Saturday, May 22, 2010

Virtual Friends

We Live in Public (2009) - Timoner
The doc starts with a video message of Josh Harris to his mother who's dying of pancreatic cancer, "hopefully we will see each other again on the other side. While you are there, say hello to all the relatives and our ancestors and whatever..."

Harris, one of the dotcom kids who made enormous amount of money in the 90s, invited documentary director Ondi Timoner in 1999 to document his latest venture, Quiet, a 24/7 surveillance camera wired bunker commune of young artistic types, under Manhattan. The candidates would sign their privacy away into this Orwellian experiment for the live world of internetz fame. It was a grandiose experiment and a true show of excess. It was Harris' vision of the future where people's lives are inseparable from this thing called world wide web.

For me who thinks Media Studies is the most worthless subject in the world and who can't stand exhibitionists, this doc didn't sound too good. But at the same time I had a strong desire to see this Josh Harris guy crash and burn at the end of the movie. Even though I've never heard of Harris, I remember attending one these ravish party/art shows thrown by 'one of the dotcom millionaires' in the late 90s.

Harris, a man-child who was admittedly brought up by television in a loveless family, made money in the silicon valley and created internet tv stations called Pseudo in the mid 90s. There is a footage showing Harris bragging to Bob Simon from 60 Minutes that it's a matter of time Pseudo would take over CBS. Mind you, internet was still far away from broadband.

After some freakish behavior (dressing up as a clown named Luvvy, his internet persona) that scared some investors off, he left Pseudo to his fellow shareholders and embarked on Quiet- his own world where he can be in charge in every aspect. It was the peak, the tail end of good times before the internet bubble burst. With their dial-up internet, the world got to see young people doing everything (except creating it seems)- eating, taking shower, fucking, shitting... and chat about their Quiet experiences. The commune was also equipped with a gun firing range and interrogation room. After a while, there are mental breakdowns, fights and it ends with Giuliani's police raid right after the new year 2000.

Harris then jumped on the idea for We Live in Public, a first internet couple living in public 24/7, with his girlfriend. What he didn't realize was that people lose interest fast, and subjecting himself to the experiment would backfire. In the end, he loses all his money, girlfriend and falls into obscurity, alone and lonely. Everything he did afterwords, comes across as stunts for that fifteen minutes of fame with his desperate desire to be loved still intact.

We Live in Public is a fascinating doc. One way or another, his vision came true, maybe not the exact way he predicted. I don't have to tell you the eminence of Facebook, blogs, youtube and even chat roulette in our lives. Hell, the reason we are here conversing is because we want some kind of validation on ourselves. The bottom line for coming to these sites is, we want to feel good about ourselves, ain't it?

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