by: danah boyd
Over the last week, i've gotten innumerable emails about lonelygirl15. Folks were wondering if i was behind it or if i knew who was. They wanted to know my opinion, if i thought it was fake.
I thought it was fake but i expected that it was a TV movie or organization. I was kinda curious if it was an ARG but it didn't look like it. I decided that i should do a proper analysis of the different bits when the news broke: LonelyGirl15 is crafted by a group of filmmakers as an art project. Here's their letter to their fans:
To Our Incredible Fans,
Thank you so much for enjoying our show so far. We are amazed by the overwhelmingly positive response to our videos; it has exceeded our wildest expectations. With your help we believe we are witnessing the birth of a new art form. Our intention from the outset has been to tell a story-- A story that could only be told using the medium of video blogs and the distribution power of the internet. A story that is interactive and constantly evolving with the audience.
Right now, the biggest mystery of Lonelygirl15 is "who is she?" We think this is an oversimplification. Lonelygirl15 is a reflection of everyone. She is no more real or fictitious than the portions of our personalities that we choose to show (or hide) when we interact with the people around us. Regardless, there are deeper mysteries buried within the plot, dialogue, and background of the Lonelygirl15 videos, and many of our tireless and dedicated fans have unearthed some of these. There are many more to come.
To enhance the community experience of Lonelygirl15, which you have already helped to create, we are in the process of building a website centered around video and interactivity. This website will allow everyone to enjoy the full potential of this new medium. Unfortunately, we aren't programmers. We are filmmakers. We are working furiously to complete the website, and hope to have it up and running shortly.
So, sit tight. You are the only reason for our success, and we appreciate your devotion. We want you to know that we aren't a big corporation. We are just like you. A few people who love good stories. We hope that you will join us in the continuing story of Lonelygirl15, and help us usher in an era of interactive storytelling where the line between "fan" and "star" has been removed, and dedicated fans like yourselves are paid for their efforts. This is an incredible time for the creator inside all of us.
Now that i've killed the suspense, let me back up and tell you about what happened. For those who aren't familiar, videos by LonelyGirl15 started appearing on YouTube over the summer. She's supposedly a teenager who is homeschooled by religious parents who don't know she's creating videos online. Her friend Daniel helps her with the videos and they often talk back and forth across their videos. It's rather endearing but too good to be true.
As more videos popped up, people started questioning whether this was real or not. Speculation mounted and fake lonelygurls started to appear. People created videos to comment on LonelyGirl15. People flocked to the LonelyGirl15 forum to discuss. Problem is the LonelyGirl15 domain was registered before the videos started appearing. People started tracking down more and more clues, trying to hone in on what it was, who was behind it. Suspicion mounted. In classic fan style, people dove right down and tore apart all of the data. Quite a few thought that this was an ARG, Jane McGonigal style, but she denied involvement on NPR. Others thought it was an advert or some marketing campaign.
The clues people dug up were fascinating. Personally, i was intrigued by "Bree's" MySpace profile. I knew it was fake but i didn't know if the YouTube LonelyGirl15 made the MySpace profile LonelyGurl15. Why did i know it was fake? Well, i read too many teenage MySpaces. Not sure i should give away clues as to how to create a real-looking fake MySpace profile. ::wink::
Then press started covering it. Hands down, The New York Times had the best coverage. I can't help but wonder if the NYTimes knew the truth because they are certainly using the same language: "Hey There, Lonelygirl - One cute teen's online diary is probably a hoax. It's also the birth of a new art form." If so, go Adam for good reporting!
I like the idea that it is an art form but i also think it's part of what Henry Jenkins calls Convergence Culture. Regardless, it's super cool that people are using new media to create narratives. They are telling their story, truth or fiction. Of course, this makes many people very uncomfortable. They want blogs and YouTube and MySpace to be Real with a capital R. Or they want it to be complete play. Yet, what's happening is both and neither. People are certainly playing but even those who are creating "reality" are still engaged in an act of performance. They are writing themselves into being for others to interpret and the digital bodies that emerge often confound those who are doing the interpretation. In many ways, this reminds me of the Fakester drama during the height of Friendster. As one of the instigators behind the Fakester manifesto explained, "none of this is real." I won't get all existential on you so we'll leave it at that.
In many ways, i have to admit that i'm sad that the truth is out. I was really enjoying the suspicion. Far more than any episode of Lost or reality TV show. I was enjoying not knowing who was behind it and spending hours speculating and trying to find hints. I was enjoying watching a community of people talk endlessly about what they thought might be going on. Sure, the videos were quite endearing (although the ending of Poor Pluto disturbed the hell out of me) but do i just want to watch the videos by themselves? I'm not sure. I think i liked them for the mystery.
Regardless, i absolutely love the way people are using all of these new social technologies to create cultural experiments. To me, this signifies the importance of social media.