Googling Sugar Man: Is it possible to remain unknowable in the Internet age? | Film | For Our Consideration | The A.V. Club

Googling Sugar Man
Googling Sugar Man

When I watched the wonderful, crowd-pleasing documentary Searching For Sugar Man at Sundance earlier this year, I had an advantage over audiences who caught it during its theatrical run: I didn’t know the fate of its subject, Detroit folk singer Sixto Rodriguez, who released two gorgeous, poor-selling albums in the early ’70s to a tidal wave of indifference in the United States, while a world away, his heavily bootlegged albums became smashes in South Africa. For the first half-hour, I did not know if I was watching a tragic documentary about an enigmatic folk singer who never got the attention he deserved and died in obscurity, or a rousing documentary about a brilliant but overlooked musician’s triumphant comeback.

In this instance at least, ignorance was bliss. If I’d done even the most preliminary research I would have discovered that Rodriguez was alive and well and living in Detroit, and not a tragic figure who killed himself onstage or died of an overdose in an alley somewhere, as his South African fans feared. For decades, Rodriguez unknowingly led a bizarre double life: Unknown and unheralded in his homeland, he was a towering pop icon and huge commercial force in a land he’d never visited. Rumors flourished throughout South Africa of Rodriguez’s sordid demise, even though in his native land he remained a public figure, albeit a minor one: a community activist who got a degree in philosophy, raised smart, passionate, politically engaged daughters, and even ran for political office.

Rodriguez’s double life as a secret superstar is a distinctly pre-Internet phenomenon. Accordingly, in the film, Rodriguez is eventually found through a website dedicated to tracking his whereabouts. The Internet may be flooded with misinformation, lies, rumors, and slander, but it also contains enough legitimate, verifiable information to make the world a smaller, less mysterious place. In a pre-Internet age, the question “What happened to Rodriguez?” would have sent dogged journalists on an epic, international quest for truth. In a post-Internet age, the question, “Whatever happened to Rodriguez?” can be answered within seconds simply by typing his name into Google.

via Googling Sugar Man: Is it possible to remain unknowable in the Internet age? | Film | For Our Consideration | The A.V. Club.


3 thoughts on “Googling Sugar Man: Is it possible to remain unknowable in the Internet age? | Film | For Our Consideration | The A.V. Club

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  1. I’ve loved reading this, am now overwhelmed w/email. Please unsubscribe me.

    thanks – Laura

    On Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 8:34 PM,


  2. Hi Brian,
    I found your use of “unknowable” interesting – in my opinion it might be almost impossible to remain “unknown” in the Internet age, but it may be possible to remain “unknowable” in any age, depending on the person or phenomenon.
    Stay well, and thanks for this website!


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