The online world has been punk'd by an adorable teen science geek who led fans to suspect she was about to become a virgin sacrifice for her parents' "Satanic" cult.
Two months ago, 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 website domain name (www.lonelygirl15.com) registered before her first video was posted? Shrewd observers identified the portrait above her bookshelf as Aleister Crowley. (In "What Did Daniel and Dad Talk About?", it's clearly visible as Bree takes the webcam on a tour of the room.)
Lonelygirl15 was, at this time, the uncontested queen of Youtube. Gradually, the controversy spilled over into mainstream media.
Four days ago, the mysteries deepened considerably when Bree posted her video "A Change in My Life". She explained that she had been selected to take part in a very special religious ceremony that was "very hard to get into", requiring many arcane preparations, and only conducted "once in a long while".
She would have to "go on a diet" (fast) and memorize a lot of material. "There are some exercises I have to learn to do. My mom said she'd help me with those," Bree glibly said.
Clearly, Bree's fans were supposed to conclude that she was being unwittingly prepped for initiation into her parents' sex magick cult, the OTO or perhaps a dangerous offshoot. Maybe she was going to be a virgin sacrifice! Maybe Daniel was being groomed by Bree's dad to take part in the initiation!
Today, the L.A. Times and lonelygirl herself dissolved the mystery. A forum message on www.lonelygirl15.com 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 today's 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. 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 expose will prevent anyone from actually believing that Southern Cali might be full of homeschooling Satanists willing to sacrifice their lovely young daughters.
This hoax was cute and clever, whatever its ultimate purpose, but let's not forget that the hoaxer(s) tried to use religous bigotry 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).
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 now must 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 another video, Bree angrily tells Daniel that "The Order of Dendera" doesn't know any more about the upcoming ritual than she does. (Dendera was the ancient Egyptian city in which the cult of the goddess Hathor was centered.) Later, Bree decides to break off with Daniel and focus on her religion. We discover that the language she's learning is Enochian.
For regular updates on the Bree and Daniel story, visit my hoax blog, Swallowing the Camel.