By Rory Winston
A few years back, people had friends—the average kid could count his friends by using his fingers and, if he was popular but slow, he’d include his toes. Nowadays, young people have “friends.” An average conversation: “Lame—you have only 920 friends ...? Lol (Laugh Out Loud)—After 2 weeks I had like ... Wait: OMG (oh my God) mine’s up to 56 gazillion mwahahaha (or as some now write: sel—subversive evil laugh)”.
To judge the modern young person by the company he keeps would require advanced calculus. Strange to think of those ancient times when “friend” was a person whose real name and gender you knew. But that was before MySpace went from being a remark (as in, “Back off man, I need my space.”) to becoming one of those hot cyber-communities where everyone is equally cool and almost no one is who they say they are.
In MySpace land, for instance, David Bowie (or one of the many signed in with that name) sends daily love letters to a retired nurse who sings concerts in her shower; while Christopher Walken’s Hair (yes, this is a real MySpace site) is in love with a porn star—rumor has it she’s actually an unemployed gay fireman.
A quick search yields dozens of Brad Pitts: Brad Pit, Bad Brad, Rad Brad, some just Brad—most profiles have the real Brad Pitt’s photo to introduce themselves with. Of course, the Brad Pitt we know told sources that he has no MySpace/Brad-anything profile. So how did he find out about impostors? Maybe he signed in as General Bradley or Ms. Brandy or, better yet, Jared Leto. As for Jared (the high school dropout from Kalamazoo): For a while he had more teen groupies than the real actor’s MySpace band site, 30 Seconds to Mars. Fake Jared’s big mistake came when he tried to become a ‘friend’ to 30 Seconds from Mars. Shortly after, his account was deleted.
Though it now feels like half the kids in the world were hatched on MySpace, the social network was founded as recently as July 2003. One thing that hasn’t changed since then: When you sign up, you automatically inherit the same one friend, the ‘cool nerd’ Tom Anderson who (supposedly) started MySpace. Unlike most members, whose pages are filled with visuals to show off their personality, Tom still uses a very basic CV-look with a photo in which he’s hunched over a computer and turning his head towards us. How homey—especially considering that media tycoon Rupert Murdoch purchased MySpace in July 2005 for $580 million. With over 106 million recorded accounts, and Google sinking $900 million into the network, its clear why big business wants to retain that intimate boy-next-door credibility. As advertisers are aware, today’s young consumers are rarely won over by designed campaigns. Rather, products are sold via kids telling other kids what’s cool to wear or listen to.
Unlike earlier social networks like Friendster, MySpace hooked kids by allowing them to define the content of their profiles—this included the music they listened to and the personalized images for their page’s look. Local pop bands realized this was a great opportunity for free publicity and they also opened profile accounts. Soon even the industry-backed bands—afraid of losing out to self-promoting indie labels—did likewise. The immediacy of communication made many feel like the line between groupie and rock star was blurring.
Democracy—or at least the fake version—had come. Everyone could talk directly with celebrities. But, although this caused a boom in accounts, it also eventually gave birth to fan mail professionals and promo specialists being called in to respond on behalf of stars.
Though English bands like Arctic Monkeys and otherwise obscure but solid love metal bands like Finland’s Him and Private Line owe a lot to MySpace publicity (with separate Band and American Street Team accounts), online communities remain as unstable as the unshaven look: trendy one day, gone the next, back again or ... not. A while ago Texas-based Buzz-Oven was the hottest hangout for upcoming bands to circumvent the majors and get to the grassroots audiences. Nowadays, the community is no more than a few respected profiles on MySpace getting their message out like millions of others. With YouTube popularity growing, it could be no more than a few years before MySpace is honored with a nostalgia zone in the upcoming video community. As it stands, MySpace—fearing abandonment and large-scale migration—acquiesced to embedding YouTube videos in its profiles. As Notorious Narcissist wrote me in MySpace’s My Friend Comments: yo wtf is up wit doin a piece for print rags cuz if u ain’t upping it 4 a blog means this community’s already as old school *rolls eyes* as u – j/k (just kidding) :).