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September 14, 2006


Dave Heal

Seems like you may have set the bar a bit too high in your second thought. Isn't all that's required the mere possibility of a real-life run-in with her? And by that, I mean, that idea that she's real and potentially going to the supermarket to exchange her bagged spinach for roquette AS the same character. The probability can still be near zero, but I don't think it's an unimportant distinction. And is this the only reason why her being a fictional character is less attractive? James Frey seems to come to mind. Sure, the fantasy might have been different, but the reasons fans felt betrayed are certainly manifold.


Fair enough. Perhaps the disappointment is not that Lonelygirl15 and Guynextdoor can never meet, but that Lonelygirl15 as a potential type (pretty and geeky, computer obsessed and diversely literate) exists at all. That she doesn't -- that she is made up -- suggests for her fans that she, as a type, is only a fantasy. I think the James Frey affair is right on. Except people seemed less angry with the Lonelygirl15 producers than they were with Frey. I wonder why that would be.

Ann Bartow

I think people felt duped and manipulated by Frey because he went around (plausibly) claiming he had written a true story, before his lies were uncovered. Same with JT Leroy, and, many years ago, Asa "Forrest" Carter.

Lonelygirl15 was more enigmatic, and did not seem to have a linear business model related to lying. I never thought she was authentic, so I feel validated in my cynicism, rather than maniupulated. Maybe others share this view?


So now I'm really curious. I dare say that Ann Bartow is much smarter than the average consumer of popular culture, but I also think her take on the difference between Frey and Lonelygirl15 is par for the course: people expected Frey to be truthful and were less sure (or perhaps not as motivated by the truth claims) of Lonelygirl15. What about these different generic forms (the memoir and the video blog) lead us to different expectations about the real such that when neither is "true" (whatever that means), we feel defrauded only by one of them and not the other?

Dave Heal

I don't remember the particular circumstances of the release of Frey's book, but it seems to me like there was some actual dissembling involved. Truth claims were made over and above whatever the audience's expectations (from memoires) of real, verifiable truth were. People have become a bit trapped by this idea that the only value in some forms of narrative is truth value, where truth is defined as stuff that happened in the 'real' world, which is kind of silly. Is knowing these expectations exist AND actively encouraging them and then putting in embellished or fictive representations of gruesome, life-changing events (a girlfriend's suicide, for example) a kind of violation of the reader's trust? I think so.
Frey's whole situation seemed to be that the book was pitched not as based on stuff that happened but specifically as stuff that happened, and that's where the sense of betrayal came from. Lonelygirl, it seems, didn't actively perpetrate whatever fraud some of her less imaginative or perceptive fans may be accusing her of. She was clearly toying with expectations, but the genre of the video blog allows her/them to do that without having to lie in their promotional campaign. If this had been sold as a nationally released documentary, maybe the reaction would have been different. Even still, the more savvy media observers all seemed to harbor suspicions about what this whole stunt was all about. There are probably lots of things that can be said about the question Jessica poses above, but I don't think the comparison of these two situations is necessarily instructive in thinking about the differences between the two mediums.
I don't have regular access to the internet at the moment, so I don't know how much outrage there is about the Lonelygirl business, but I presume that it hasn't approach Freyian levels. Seems the expected amount of outrage would be similar to or slightly greater than JT Leroy situation given the comparable levels of artifice and emotional investment. If I'm a recovering addict and you come up and commiserate by telling me your story and going into histrionics about your dead girlfriend and blah blah blah and then I find out you're full of shit, I'm justifiably pissed. Whereas if you're writing pithy articles for national news organs and I find out not only that you're not a man but a woman and related to some other dude who helped get you published, maybe I feel mislead, but the degree to which it's appropriate to call it a fraud or a sham probably has something to do with how forcefully claims of truth are offered up and how dependent the appeal of the story is on those claims being true. I can imagine a situation in which Frey's book comes out without the requirement that it be sold using a particular angle and maybe its truth value (vis a vis real stuff) is ambiguous and readers still feel its a compelling story and take solace in its realistic description of addiction and recovery, etc., etc. Anyways, all of this may just be begging the question, but there you have it...

Greg Lastowka

JSilbey> One point is a trademark issue: who's to say that a trademark application can't be for a person's moniker, their call-sign, or whatever you call your "stage name" on-line. Certainly, that is how trademark's function -- as a source identifier that is distinctive of you or your goods and distinguishes your goods (or you) from those of another (or others).

That's right, and there are certainly trademarks that are personal names. But they're a little bit different than standard trademarks. Sorry if this comes off as self-promotion, but I have written a little bit about this and also tried to relate it to your second thought. I'm a bit more favorable toward preserving personal authenticity than you seem to be, but I do think the question of where to draw the line between authenticity and art is very interesting.


You might also check out Laura Heymann's piece on "authornyms" -- Laura might actually be closer to your take on these kind of personae:


I was actually going to give a nod to Laura's work in my post, and decided to keep it "law review free." But I am grateful for your nod in your post. I agree, Laura's work is right on point. And I will look forward to reading your work too -- just after I finish preparing for my trademark class that I teach early this afternoon!

Ann Bartow

Well, I've been thinking and reading about "astroturfing" so I don't believe anyone on the Internets anymore :>)
Also I just didn't find LonelyGirl15 very authentic-seeming. I didn't particularly enjoy Frey's book but he said it was a memoir so I was willing to believe him.

Maybe Stanley Fish is correct: "The objectivity of the text is an illusion and, moreover, a dangerous illusion, because it is so physically convincing." :>)

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