Ponderance

(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Lonelygirl15 - The story so far ...

Thursday, September 14, 2006
If you've been anywhere near a blog or YouTube or MySpace in the last week, you've heard a lot about LonelyGirl15.

On the off chance you've not been paying attention, LonelyGirl15 is a videoblogging phenomenon which centres around a young girl named 'Bree' and her friend 'Daniel', both of whom post videos at YouTube. Bree's posts are creative, funny and also feature something of a bizzare backstory featuring some sort of strong religious beliefs (or, as many speculated, satan worship!) but the core is the almost-relationship and almost-romance between Bree and Daniel. However, the story was a little too good; the lighting and production values a little too high (even though there was jump-cut editing, shaky camera movement when outside and so forth for realism value) and many people started to suspect LonelyGirl15 (or LG15 for short) was actually a new form of media narrative emerging via videoblogging. Investigations and speculation about LG15 stretched from blogs to The New York Times to the extent that the search could actually be called a global media event.

As danah boyd notes, when the mystery reached a certain peak, rather than get 'uncovered', on September 7, 'The Creators' made this post to the LonelyGirl15 forum:
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.
These revelations sent YouTube, bloggers and the web-savvy media into something of a frenzy. YouTube video responses, such as those from bravesgirl5 and renetto, expressed dismay the Bree wasn't real; there was a vitriolic outpouring about how the Creators had misled the YouTubers and the wider web with a huge hoax (although renetto seems to be 'gaming' the YouTube communities as much as the LG15 creators!).

Given all the discussion and speculation about the fact that LG15 might be a media creation rather than a 'real' authentic home-schooled 16-year old, I've been amazed at how hurt, upset and, sometimes, nasty commentators have been since LG15 was outed as produced media (especially in the YouTube communities and blogs). However, Jill Walker points out that these feelings make perfect sense if you think of YouTube as social space where videobloggers interact with each other presuming a certain veracity which enables meaningful connections between vloggers. In a follow-up post, Jill points out that it might not even be the question of truth that angered YouTubers, but the sense that their community spaces were being invaded by produced media:
perhaps it's not just that lonelygirl's fans are upset that "she" was cheating by being a professional pretending to be an amateur like them - you could also read her fan's fury at her fictionality as an anger at a commodification of their social space for self-expression.
Perhaps that sense of a community or space being invaded explains why YouTube has had so many emotionally uneven 'exposed!' videos since Silicon Valley Watcher Matt Foremski uncovered the identity of the actress playing Bree: New Zealander Jessica Rose (NB: no, I don't think that's actually Jessica Rose's blog, simply one with a lot of pictures of her in it!).

Indeed, the creation of LG15 has been even further revealed with stories in the LA Times and NY Times featuring the three producers behind the phenomenon. For the NY Times, 'The Lonelygirl That Really Wasn't':
The discovery and the swift and subsequent revelation of other details surrounding the perpetrators of the videos and the fake fan site that accompanied it are bringing to an end one of the Internet's more elaborately constructed mysteries. The fans' disbelief in Lonelygirl15 was not willingly suspended, but rather teased and toyed with. Whether they will embrace the project as a new narrative form, condemn it or simply walk away remains to be seen. The masterminds of the Lonelygirl15 videos are Ramesh Flinders, a screenwriter and filmmaker from Marin County, Calif., and Miles Beckett, a doctor turned filmmaker. The high quality of the videos caused many users to suspect a script and production crew, but Bree's bedroom scenes were shot in Mr. Flinders's home, in his actual bedroom, typically using nothing more than a Logitech QuickCam, a Web camera that retails for about $150. Together with Grant Steinfeld, a software engineer in San Francisco, Mr. Flinders contrived to produce and distribute the videos to pique maximum curiosity about them.
It will certainly be interesting to see how the LG15 narrative ends now that it's clearly and plainly fictional; will fans interact beyond abusive comments on YouTube videos? That very question is actually one which Jane McGonigal has pushed even further. Jane has been behind some of the most impressive immersive alternative reality gaming experiences, so her thoughts about the over-reported sense of community in YouTube are definitely worth taking into account:
Today and yesterday I spent a lot of time reading through pretty much every single comment left on the lonelygirl videos, the space where the audience was purportedly invited to help decide and direct the course of the narrative. I would encourage anyone else interested in the currently much praised and hyped lonelygirl "community" to do the same. A great hub for doing this is here.

