I'm writing this in Tokyo Narita airport where the local time is 2.20pm, the time in NJ is 1.20am, and the time in my head is ouch. I'm jotting these notes in Wordpad, of all things (who remembers wordpad? the smarter, more talented younger brother of notepad that somehow no one ever took much of a liking to). Another temporary holding pattern since I can't be bothered to work out how to register for the internet in the departure lounge, and I'm still using my new friend, T42p. Anything to say today, t42p?
With all the excitement engendered by international travel, I spent a reasonably chunk of the flight contemplating the mounting excitement surrounding various recent internet phenomena. Prime amongst these is "lonelygirl15". I'm loath to spill too many pixels on this, but there are some staggerignly obvious points that no one seems to have bothered to think about. Firstly, it is quite remarkable that more people will have read about this in traditional media (newspapers and, can we even count websites as traditional media now?) than have actually seen the videos. For all the "hundreds of thousands of hits", hundreds of thousands is still much less than the circulation of old wood and ink newspapers which are printing breathless stories about this series which we are all supposed to be hanging on.
The current excitement revolves around a message board posting which supposedly outs the whole affair as an elaborate film project. This is the latest in the ongoing "is it a hoax?" debate which is really quite a disturbingly simplistic dichotomy for this century. It's not a case of real versus fake; anyone even remotely schooled in modern media knows that there is an entire spectrum of truth values in between real and false. There are "reality shows" that are carfully manipulated, scripted, provoked and edited to tell a story. News stories where the collection of the news becomes the news itself. Pop stars "discovered" on the internet who turn out to be carefully promoted by wise management. Autobiographies that make the truth more gut-wrenching in order to bully the reader into sympathy. Postmodern comedy shows that satirize current politicians by masquerading as retro clip shows from the future. To pigeonhole a series of videos posted on youtube into categories as simple as just real or fake is to miss the point entirely.
Because nothing is really "real" anymore. The nascent and mostly tedious videobloggers edit themselves constantly, both with ProTools and with their own choice of what to post. The "lg15" sequence of films could easily have been real, or a couple of kids choosing to tell a story about themselves that isn't literally true.
So what is "lonelygirl15"? Well, trying to put it into terms that are easily understood, it's basically a horror movie told in the style of videoblog. Nothing particularly shocking there: Dracula was told in the form of Jonathan Harker's diary and letters. This is just the 21st Century equivalent. What made the films more interesting is that this wasn't made clear from the start. We are too used to being pampered with our media: with trailers, blurbs, reviews and spoilers ahoy, it's rare to go into a movie or start reading a book without any idea what it is about. The difference here is that no one told us "go watch lonelygirl15, the slow-building thrillfest of the summer".
I admit, it takes some time to work out what's going on with lg15. But just forget anything else you have heard about it, and watch this recent segment in isolation.
Now tell me: mysterious religion, chosen to participate in a secret ritual that her parents aren't allowed to attend, special exercises and diet?
If that doesn't scream low-budget horror plot, I don't know what does. I mean, have you never seen the Wicker Man? (the original, not whatever lame hollywood remake starring Sylvester Stallone is about to pollute the screens).
To be fair, most of lg15 has been beautifully done. The horror plot has only loosely been present in the background for the most part. It took an army of millions of internet freaks to spot some of the other clues: a poster of Aleister Crowley in the background; a secret message of 10/12/06 marking Crowley's birthdate (and sure to mark a climactic point in the storytelling in a month or so). Many segments have had no overt plot development in them at all (which, if you think about it, is classic horror movie: spend a *long* time building up the characters at the start to make them as engaging as possible while slowly building the tension, then kill them off nastily in the last half hour. In fact, the annoying thing about the whole affair is that the character development has been done delightfully, while the plot has always seemed quite clunky in comparison: the constant references to her parents' religion that she doesn't want to talk about; a scene where daniel tries to light a candle in the crowley shrine is just jarring in its obviousness (around the 2 minute mark): it screams out "this is going to be significant later" like the hero of an action movie secreting a seemingly innocent item in his pocket in an early scene. If it were not significant, then the scene should have been edited out -- part of the charm of the posts is the heavy editing and soundtracking. There's a huge subplot about daniel not wanting to shoot a video of a play put on by bree and others from her religion (which all sounds very bohemian grove if you ask me), but we never get to see any of the footage of this play -- not even a brief shot -- despite the two protagonists' apparent willingness to put every other aspect of their lives on screen. That makes no sense, unless showing the play would give away the sinister nature of the secret religion that is constantly discussed.
There's a lot of discussion about whether this is a viral marketing campaign, as if this is the only possible thing that lg15 could be. No one seems to want to admit that lg15 could just be an attempt to tell a story in a new medium. Viral marketing never really works in the way it has been tried so far: someone tries to draw you into a seemingly real story, then pulls back the curtain and shouts "aha! fooled you! now buy our stuff!". Can't the telling of the story be an end in itself? Likewise, the word 'hoax' is being bandied about a lot. But a hoax is a deliberate attempt to mislead, and while this series of films tried to give the impression of being a genuine video diary, 'hoax' is much too strong a word.
There's one thing that's still bothering me about this, though. How can this end? Let's assume that it does end in some sinister Wicker-man style sacrifice ritual. Everything so far has been internally consistent with a teenagers videoblog. But there has to come some climactic scenes of horror that still have to be uploaded to youtube. How to make that consistent with the story? The precursors to this story are many: inevitably, The Blair Witch Project, and its predecessors -- various low budget "cannibal" horror flicks from the 70s -- will be raised, which used "discovered" footage shot by the victims. The equally important "Ghostwatch" from the BBC masqueraded as a live broadcast with the cameras still rolling. But how will the presumably disruptive events which must conclude the lonelygirl15 story be fit into this? Something which purports to show some scary, lifethreatening demonic vision would just not make sense to be uploaded, especially if one or more of the characters doesn't make it to the end of the series.
So I'm not sure how well this will end. And it's not clear that it will be particularly fun. But it will happen in the next month or so, and hopefully be more satisfying than the tedious dragging out of nonsensical drama Lost. I'm somewhat hooked, which is a shame, since I'm no particular fan of horror. But at least they tried.