By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
RonJeremy is skeptical, and belligerent. He wants to fight, and everyone else in the room is looking to love.
"Hey. Has anyone else looked at Synchilla? She looks like a redneck slut." Synchilla, who in actuality does not look like anything other than a cloying Midwestern college senior, is a Webdormer, one of 26 college students currently starring in their own endless home (well, dorm) movie. In return for a free Webcam, the students who attend schools as varied as Brandeis and Eastern Michigan University sign a contract with CollegeWeb.com agreeing to broadcast live from their dorm rooms, 24-7.
There's some amount of courage involved in this, or at least a marked lack of shame, but RonJeremy is not impressed. "This site's supposed to be about college. All I see is someone's wall. Webdormers suck." RonJeremy is studiously ignored by the other chatters. His previous contributions, including, "I'm pretty sure CompNerd is a faggot," have not endeared him to the community which, at one month old, is still in its giddy, feel-good stage of development. The dormers and their "friends" the voyeurs-chatters who watch the dormers and hang out with them in the chat rooms spend their time giving one another hugs and cookies and other tokens of virtual affirmation. Hostility is a real bummer.
Still, RonJeremy has a point, however offensively he expresses it. Webdorm promotes itself as a representation of "real college life," but at any given time the blurry snapshots beaming from the Webcams are more likely to capture images of putty-colored cinder block and empty, anonymous desks than a true college experience, whatever that might be. "We see three target audiences," Alex Chriss, CollegeWeb's 21-year-old founding president, says. "Current college students, high school students, and then their parents, who might want to see how college is different from when they were there." Presumably the cinder block was more of an ocher tone one generation ago.
Webdorm is one more example of the confusion that's sprung up regarding what constitutes "real." Once the real world was where young people discovered poverty, freedom, and ruthless monotony. It was the somewhat unfortunate place one went upon "growing up." Then MTV came along, and the real world got murky. Carefully manipulated scenarios involving young, attractive urbanites with too many tattoos and too little employment became the real world. Enter talk shows, cop shows, and real-life rescues, and reality became far more exciting than anything to be had on ER or Law & Order.
Then Jennifer Ringley appeared, and the real world got boring again. Channeling the impetus behind Warhol's epic film, Sleep in which John Giorno snores away for five hours and 21 minutes, on camera Jennicam created a sensation from the machinations of the mundane. Like Giorno, Jenni sleeps; she eats; she works on her computer and puts on her makeup; she performs all those acts that when performed by real people in the real real world, put us to, well, sleep.
But Webdorm is not Jennicam. For one thing, the Webdormers are not, strictly speaking, volunteers. They're contracted performers, minus the equity card, and they play their parts in the service of a marketing strategy. According to Chriss, CollegeWeb is actually profitable, a rarity in new media, and the plan is to go public, or, better yet, sell out. "College is so hot, pretty soon the major media firms are going to try to pick up on that segment of the market. We'll be getting calls from them."