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Virginia Heffernan, agnostic but leaning toward a real LG15, makes some pro and con arguments in a recent post to her blog. Here are the pro arguments: + lonelygirl15’s emails to me are entirely guileless, true to a teen girl’s...

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August 25, 2006

Arguments for a real LG15 fall short

Virginia Heffernan, agnostic but leaning toward a real LG15, makes some pro and con arguments in a recent post to her blog.

Here are the pro arguments:

+ lonelygirl15’s emails to me are entirely guileless, true to a teen girl’s way of talking, and she didn’t have to reply to a reporter.

Approximating the voice of a teen girl would be the minimum requirement for a good hoax. And is replying to a reporter for the New York Times really unexpected if this is a marketing campaign?

I'll tell you what would be most suspicious: If "Bree" replied (so as to get the publicity for the campaign) but refused to reply in the manner in which virtually all reporters would prefer -- via telephone. And that's likely exactly what happened. (Unless Heffernan did not send Bree her phone number, which I doubt.)

+ Her plot is not very Hollywood, with twists like her-dad-wants-him-to-film-a-play-at-her-religious-camp that seem ripped from the randomness of real life.

Actually, the religion element of the plot seems the most unlike real life -- i.e., forced into the storyline. The performers seem to be going out of their way to highlight it, even at the expense of consistency.

(Example 1: Bree indicates she can't talk about her religion, yet knowingly and prominently features a picture of Crowley in a video. Example 2: Bree says to Daniel, "You were posting videos, and telling people that it's weird, basically saying that my dad is a jerk and that you don't like him anyway." But that isn't what Daniel said. He never called her dad any names or stated that he didn't like Bree's father. I know from experience with cutting Nothing So Strange that this the kind of thing that happens when you shoot improvised scenes out of sequence. The Bree actress had to respond as if she'd just seen a Daniel video -- but that video hadn't been shot or edited yet, so she was improvising off of a thumbnail description.)

+ She says she was inspired by paytotheorderofofof, who is just another non-emo emo girl, and looks like just the kind of person lg15 would have been inspired by.

Name-checking a popular YouTuber is also consistent with a marketing campaign -- that's simply a smart idea. But Bree should have continued referencing specific YouTubers -- especially the explosion of response videos.

+ The puppets, the wandering eye, the boa, her stint in Nottinghamshire, the “Napoleon Dynamite” poster: they’re just not new, cool or market-researched enough for an ad man to come up with.

"Napoleon Dynamite" not market-researched? The dance scene from that movie has 6 million views at YouTube and ranks in the All-Time Top Twenty. A reference to that popular movie is exactly what a marketing team would include to establish cred with a young audience.

I do think the creators have done a good job of working the details of the Bree performer's life into the story. "My Lazy Eye" is the best LG15 video -- it's obviously scripted, but it seems like the script Bree would write. And Mysteries of My Past does a good job of explaining Bree's occasional odd accent (check out the word "woke" at 0:54) -- a good bit of defense.

But all this means is that the creators are not completely forcing a script on the project. A minimally competent hoax would have these odd, personal details.

+ If she’s selling something, where is it?

Holding the revelation of the product would not be unusual for a hoax marketing campaign.

+ The “Proving Science Wrong” series seems vaguely Creationist or at least Intelligent Designist and is consistent with how a restless, religious girl might try to incorporate her parents’ slightly unsettling skepticism about mainstream science into an idiom she can get behind.

+ Creationism is not something marketers have much truck with.

These two points assume the "religion" in question is fundamentalist Christianity. It is not (as Heffernan has since discovered). I don't know of any hostility Crowley devotees have to hard science. "Gnosticism" is specifically aligned with "knowledge," after all.

(Further, the subtext of the "Proving Science Wrong" segments is clearly that science is right. Bree has a great interest in science and an admiration for scientists.)

+ Her erudition — the particular level of pop crossover “genius” figures that she invokes, including Feynman, Hawking, ee cummings, Jared Diamond — seems perfectly befitting a home-schooled girl, whose parents may be autodidacts. In other words, she’s not reading the Toni Morrison/John Steinbeck/Mark Twain stuff that gets assigned in American public high schools, nor is she reading the “Left Behind” series or Exodus, which people might imagine that religious, home-schooled kids read. Instead, she’s reading exactly the popular upper-middle-brow science books that boomer adults cite when they want to sound smart..

Bree's intellectual curiosity is a nice touch in the project. But this could easily be the creators' incorporating the performer's interests into the story. I did this with virtually every main character in Nothing So Strange -- Laurie Pike really was a magazine editor, Keythe Farley really was a lay minister. Performers are always better at improvisation if they start the scene on familiar ground.

In short, the evidence Heffernan cites is not persuasive -- it's mostly stuff that could be present in both the fake and real scenarios. I.e., not militating for one or the other.

But here's some evidence that would be more consistent with a real scenario:

--Bree talks on the telephone to Heffernan or another reporter and answers questions on the spot. The kind of questions that a real teen girl would have answers to right away, but that a performer improvising might flub. (Example: "What editing program do you use to edit your videos?" A real Bree would answer instantly. An actress might respond, "Uhhh...")

--Someone who recognizes Bree or Daniel confirms them as real. (Is it really plausible that nobody at Daniel's school, nobody in his neighborhood, nobody in his circle of friends has noticed this YouTube phenomenon? Making Bree homeschooled was a clever strategy to mitigate this problem, but Daniel is not homeschooled.)

--Bree specifically denies the charges that have haunted her videos' comments for weeks now.

The longer we go without this stuff happening, the more likely a hoax becomes.

I'm imagining the creators of this project scrambling right now to get the Bree actress back on the set and do some damage control. But who knows what has changed since the first series of videos was shot? Does the Bree actress look the same? Is the bedroom available? Does it look the same? I'm half-expecting Bree to show up, suddenly referencing current events and responding to YouTubers -- but she has a new haircut and her family has moved to a new house.

The fact that Bree has not seemed to be in real time with her videos indicates there is a serious Bree-availability problem for the producers, though. We may never see her in a video that clearly references something that has happened since the launch of LG15. The producers will try to get by with written comments and emails -- maybe some text edited into the videos, as that could be done without the actress.