The online world has been punk’d by an adorable teen science geek who led us to suspect she is soon to become a virgin sacrifice for her parents’ “Satanic” cult.
But now that it’s not real, it’s a fun story.
Here’s what I wrote on my personal blog on July 28:
“Youtube is starting to freak me out. It’s great for important stuff like Eddie Izzard clips and cartoons from The Electric Company, but looking at the most-viewed videos you find some questionable stuff. Not disturbing-questionable. Just questionable. For example, there’s a very photogenic homeschooled girl calling herself Lonelygirl15 who posts a video diary that has become extraordinarily popular. She’s sweet, she’s smart, she’s cute. At first you think, Now isn’t that adorable? Then you look again, and you think, “WTF IS GOING ON HERE?!” Not only is the production value far too high for a 15-year-old who says she can barely operate her own webcam, but the girl’s facistic parents (who seem to be uberreligious) allow an older boy to hang out in her room with the door closed for hours at a time? The whole thing seems to be exquisitely scripted and edited to perfection…but why? Is she after a modeling career? Attention? Pervy older men who will possibly pay for a boob job? I’m just… confused.”
This summer, a 15-year-old calling herself Bree began posting her webcam diary to the hugely popular video-sharing website Youtube.com. “Lonelygirl15” was a science-obsessed, very photogenic girl who was being home-schooled by strict religious parents, and her only real friend was an older boy named Daniel (“danielbeast“). Daniel helped her set up the obviously expensive webcam she had secretly acquired and installed in her bedroom under her clueless parents’ noses, and also artfully edited all her videos.
Bree’s combination of beauty, brains, and childlike playfulness quickly enthralled and mystified viewers. She spoke knowledgeably on the work of Richard Feynman, yet also goofed around with plush puppets. This wasn’t your average teen v-log. For one thing, Bree’s room was sparsely decorated, and always immaculate. Her bed, her puppets, and a small bookshelf were the only things visible. A framed, black-and-white portrait above the bookshelf seemed to be that of a large, bald man.
I’ll admit that when I first watched lonelygirl15’s videos, I wasn’t sure if they were fake or not. At one point I even considered commenting on her myspace page (now removed) to recommend Tuva or Bust! I didn’t begin to seriously question her reality until the end of July.
Daniel posted his own videos and also made frequent appearances on lonelygirl’s videos, leading people to wonder why such religious parents would allow their young daughter to spend hours alone in her bedroom with an older boy, with the door closed.
But that minor mystery was quickly overshadowed by more pressing questions: Did Daniel have feelings for Bree? Would Bree’s dad bar him from visiting if he refused to videotape Bree’s church-camp play? What religion did Bree and her parents belong to, anyway?
Over the course of 27 videos posted every few days, the answers were slow in coming. Bree feared that viewers would give her a hard time if she revealed her religious affiliation, and Daniel (at least on camera) wasn’t quick to make a move on his friend. In the meantime, forums sprang up to discuss lonelygirl15, Youtube teemed with video responses to lonelygirl15 and parodies of her videos, teenage girls around the world flicked on their webcams to give earnest romantic advice and moral suppor to the socially stymied Bree, and a few skeptics pointed out that Bree’s use of lighting and editing were awfully advanced for a 15-year-old who claimed she couldn’t even operate her own webcam. Who edited the videos posted during a fight between Bree and Daniel?, wondered a YouTuber called “gohepcat”. Why was lonelygirl15’s fansite domain name (http://www.lonelygirl15.com/) registered before her first video was posted?
Still, the videos were intriguing. There was some drama with pal Daniel and her dad, lots of science-geek stuff, a cute rap-music video. There was a kerfuffle when Daniel refused to videotape a religious summer-camp play in which Bree was appearing, but peace was made when Daniel showed up announced at her performance. Awww!
The mysteries of Bree’s religious affiliation mounted when more observant viewers noticed a photo of Aleister Crowley hanging on the wall of her abnormally tidy bedroom. (It’s him, though at first I thought it might be Churchill. If you freeze “What Did Daniel and My Dad Talk About?” when Bree takes the webcam on a tour around the room, it comes into crystal-clear focus. It’s this picture. To see this screen shot, check out the Wikipedia entry on lonelygirl15.)
