[Update: You might also be interested in my posts on lonelygirl15 (Sept 5) and why they get upset about fictions (Sept 12)]
The New York Times has an article this morning detailing the creation of lonelygirl15, complete with photos of Jessica Rose, the actress who portrayed Bree, and comments from Grant Steinfeld, the software engineer who helped filmmakers Ramesh Flinders and Miles Beckett to produce the show. So that’s solved, then. Luckily the end of the article gives hope that we’ll get more of the story despite the denouement, though apparently not at YouTube.

I find it more interesting to think about how a phenomenon like this works than to try to figure out who did it – though it’s certainly interesting that finding out who’s behind it is so important to so many of the fans. I’m interested in seeing lonelygirl15 as one of a series of epistolary web narratives, in the tradition of Online Caroline and email narratives. In a comment on the lonelygirl15 phenomenon last night, Henry Jenkins connects lonelygirl15 to a teen video diaries I wasn’t aware of: Rachel’s Room, a 2001 web diary/web cam site produced by Sony. I’ll have to explore that.

Particularly interesting to me in the same post was Henry Jenkins’ comparison of the lonelygirl15 phenomenon with the 500 fake Paris Hilton CDs that Banksy and Danger Mouse have made and placed in shops along with the real CDs. Cool, eh? Jenkins comments:

So, in order to comment on the fakeness of Hilton’s celebrity, someone created fake versions of her album and smuggled them back in the store. Back in the day, this would have been the work of amateur culture jammers, like the notorious Barbie Liberation Army, but now this is — guess what — an art project involving, among others, Danger Mouse, himself a star with a cult following for his bold mash-ups of other people’s music. And as we speak, the fake Paris Hilton albums are going for ever larger sums on Ebay. So, how do we understand the nature of this particular recording: is it culture jamming or commodificiation? Is it art or self-promotion?

Take that back to the passage I transcribed yesterday from Renetto’s emotional video response to lonelygirl15’s fictionality – 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.

4 thoughts on “lonelygirl15 – commodification of a social space?

  1. Jane McG

    Hi Jill,

    Since you’re doing such an interesting and insightful job of covering the lonelygirl project, I wanted to post some thoughts here. Hope you don’t mind.

    I’ve spent some time today further exploring the lonelygirl “community” and would encourage everyone interested in this event to read through the comments on her videos.

    Each lonelygirl has roughly 1000-4000 comments, and the level of hate, mean-spiritendess, crudeness and often downright misogeny of the majority of them is impossible to ignore. As we talk abou 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, with the mainstream experience of and participation in this project.

    To give you an idea, here is a sample of comments that I would characterize as representative of at least 33% if not more of comments to the lonelygirl videos:

    You are pretty boring. Get a psychologist.

    Ok. Why don’t you just keep your personal problems to yourself and stop making a scene

    you are really ugly i hope you know that

    Your eyebrows are too far apart. But, you’re still pretty.

    Fuck you. Welcome to the new world we Don’t Have to Respect what you think. get over it

    I hope Daniel rapes you. No hard feelings.

    WHORE lol

    HHHmmmmm,your caucasian,live in a decent to luxurious house, are well taken care of,and it looks like you are one of those spoiled girls that kiss ass to thier daddy.Think you have it rough?Why dont you come live in East Los Angeles,whee you cant go anywhere without being shot at,you fuckin spoiled brat.

    Cry me a river bitch, your a teenager, do what your parents say bitch.

    I want to think about this more. I have a feeling I will have a lot to say on this subject. I want us to ask the right questions about this project. What it inspired a small handful of people to do is less interesting to me than what it inspired the majority of those who engaged with it to do.

  2. Jill

    Good grief. I have to admit I’ve barely read the comments yet, just skimmed the first for each video which mainly seem to scold her for being fake, largely meanspiritedly though I haven’t noticed as bad ones as you quote. Perhaps because I ignored them, because yes, you’re right, that’s horrible.

    Of course, the vast majority of people didn’t actually leave comments at all. The most recent video has about 1800 comments and about 260000 views – so the vast majority of people isn’t simply being silent. The video responses are far fewer, but they’re also less vicious, perhaps because it takes more effort to make a video response?

    I checked out a few other videos to see what the comments were like for them, but they certainly don’t seem quite as vicious – though there are plenty of “show us your tits” and such, which sucks. Looking for videos done by young girls talking into a webcam to compare commenting I found LisaNova’s – the ones I’ve looked at are great, she’s a comedian, basically. Lisanova gets a lot of supportive comments, just a minimal number of “show us your tits” and “you’re sexy” and barely any mean ones.

  3. jill/txt » lonelygirl15

    […] [Update: You might also be interested in my posts on lonelygirl15 – commodification of a social space? (Sept 13) and why they get upset about fictions (Sept 12)] Anders asked, as an aside, what I thought LonelyGirl15 was about. Lonelygirl15? Oh no, not another viral thing I’ve not even heard of – how sad is that, when a new media researcher can’t even keep up with the latest viral narrative? Anyway, a google quickly gets some answers. Here’s a resumÈ of the story by a fellow mockumentary maker, and a newspaper article arguing that Lonelygirl15 is presumably a viral marketing ploy. Basically this is a purportedly real video diary on YouTube, that ran in early August, where cute, homeschooled Lonelygirl15 talks about Daniel, this guy who has a crush on her, or she on him or something (I’ll watch it later, after I write some more reports). Other YouTubers have responded with their own videos – some arguing that she’s a hoax, others defending her as the real thing. Some of the defenders and critics might also be hoaxes, of course (like the guy in the video below with the cowboy hat – he can’t be for real, surely? the lighting’s too bad!), but however that works out, they’re now parts of her story. […]

  4. […] [Update: You might also be interested in my posts on lonelygirl15 (Sept 5) and lonelygirl15 – commodification of a social space? (Sept 13)] […]

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