It’s like a warehouse crashed into the lobby of a three-star hotel and then they just left the mess alone.
It occurs to me that this is a fairly good metaphor for what TV newspeople are like—half boring and normal, half peculiar caricatures of TV newspeople. They’re so “TV news” that it seems like they’re making fun of TV newspeople. They have a very particular and standardized way of speaking that is nothing like the way normal people talk. It sounds natural on TV, but in real life it’s basically like “Whoa, wait, stop . . . why are you talking like that?”
We’re going to skip around the timeline of the story a bit here, but I have now been on the news a lot, and I have Thoughts.
At first I did the news things for the reason Maya identified for me: It was weird and new, and when someone’s offering to pay you $10,000 to talk to them for twenty minutes, you do it. I don’t like that everyone has a price, but ultimately you do, and it turns out that mine is below $30,000 an hour.
Even Before Carl, I spent time thinking about what I’d say if I ever had a platform to say it. That’s what art is about, right? I mean, not app interfaces, but art.
Much of the best art is about balancing between reflecting culture while simultaneously being removed from it and commenting on it. In the best case, maybe an artist gets to say something about culture that hasn’t been said and needs to be said. That’s a lofty goal, but not a bad one. I’d spent my four years of art school waffling between believing I could do that (or even that I needed to do that) and feeling like I should be more realistic and leave art to real artists.
But in those manic moments when I thought I could be some kind of vessel for truth, I’d thought about what I’d say if I someday got a soapbox. That income inequality is out of hand. That all people are pretty damn similar so it would be great if we stopped hating each other. That prison sentences for nonviolent crimes are dumb and that drug addiction is a health problem, not a crime problem.
Well, I finally got my chance and I mostly said, “No, um . . . maybe it’s a way of saying, a way to show, that we don’t see how much we don’t see? Um, just like the news, so many important things happen that, like, nothing seems important. Why do people even watch the news?”
That’s an actual quote from an interview I did on cable news. Direct quote. Great game plan, April. I really knew what I was talking about.
Step 1: Stumble around the point and sound like an idiot.
Step 2: Insult the entire institution that is currently giving voice to your inane musings as well as the people who enjoy it.
Step 3: ????
Step 4: Profit!
Andy’s dad called me after that interview to give me some media-relations tips, which, thank god. He literally wanted me to take a class, but I caught on pretty quick. The real trick is to know exactly the one point you absolutely 100 percent need to get across and also know when to shut your mouth. My biggest problem was always the second bit. I always finished really strong and then would say, “uh,” like I had more to say, but really I didn’t. Listening back, I hate hearing that “uh” so much. It makes me want to smack my idiot face.
Anyway, I did five or six of these chats, and by the sixth I was pretty good. It was four consecutive days of waking up at 4 A.M. to get ready for an interview on Good Morning America or the like. Sometimes Maya would be there if she could get off work, and Andy always would (that was part of his dad’s deal). It was exhausting and fascinating. It was also distracting and prevented any of us from giving the mysteries of Carl and Wikipedia the attention they deserved. Not that thinking about them more would have helped much.
You can go back and watch a lot of these interviews on YouTube. No one comes out looking anything but dumb because of how completely wrong everyone was about everything. People argued with me that it wasn’t about art, that it was, in fact, government spending gone awry. The most prevalent theory (which I couldn’t really argue with) was that the Carls were a PR stunt for a new movie or video game, or maybe the launch of a lost Queen album. Seriously. It’s so easy to forget being wrong.
It turns out pundits don’t want to talk about what’s happened; they want to use what’s happened to talk about the same things they talk about every day. Eventually, I realized that almost all of these people were talking on the news for free. And they weren’t doing it because they wanted to change the world, or because they wanted to do something interesting. They were doing it because it got their face and their name into the world.
But I think I’m being honest when I say that I initially came at all of this fairly reluctantly. At first, I tried to maintain my preexisting distance from the internet. But it didn’t take long for it to get out of my control. Here’s a story: I was sitting on my bed (the one in the living room) with Maya. We were both on our phones and watching some terrible but also amazing baking show on Netflix. At this point I was still assuming that the attention and notoriety were all short-term, so I had left my email address up on my site. I checked my email and saw this:
Our interaction on Twitter today has left me so disillusioned. Judging by your TV interviews and YouTube videos, you seemed like a genuine person. Maybe even a kind person. I now see how wrong I was. I should have known better. I just wanted to let you know that you suck.
So I wrote back, because not only had I not been mean to Mary on Twitter that day, I also did not have a Twitter account. If this seems completely bizarre, I agree. It can be easy to stay inside your bubble in New York City. It is a world of its own. Instagram was the only platform that meshed well with my strengths (art, design, and being photogenic). I also liked to share photos of whatever I was reading, which was probably Louisa May Alcott but might also have been a biography of a famous artist or something. How else is a girl gonna show the world that she can be irreverent and sophisticated at the same time?!
Anyway, Mary linked me to the Twitter conversation and, indeed, a person pretending to be me had been pretty fucking terrible to Mary.
“How do you get a tweet taken off Twitter?” I asked Maya, who was slightly more social media savvy than me.
“I think you can report it? What’s going on?”
“Someone is pretending to be me, I can’t figure out how to report them.”
She took my phone.
“Oh, hon, it’s because you’re not logged in. You have to log in.”
“I don’t have a Twitter, though.”
“Well, I guess it’s not too much of a surprise that people are impersonating you then.”
“People are going to be looking for you, to follow you or to argue with you or just to see what you’re up to. And when they find that you aren’t there, some small percentage of them are going to just make a fake account. And since there’s no real one, you can’t report impersonation.”
“So why hasn’t anyone else reported them?”
“Because no one . . . cares? I can report them. I don’t know if it’ll do anything. I think they take it more seriously if the person actually being impersonated does the reporting.”
“What?!” I was a little taken aback. “And I can’t do that unless I sign up?”
“So in order to not have people pretend to be me, I have to be on Twitter?”
“That’s pretty much the size of it!”
“This is not fair,” I replied, matter-of-factly.
“I keep wondering when you will notice that that’s how everything is,” she said with a smile.
So I signed up for Twitter, and we linked to it from the YouTube channel, and I tweeted some things, and by the end of the day I had five hundred real, human people waiting to hear my every word . . . as long as they only came a few dozen words at a time. My Instagram, on the other hand, had been blowing up all week. I had ten times more followers than I had before. It was a weird mix of exciting and stressful. I freaked out a little bit and went through and deleted a bunch of stuff I was less than proud off. Everything that had a border had to go. I thought way more about every post, and I felt like I couldn’t put anything up if it wasn’t really high quality. Suddenly my posts had gotten much better (and required much more work).
Seven days in, I had stopped calling in to tell work I wasn’t going to make it, and instead, I just didn’t go. Don’t do this, it makes it way harder to get another job in the future if you quit by just not showing up, but that’s what I did. It helped that, by that time, I had made tens of thousands of dollars. But that income stream was drying up. We weren’t being paid for our appearances; we were being paid for the use of our video, which they had already paid for. They were happy to have us keep coming on shows, but they weren’t going to pay us. And if they weren’t going to pay us, then I had more important things to do.
What eventually became known as the Freddie Mercury Sequence remained a total mystery. I ran through the sequence on Wikipedia dozens of times. Each time, the edits produced the same three additional typos before it reset. A single note had appeared on the Wikipedia page commenting that a persistent typo wasn’t allowing itself to be fixed, so at least one other person had noticed.