As the statistics on this traffic counter show, each lonelygirl video has roughly 1000-4000 comments, nearly all of them left before the puppet masters were unmasked. And I have to say this: the level of hate, mean-spiritendess, crudeness and often downright misogeny of the majority of them is impossible to ignore.

As we talk about the 'new art form' or 'participatory culture' aspects of this project, I want to be very careful that we don't fetishize the participation aspects of this experience that was had by a very few who may have intelligently, passionately and seriously investigated and responded to the texts and the media objects.
Some of the examples Jane cites of the comments that were made before LG15 was 'outed' make it plain that YouTube isn't often a 'community' fueled by meaningful conversation and deep connections! Indeed, a lot of the people who engaged most meaningfully with uncovering and exploring the extent of LG15 may not have been part of the YouTube community in any substantial sense at all. It's worth noting that the so-called "hater's" of YouTube have driven other 'real' vloggers away as well.

On something of a tangent, science fiction author William Gibson noted some parallels between the lonelygirl15 phenomenon and 'the footage' which he wrote about in the novel Pattern Recognition. If you've not read the novel, you should. For those who have, LG15 certainly doesn't share the aesthetic or intent behind the footage, but the insight into how powerful the social and cultural connections made by those hunting for the footage is perhaps the most interesting point of comparison. The Fetish:Footage:Forum strikes me as a macrocosm of YouTube--or the meaningful sense of community we'd like to think occurs for YouTubers--and the related discussion/investigation of social media. That said I don't think Gibson's work is exactly a template for LG15 and I completely agree with Jane McGonigal's point made in the comments of danah boyd's post:
Hey anyone remembers William Gibson's Pattern Recognition? Whoever the 'artists', they are just ripping off Gibson's idea from the novel. And I am surprised that neither Boyd nor the comments make mention of it. Ignorance, or deliberate holding back of information, Ms Boyd?
[Posted by: Abu H Mallick at September 8, 2006 03:53 AM]

I'd hardly say that this project was ripping off Gibson's Pattern Recognition. For starters, Pattern Recongition was drawing largely on existing alternate reality game culture in describing the film strip mystery. Gibson didn't invent a fictional entertainment form that Lonelygirl brought to life-- Gibson was writing about and from interviews I've read directly inspired by the real-world emerging entertainment forms, like the ARG phenomenon. Indeed, the straightforward narrative videos of lonelygirl bear little in common with the completely deconstructed and inscrutable Pattern Recognition blips and stills. So it seems of little use to say that lonelygirl is derived largely from Gibson's concept, when it clearly has a very different aesthetic and moreover is definitely bubbling up out of a larger, immersive, distributed storytelling culture that goes far beyond and deeper than Gibson's fictive game.
[Posted by: Jane MCGonigal at September 8, 2006 07:08 AM]
I suspect that the story of LG15 is far from over, but as I said yesterday, I do think Bree's narrative has jumped the shark. One of the most interesting questions remains, what else might emerge from the ashes of LG15 and how will YouTubers, and others, react?

Personally, I think people may be more critical and wary of videoblogs, but that sense of scrutiny is definitely a healthy thing!

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4 Comments:

At 9/19/2006 11:08:00 am, Blogger TheRenYouKnow said...

What a coincidence. I just happened on LG15s account this morning and had some fun watching the videos. They're quite cool. Obviously "fake" in that the girl in them is an actor, but lots of fun to watch nonetheless.

 
At 9/20/2006 12:23:00 pm, Blogger Julee said...

Heard a lot about LG15.. entertaining videos just to kill time. :)

 
At 9/21/2006 09:38:00 am, Blogger Miss Kitty said...

am i still allowed to comment here?
wow, you finally got ur doctor thingy, congrats! meanwhile i'm still stuck in year 11 hell, trying to convince them that australian values are important and that people really DO care about the Holocaust. :)

 
At 9/21/2006 03:08:00 pm, Blogger Tama said...

Hey Kat/Miss Kitty, Of course your comments are welcome! Thanks for the congrats and I hope the youth of tomorrow are appreciating your wisdom! ;)

 

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