On September 5, in a video entitled “A Change in My Life“, Bree announced that she would be “going on a a diet” in preparation for a very special religious ceremony that’s “very difficult to get into”, requires many arcane preparations, and is only conducted once in a great while. “There are some exercises I have to learn to do. My mom said she’d help me with those,” Bree glibly said. Things were gettin’ awful creepy. But Bree went on being her usual sunny self. Two days later she posted a video about…what else? Pluto.
Was Bree’s family caught up in a sex magick cult? Was it the OTO, or a more dangerous offshoot? Was Bree being prepped for initiation, or to be a virgin sacrifice? Was Daniel being groomed to initiate her? Did she have any clue what she was in for? Let’s face it, this is better than Passions!
On September 8, the L.A. Times and lonelygirl herself dissolved the mystery. A forum message on http://www.lonelygirl15.com/ (a fanpage which, as some YouTubers had already noted, was registered before Bree even began posting her videos!) thanked the duo’s “fans” for participating in a “new art form”, an “interractive” webcam/filmmaking project, and hinted at a more ambitious project that would pay fans for their feedback.
Richard Rushfield and Claire Hoffman of the L.A. Times, in their article “Mystery Fuels Huge Popularity of Web’s Lonelygirl15“, revealed that “e-mails sent from a lonelygirl15 account came from inside the offices of the Beverly Hills-based talent agency Creative Artists Agency”, and that “lonelygirl15” was copyrighted. Most of this info, it seems, was sussed out by YouTubers who just couldn’t stand the suspense any longer.
The mystery still isn’t 100% resolved, though. The ultimate motive behind it all is hazy at best. Viewers have already speculated that anti-Christian filmmaker Brian Flemming (whom I’ve mentioned on my blog The Devil Appears) is involved in the hoax, though he denies it, and others suspect it’s just a viral marketing campaign for an unidentified horror movie. Despite the confession and the L.A. Times expose, someone continued to post new lonelygirl15 videos to Youtube and Revver.com (interestingly, a site that pays for submissions). Bree accepted Daniel’s invitation to a party, snuck out of her house, and was caught by her dad. In one video, she has some gauze strapped to her upper arm with a Band-aid as though she just received an injection. Instead of explaining this, she talks a bit about the party and proceeds to feed lemons labeled “Dad” into a juicer. “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade!” She declares that even though she still believes in her religious principles, she’s going to rebel against some of her parents’ rules. She complains that most of her time is taking up in preparing for the special ceremony, learning a language “that no one has spoken in, like…” She trails off.
It seems everyone knows that lonelygirl15 is fake, but, like me, can’t resist watching. Yet the videos have changed substantially. “Bree”, the reason people started watching the videos in the first place, is now playing second fiddle to the ominous events unfolding around her, as in a conventional horror movie.
A Youtube poster calling himself LonesomeOctober began posting videos of interviews and press conferences conducted by stuffed animals (including a purple sock mockey identical to Bree’s, and a Cthulu plushie), hinting that lonelygirl15 was set up by “Target” and had recently changed writers. LonesomeOctober also drew a link between Bree’s video “Poor Pluto” and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. (Apparently, the planet from which the Elder Gods emigrated, Yuggoth, was based on Pluto – recently discovered when the stories of the Cthulu Mythos were written.) As many “Satanic” sects have incorporated elements of the Cthulu Mythos into their rituals and traditions, including the Temple of Set, this could be significant. Personally, I don’t see a lot of clues linking Bree to Lovecraft. And LonesomeOctober turned out to be an associate history professor with no ties to the filmmakers.
There is speculation that Bree’s “special ceremony” will take place on October 12, Aleister Crowley’s birthday. It’s obvious from two outdoor videos that she’s in California, leading me to suspect that the filmmakers gave Bree a science jones to draw viewers toward the conclusion that Bree’s parents are knowledgeable about rocket engineer/Thelemite Jack Whiteside Parsons, who practiced some wild sex magick in Pasadena during the late 1940s. He was a disciple of Crowley and a member of the OTO until, shortly before his death in 1951, he established his own magickal order called “The Witchcraft”. I think it fizzled out decades ago. But perhaps we’re supposed to suspect that Bree will play the part of the Scarlet Woman in a retread of Parsons’s infamous Babalon Working, a very complex and mysterious ritual that somehow is supposed to result in a parentless child called a “moonchild.” Or something.
