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My head is spinning, hurting. I’m not sure which confounds me more — figuring out who YouTube star-of-the-moment Lonelygirl15 really is or figuring out why so many major news organizations have taken the bait and played along. I’m hoping that you, dear MediaShift readers, will take my pain away and help solve the mystery once and for all.

We’ll get to the MediaShift Lonelygirl15 contest details in a minute. But first, the back story and the theories that are being floated around the blogosphere and in the media…

Back Story

It’s a simple story that got complicated. A young girl, saying she was 16 years old and named Bree, started posting videos of herself on YouTube under the user name “lonelygirl15” a couple months ago. Bree said she was home-schooled and had an awkward friendship with a boy named Daniel, who helped edit the videos. But as the site became more popular — due to Bree’s geeky cuteness and the well edited video vignettes — people started to question whether this girl was for real or a product of an online marketing conspiracy.

The Lonelygirl15 channel on YouTube is the second most subscribed channel of all time on the site, with more than 23,000 subscribers. In aggregate, Bree’s videos have been viewed millions of times (the Joystiq blog puts that number at a staggering 18 million views). And major media have caught the Lonelygirl15 obsession, with New York Times TV critic/blogger Virginia Heffernan detailing her email exchanges with Bree, BusinessWeek media critic Jon Fine floating Deep Throat theories, and the Los Angeles Times seemingly putting more resources into the Lonelygirl15 mystery than the California governor’s race.

New York magazine’s Adam Sternbergh hailed the Lonelygirl15 saga as perhaps “the future of television — or the promised land of a new narrative form.”

Then came the big news yesterday in a post on the Lonelygirl15.com fan site (note that this site is now down):

To Our Incredible Fans,

Thank you so much for enjoying our show so far. We are amazed by the overwhelmingly positive response to our videos; it has exceeded our wildest expectations. With your help we believe we are witnessing the birth of a new art form. Our intention from the outset has been to tell a story – a story that could only be told using the medium of video blogs and the distribution power of the internet. A story that is interactive and constantly evolving with the audience.

Right now, the biggest mystery of Lonelygirl15 is “who is she?” We think this is an oversimplification. Lonelygirl15 is a reflection of everyone. She is no more real or fictitious than the portions of our personalities that we choose to show (or hide) when we interact with the people around us. Regardless, there are deeper mysteries buried within the plot, dialogue, and background of the Lonelygirl15 videos, and many of our tireless and dedicated fans have unearthed some of these. There are many more to come.

To enhance the community experience of Lonelygirl15, which you have already helped to create, we are in the process of building a website centered around video and interactivity. This website will allow everyone to enjoy the full potential of this new medium. Unfortunately, we aren’t programmers. We are filmmakers. We are working furiously to complete the website, and hope to have it up and running shortly.

So, sit tight. You are the only reason for our success, and we appreciate your devotion. We want you to know that we aren’t a big corporation. We are just like you. A few people who love good stories. We hope that you will join us in the continuing story of Lonelygirl15, and help us usher in an era of interactive storytelling where the line between “fan” and “star” has been removed, and dedicated fans like yourselves are paid for their efforts. This is an incredible time for the creator inside all of us.

Thank you.

This was the weirdest and cruelest cut of all. Fans were up in arms at the fakery (even though they must have suspected this), and no one could figure out how the fans themselves would get “paid for their efforts.” Worse still, the L.A. Times reported that a gaggle of online fans traced an email from Lonelygirl15 to the offices of the mega talent firm Creative Artists Agency. Is Bree ready to hit the big time?

The Questions that Remain

So if we can believe that message from the creators of “the show,” we now know that there is a wizard behind the curtain and this is no typical YouTube teenager talking about her loneliness in a small town.

But we still don’t know who is behind this effort, who the actors are playing Bree or Daniel, or where they really are going to go from here.

So here are the questions that remain for you to answer so we can wrap up the mystery and get on with our lives…

  • Who is Bree a.k.a. Lonelygirl15? What’s her name and is she an actress or just a pawn in someone else’s production?
  • Who is Daniel and what is his real relationship with Bree?
  • Who are these other people behind the site, the ones “who love good stories”?
  • What’s Bree’s religion and the connection to occultist Aleister Crowley?
  • Is there a connection with an upcoming horror movie or other film or TV show?
  • Will anyone care by next month?

The Contest

The comments for this blog post are open for your theories, guesses or investigative sleuthing. The person or people who come up with the most correct answers to these questions first will have the choice of being featured in a future blog post on MediaShift, or writing a guest post themselves on MediaShift (subject to my final edit). As long as the subject matter of your post is relevant to new media, it should be fine.

Or if the contest isn’t appealing, tell us what you think about the Lonelygirl15 phenomenon, why it’s so engaging, or why it annoys you. Did the fakery upset you and make you feel tricked? Are you sickened or happy about all the major media coverage? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

UPDATE: Of course I’m having second and third thoughts about even posting this and bringing more attention to Lonelygirl15 after all that has been written already. The first two comments below make very good points about how sad it is to take up so much valuable editorial real estate with such a mindless pursuit. That said, there is a rubbernecking quality about getting sucked into such a mystery, not unlike previous entertainment mysteries such as “Who Shot J.R.?” and “Twin Peaks” and “Desperate Housewives” (Season One). The difference here is that it’s a true 21st century new age mystery, where people band together over the Net to find out more.

And in the most selfish sense, my headache seems to have subsided just by putting it out on the blog and passing on the obsession to other people. Whew. And sorry about that…

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