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Was Lonelygirl15, a secretly scripted endeavor, ahead of its time?

Have you ever been a fan of daily vlogs? No, I am not referring to the Jake Paul style of highly produced content which has risen to popularity in the last five or so years. While I would like to give as little credit as possible to Jake and his peers, there is something impressive about releasing well-edited, planned video vlogs on a daily basis. Jake Paul, however, did not invent this concept. 

What I’m talking about goes back much further into Youtube’s history. All the way back in 2005 and 2006 when Youtube was still in its infancy, creators uploaded unscripted, low production quality videos from their bedrooms describing their daily life. The creators of these videos relied on their personalities and cheap editing tricks to entertain as the videos had very little substance in general. They for the most part took place in one setting and appeared as thinly veiled yet somehow honest attempts at garnering a small degree of internet fame, which at this time was not very well understood. One series defies this.

In June of 2006, a 16-year-old girl named Bree uploaded a video titled “First Blog / Dorkiness Prevails,” which followed most of the format I just described. In the vlog, she simply sits in her room talking calmly about her interest in starting a vlog series. Here’s the thing: this video is meticulously scripted, planned out, and completely fake. The Youtube channel “Lonelygirl15” was deliberately created by a large team in Marin county, California in an attempt to create viral content, and it succeeded. For a long period of the channel’s run, people were unaware that the entire ordeal was a hoax. 

The channel’s content is entirely mundane, at least at the start. The first dozen or so episodes in fact would lead one to believe that LG15 was simply another vlogging Youtuber doomed to obscurity. One of the only early indicators that LG15 was in any way unique was its presence across multiple channels. “Bree” would post videos on her channel and her friend Daniel, another character, would post videos on his own channel with topics that primarily surrounded Bree. As the videos progress, Daniel lets on that he is uncomfortable with the religion that Bree and her family are a part of, claiming that it is essentially a cult. 

Bree reveals that her parents, who have never made an appearance on the channel except for a brief moment when the father’s torso and legs come into frame, have chosen her to be part of a “ceremony” for her religion. It is at this point that most fully grown humans would be able to determine that this is no ordinary vlog, and that it may be, in fact, fake. However, the revelation that the series was staged didn’t diminish its popularity. In fact, fans continued to return, wanting to discover the mystery behind this malevolent cult known as “The Order.”

From here, the series transforms. While it still includes the content the channel began with, quirky characters talking about their daily lives, it also takes on a darker tone as Bree and Daniel are constantly in peril, fleeing this evil organization. Throughout their journeys, our heros encounter encrypted messages and puzzles allegedly left by The Order and ask the audience for help solving them. This gives the web show a feeling of interactivity, further blurring the lines between fiction and reality, as the characters would cite and thank the specific Youtube commenters who broke the code.

In addition to flipping the vlog genre on its head, Lonelygirl15 also broke new ground in terms of marketing, being the first ever web series to include a paid product placement. In the video “Truckstop Reunion,” Bree and the other characters attest to an absolutely delicious flavor of Ice Breakers Gum. While their acting was quite poor and the advertisement obvious, this was an early yet pivotal moment in Youtube transitioning from its individualistic foundations into a more traditional form of media.

The entire production of LG15 was a veneer of authenticity designed to test the viability of Youtube as a commercial platform. This is shocking, especially in 2005, because it defies the myth of Youtube and the seeming premise of its founding. 

Early Youtube is widely regarded to be a wild west of video publishing, a digital landscape of free expression dominated by young people with cheap camcorders rather than Hollywood executives. It made millions of kids around the world, myself included, believe that they could simply make something and gain attention from it, no production crew or budget required. 

Nevertheless, Lonelygirl15 is a staple of Youtube. It was once the most subscribed-to channel on the entire platform, and the first to garner attention from traditional news media, arguably putting Youtube on the map as a valid place for serious creators to publish their work. Today, much of the most popular content on Youtube contains a corporate agenda, and despite Lonelygirl15’s innovation in storytelling, this is what made it most ahead of its time.

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