Ryan uses Facebook to get over a thousand of his closest friends to meet in “The Pit,” a central location on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus, where he would break up with his grilfriend Mindy. Within days, hundreds of people join his Facebook community. Ryan drafts the services of the Lorelais who serenade Mindy with an a capella version of the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Hundreds of people, many equipped with digital video cameras, show up on Valentine’s Day to watch the drama unfold. Many in the audience chant “slut! slut!” when her infidelity is revealed. Within days, hundreds of thousands of people watch the video on YouTube (as well as post-breakup interviews), and Ryan and Mindy become the latest “stars” on the internet, their private drama revealed to a mass public. Eventually the story gets picked up by mass media outlets, including a planned segment on Good Morning America (which ultimately didn’t air). Then, as the buzz peaked, we learn, via The Charlotte Observer that the video was staged.
Ryan and Mindy never dated, but both were interested in showing that the media “don’t always accurately gauge what teenage and college kids are interested in.” In fact, Ryan planned the hoax video to promote a company he’d like to start to promote musicians. The video has provoked quite a bit of conversation, including a report in Inside Higher Ed apparently written before the video’s status as a hoax was confirmed. The response to this latest bit of Web 2.0 performance art illustrates just how much our response to web video remains unsettled, with many of the responses to the video commenting on the “public humiliation” of the woman involved or suggesting that kids today have no morals. Of course, the video is far more complicated than that. Taking the video at face value, Mindy turns the tables on Ryan, embarassing him for needing hundreds of people to break up with her. And because the video was staged, I think it makes more sense to note the power of the social networking sites that make such hoaxes, performances, and viral videos possible. More later if I have time.
Update: Some interesting letters to the editor in The Daily Tar Heel (scroll down a little).