By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The evidence of Diane and Mike's deflowering is all over the Net--but at this point, it's all just dirty laundry. Last week, the pair of comely, "churchgoing" 18-year-olds announced that they were planning to broadcast their inaugural intercourse over the Net on August 4 at their free Web site, (www.ourfirsttime.com). Though the site was heavy on the hokum ("There is too much sexual repression, and not enough sexual education in the world," Diane explained), the media--online and off--trusted the nubile energy of the young couple. We wanted to believe.
Too bad they'll never make it to the act itself--at least not as originally planned. The site was unveiled as an alleged hoax, one that would have rivaled rival Orson Welles's 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast for sheer culture-jamming bravado. Struggling L.A.-based filmmaker Ken Tipton (who referred to himself as "Oscar Wells" in interviews) staged the site as a promotional stunt, says Seth Warshavsky, the CEO of adult-content Web host Internet Entertainment Group (IEG). IEG, which prides itself on being the company that brought the raunchy Pamela Anderson?Tommy Lee honey-moon video to the Net, agreed to host ourfirsttime.com last week, but the firm backed out within 24 hours, after it came to believe the event was a come-on.
According to Warshavsky, Tipton planned to build audiences by allowing them to watch the foreplay for free. He planned to have Mike and Diane (who are, Warshavsky says, two models) "get AIDS tests" and make other preparations. But on the day of the live sex act, he planned to charge visitors $5 apiece. Even after people paid, Tipton intended to stretch the drama still farther, by having the "couple" abstain, says Warshavsky. Warshavsky was opposed to both the charges and the coitus interruptus, and once he found out about them in a chance conversation with Tipton, IEG pulled out of the deal. (IEG has published correspondence and a copy of its contract with Tipton on another of its sites, clublove.com/xposed.) "We love to provide controversial material," says Warshavsky. "But we went public with the information because we didn't want to be associated with fraud." Tipton would not return phone calls for this piece, but ourfirsttime.com has reappeared, hosted by a different company. It now describes itself as an "engineered educational event." Rather than showing the sex in live video, the site will now supply "actual script pages" (whatever that means).
But to write off Tipton's titillating stunt would be a mistake. As usual, porn has something vital to teach us about our technologies. By now it's an old saw that XXX videotapes helped create the first market for VCRs. Flourishing porn Web sites are constantly invoked as the proof that online commercial transactions can work. Judging from all the attention it generated, ourfirsttime.com, even if it was an alleged bait-and-switch, suggests a formal innovation in the way stories are told online. Somewhere between a soap opera and spectator sport, the 18-day buildup to the dramatic climax of Mike and Diane could only reside online. As Marisa Bowe, editor of the zine word.com, said before the site was exposed, "It's genius. . . . Even when people know it's a fake, they still want to participate in a group event."
The Truman Show popularized this form of examined life, but the nonfiction equivalent is already playing over the Web. This June, a Florida woman gave birth live over the Net with a camera perched tactfully over her shoulder, and thousands of people tuned in (www.ahn.com). "Diane" even credited that site with inspiring her to do ourfirsttime.com. Webcam confessionals like Jennifer Ringley's JenniCam (jennicam.org) transmit everything with a little striptease thrown in for fun. Two years ago, Timothy Leary (leary.com) made news with his intent to cybercast his impending death.
Chris Graves, the director of leary.com, says that although the site never did broadcast Leary's passing, "Leary was trying to lift taboos about cancer and death and share his experience. There are laws against showing the death on television, but the Net was low-fi tech--what Leary called 'home media': egalitarian and relatively easy to pick up."
The rhetoric at ourfirsttime.com also sounds like a human version of the Discovery Channel, but the site's ambitions are far more suspect, according to New York?based hoaxer Joey Skaggs. Skaggs, who duped the media repeatedly with fake April Fool's Day parades and a controversial "dog soup" campaign (and was initially suspected of hatching the Tipton fiction), viewed the site as "very thinly veiled overt commercialism and voyeurism," he says. "It's what happens when business co-opts what culture jammers do." No doubt variations on the theme of ourfirsttime.com are already in the works, some legitimate or cheap enough to actually fly (like the parody site ourfirstanalsex.com that launched last week). Skaggs is watching: "I'm waiting for the first colonoscopy."
'Skeet's a Scab!'
Hackers usually choose more precise forms of protest: punching holes in operating systems with "WinNuke," unleashing "Satan" on unsuspecting systems, or just hijacking home pages. Last Thursday's civil disturbance outside the offices of Miramax Films was, by comparison, much more civil and sloppy--but no less adamant.
Led by Phil Torrone of kevinmitnick.com and Eric Corley of hacker zine 2600, the ragtag 17-person bunch marched up and down outside 375 Greenwich Street to protest the production of Takedown. The film, set to star Skeet Ulrich, loosely recounts the pursuit and capture of the now incarcerated hacker Kevin Mitnick. According to Torrone, the script, based on the book Takedown by John Markoff and Mitnick tracker Tsutomu Shimomura, unfairly criminalizes Mitnick, who is still awaiting trail after some three and a half years in jail. "The script is far, far from the truth," making Mitnick out to be violent and racist, says Torrone. "He's more a Larry Flynt type than a criminal." Webcinema.org head Jonathan Sarno, who attended the protest, says the script has glaring technical gaffes--like describing the sound of a modem in Mitnick's apartment as "deafening." "It's written by a newbie--it's totally AOL and so dumb," he says.
For a good hour during lunch, the protesters handed out "Stop Miramax" leaflets, milled about with their "Takedown is $hakedown" and "Skeet's a Scab" placards, and made taunting calls to the Miramax offices on their cellphones. Though these are people who rarely operate in daylight, much less in public, they managed to get the message across. No Miramax executives came down, but one elderly couple tried to grok the situation. "We definitely support free access to information and people like Kevin," said husband Philip Stein. "We like young smart people that keep the corporate forces from taking control of the government."
Signal and NoiseMaster Failure: After giving him a full-body massage in its pages some weeks back, New York magazine hired author and failed Internet entrepreneur Michael Wolff (Burn Rate) as its media columnist last week. Wolff, whose company loudly went bust last year, already pens a column on topics like Bertelsmann, Net hype, and his mother for the magazine The Industry Standard. After multiple tries, it looks like Wolff may finally have found his best product yet: himself... Furious Projections: La Fura dels Baus's "F@ust: Version 3.0," running from July 22-26 during the Lincoln Center Festival, should be just about the opposite of online: in your face, spectacular, and most definitely live. But there'll be enough ambient sound sampling, live video, and monster screens at the back of the stage to keep multimedia addicts happy. My mom saw an earlier work by the Barcelona-based troupe and was hit by one of the motorcycle tires being thrown off the stage. Sounds like fun.
Research assistance: Vince Schleitwiler