so since I spend a lot of time writing, I usually say writer. But when I have to go into it, I'll say like a "Z-list Instagram famous personality".
I feel like explaining the massive online following you've accrued under a celebrity's name could be a conversational back hole.
I definitely think at least 10 to 20 percent of the people that follow me think I'm Sean Penn, which is depressing on so many different levels. I do so many different things—sell merch, make digital art, write for Broadly, do hosting gigs—it's tough to explain my 500 different hustles. That's very millennial, if you don't have at least five things going you're dead in the water.
You do have a pretty unique "breaking news" approach to pop culture.
I feel a responsibility to my hordes of gay men and women fans that want to hear what I have to say.
When your professional assent is so a-typical, do you have people in the industry you look up to?
My two heroes in this world that I look to as guiding lights are Howard Stern and Wendy Williams.
Merchandise from the Official Sean Penn store.
I didn't expect that.
Howard is so unapologetically himself and has the same lurid interest and outsider obsession with pop culture as me. He's part of it, but he feels like an outsider in the way he talks about it. He's my number one. Then Wendy Williams, who again has a media empire but not in the traditional way of just being an actor or a writer. They're multi-faceted; people in the industry look to them and I love them so much.
You just started a podcast about pop cultural stories that you didn't even know about. Your interest with the pop cultural moments that fall through the gaps feels like a theme.
It's second nature. When I hear anything about Tori Spelling, my brain goes into the space where it's like, "That's important! Write this down!" There are just certain iconic D-list celebrities that everyone—in my circle at least—cares about and feels the need to discuss. I don't want to sound like a vulture picking at the carcasses of celebrities, it's really about love and respect. Growing up in LA amongst that Hollywood machine, this is in my blood in such a sickening way. I mean, I probably knew who Tori Spelling was while people were playing with Barbies.
Considering that, is it weird surreal when you've recently had publications such as Bloomberg Businessweek writing about you and trying to intellectualise what you're doing?
I just think it just shows how interestingly wide my fanbase is. When people tag each other in comments sometimes I'll check their profiles and it's people that work on Wall Street or Vogue who feel the need to read my opinion on Justin Bieber's penis size. It's not always tweens that like sparkles. Bloomberg Businessweek profiling me is kind of ridiculous when you think that I'm really just running this small sticker merchandising empire from my house.
How much is it this messing around, and how much is part of a bigger plan?
I have such an idea of the big picture, I see myself going places. I have a vision for a media empire in the future; but the average person probably thinks I'm some wannabe Lisa Frank. I'm confident in my future, I think it makes sense that Bloomberg would profile me.
What do you mean by "big picture"?
Wendy Williams went from radio to hosting her own TV show to building an empire based on her unfiltered view of celebrity, that's what I want for myself. I can see my aesthetic translating to a TV show I'd host. I don't know anyone else in my generation like me: it all lends itself so easily to a glittery, fabulous TV show.
Do you want to be famous?
I think I fit right into that sweet spot of Z-list celebrities. I definitely want to be famous for my name and not OfficialSeanPenn because I don't want Sean Penn to sue me.
Has he ever reached out to you?
You would think by this point he would have. He has a bunch of kids working for him in their twenties so I'm sure he knows about it. I picked the perfect celebrity without realising, he's repulsed by the internet and hates social media and stays away from it. Keep that up Sean, don't make an Instagram.
He just seems like someone who hasn't laughed at a joke in 20 years. In my mind he knows about the page and is cool with it. I don't want to speak too soon though. Everyday I'm waiting for the cease and desist.
We've talked a lot about fame, do you get starstruck?
I think the weirder celebrity the more starstruck I get. If I saw Jennifer Aniston or Bradley Cooper walking down the street I'd be like,oh that's cool. If I saw someone from Flavour of Love I'd lose my shit.
Do you ever get recognised by anyone?
Yes! I'm not at all cocky about the fact that I'm just running a somewhat famous Instagram account, but the first time someone came up to me and was like "are you OfficialSeanPenn?" I was like "OMG yes!" I really embarrassed myself by asking her if she wanted my autograph and she was like, "I'm cool". I was more starstruck by her.