Whatever the truth behind lonelygirl15 and danielbeast, the truth about the OTO is that it does not sponsor teen summer camps, and does not initiate anyone under the age of 18. Needless to say, they don’t carry out virgin sacrifices, and aren’t even terribly keen on animal sacrifices.
While most older viewers were quick to question the slickness of lonelygirl15’s video diary, countless teen viewers saw Bree as a real girl with real problems to whom they could easily relate, and vehemently defended her against accusations of hoaxery. Hopefully, “Bree’s” confession and the L.A. Times article will prevent anyone from actually believing that small-town Cali might be full of homeschooling Satanists willing to sacrifice their lovely young daughters.
This hoax was cute and (for a while) clever, whatever its ultimate purpose, but let’s not forget that the hoaxers tried to use religous bigotry and misinformation to draw even more attention to their project.
Update: Kiwi’s Out of the Bag
“Bree”, has been outed by NBC Nightly News, the Silicon Valley Watch, and numerous Googlers with webcams as 19-year-old New Zealand actress Jessica-Lee Rose. She appeared in Leah Salveson’s short film Dearly Beloved (see a trailer here) before coming to America.
Also, three 20something screenwriters who claimed to have created lonelygirl15 with a simple set and a $130 webcam spoke to NBC, explaining that they wanted to create a “very realistic” storyline. Sorry about that, guys.
The next lonelygirl video was shot at night, outdoors, since Danielbeast has been permanently banished from Bree’s house and she had to sneak out to see him. The video ends with Bree downing an iron pill and Daniel asking, “Is your dad making you take those?
In later videos, posted in late September, Bree announced her difficult decision to break it off with Daniel in order to focus on her religious obligations. The group behind the ritual was revealed as the fictional “Order of Dendera”, apparently a reference to the ancient Egyptian cult of the goddess Hathor, centered in that city.
I stopped reading when you questioned the ability of a 15-year-old to read Richard Feynman. You’d think a skeptic blogger would know better.
Well, alrighty then. Point me to one flawlessly groomed 15-year-old girl who reads Richard Feynman, and I’ll remove that bit. I’m sure there’s at least one of them out there.
My first impulse is to joke, “you’ve obviously never seen a picture of Michelle Feynman.” But now I can’t remember why I posted, never having seen much of lg15 in the first place, and certainly never hvaing watched whatever video it was in which she mentioned her abiding love of Feynman.So I can’t discourse knowledgeably about that, then. I can tell you that I first read a book by Feynman when I was 13, and that I have friends with similar experiences, including an immaculately groomed male. Despite the patriarchy, I think I can reasonably infer that one of the immaculately groomed girls I know has probably read Feynman, although I quite frankly can’t be bothered to ask.In trying to reconstruct the motive behind my comment, I think what I was trying to say is that a skeptic blogger should be recommending accessible science writers like Feynman to everyone, including girls; that they are capable of being read by almost everyone and beneficial to almost everyone, and in my experience growing in popularity.At any rate, if you restrict the sample size to immaculately-groomed home-schooled girls, I think the % who read Feynman rockets upwards. They actually did a decent job depicting that one aspect of her life; it might be odder why she’s so immaculately groomed if she doesn’t go anywhere. I have vague memories of thinking lg15 was fake because the depicting of home-schooling read wrong, which is the same reason I have mixed feelings about the film Mean Girls.
Well, that’s certainly good enough. I’ve removed the bit about 15-year-olds reading Feynman. I strongly encourage bright kids to read anything by or about Feynman – before I fully grasped that she was fake, I even considered recommending “Tuva or Bust” to Bree! In fact, the best thing to come out of this silliness is the exquisite role model Bree was – unafraid of being smart, unafraid of being herself, unafraid of being curious. I must agree about the home-schooling, too. LG15 fit the stereotype of a home-schooled girl, but definitely not the reality (my kid brother is home-schooled).