There’s an old Mad magazine joke that says never to fall for the cuteness of a kitten left on your doorstep because, after all, it will cost you thousands of dollars to maintain once it matures into an adult cat. Perhaps a parallel can be drawn to being the Featured Profile on MySpace.com, as one unwitting 24-year-old from Des Moines, Iowa found out in early July.
The morning of July 7 was like many others for Jessica Deverell: Get up, have her coffee, and enjoy a day at the office on her first real job in her chosen field: graphic design. Logging into MySpace at lunch, however, would change her life—at least for the next few weeks. There were some 200 messages in her inbox from strangers throughout the country offering compliments, small talk, and some less-than-subtle hints about sexual fantasies involving Ms. Deverell.
What the hell is going on? she thought to herself.
And there was something else that kept coming up in the messages. “In these messages people were sending me, they kept saying I was featured, but I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about,” she recalls. “Then my friend’s little sister told me she got the MySpace Books newsletter with me in it emailed to her.”
Therein lay the rub: Shining like the aurora borealis in a mass e-mail to MySpace’s 90 million or so users was Jessica Deverell’s smiling visage under the Featured Profile banner. With her vibrant smile, blue-green eyes and dark-blond hair, perhaps she looked like the girl next door to MySpace users. Or at least something inspired them to send her innumerable messages.
Hundreds of messages multiplied to approximately 3,000. They told her she was cute—repeatedly. They told her they loved her smile—repeatedly. They complimented her dancing (as viewed in two of her profile pictures)—repeatedly. Some strangers even judged her as smart, funny, interesting, eloquent and, as one said to Deverell’s amusement, “a nerd wrapped in a normal person’s body.” They wanted to debate the merits of flippy cup, which she lists as her favorite drinking game. Others said she had “ugly clothes,” told her she needed to find Jesus (a couple pictures show her holding an adult beverage), and confused Iowa with Idaho. But the resulting potato jokes weren’t nearly as annoying to Deverell as the ones implying she lived in a boring state. (Insert bad cornfield joke here.)
“The jokes about Iowa get real old real fast,” Deverell says. “People have a lot of stereotypes about this state that I have always known about, but mostly people assume I live on a farm or in a real small town like Mayberry or something. Des Moines may not be the most hip, cultured, and most cosmopolitan of places, but it’s a pretty damn great place to live.”
And living up to an Internet stereotype, there were also myriad propositions. You could put the old Donna Summer hit on repeat for an hour and still not hear “hot stuff’ as much as Deverell did for several weeks. Some offered to fly her to more exotic locals for dinner and drinks. “Triad” proved more than just a Byrds or Jefferson Airplane song to two couples who kindly got in touch. One male even eschewed the irrelevant compliments and just got to the point: “Please fuck me”—followed by a phone number.
“I guess you have to give the guy credit for being polite; he did say please,” Deverell says. (She did not call the number.)
She also got around 20 marriage proposals—including one from a guy who pleaded based on the fact that he got an e-mail with her picture and “doesn’t know why,” apparently forgetting that millions of others did as well. (Needless to say, no MySpace wedding bells will be ringing for Deverell.)
Within days, Deverell’s initial amusement “wore off” as hundreds of messages went over the millennium mark and she was unable to read—let alone respond—to most of them. But then, within hours of realizing her featured status on July 7, Deverell had posted a blog responding to frequently asked questions and the like to save potential e-mailers time—or so she thought. “I wrote that first blog right after I found out I was featured, in hopes that people would read the answers to the commonly asked questions and not send me the same exact ones,” Deverell says. “But that was apparently a waste of time because I got those same questions over and over and over again.”
And so, the messages multiplied exponentially—as did the number of hits on her profile (approximately 5,000 before being featured; a whopping 200,000 at the time of this writing) and friend requests, which Deverell estimates at 10,000. “It has gotten to the point that I don’t even check my friend requests anymore because there are just too many,” she says. “There were a few people that I will probably add once I go through all the messages that I saved, but I have only actually added about five people so far.”
Indeed, there were a few people who were sincere in their interest. There were a fair number of offers to do graphic design, some of which Deverell may yet follow up on. One California radio station even offered her an interview, which she turned down. (“What do I have to say to the people of California?” Deverell wrote in a subsequent blog, adding that no one she knows would have been able to tune in.)
“Some people said they envied my life, which made me stop and think about all the things I probably take for granted,” Deverell says. “One guy said I seemed like a character straight out of a great book, which I thought was great because I love to read.” One of Deverell’s favorites was 17-year-old boy aspiring to be the Democratic nominee for president and seeking her support in the Iowa caucus. “I was like ‘Hey, yeah, I will! Good for you for being so involved in politics at such a young age!’ There need to be more kids like that,” she says.
Perhaps this interest in politics and books—not exactly typical for most 20-somethings on MySpace—is also why Deverell was featured. But in spite of inquiries, she’s yet to receive any explanation from the MySpace honchos. “If I were to ever become famous, I would want it to be because I actually accomplished something great like writing a book, saving a life, designing an award-winning advertisement—not because I wrote an interesting ‘about me’ section and put up some good pictures of myself,” she says. “I really hope someday I accomplish something great that deserves some recognition; I don’t think this is it. At least I hope not.”
Right now, she’s just enjoying her gradually lessening MySpace fame (yes, the flood of messages has subsided) and training for a half-marathon she’s running in a few months. When she finishes that marathon, she’ll perhaps finally be able to sigh for a reason other than another inane comment she received on MySpace. “I’m surprised I didn’t get some sort of warning from MySpace about it, actually,” Deverell said. “They should really start doing that when they decide to feature people.”
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.
// Marginal Utility
"The social-media companies have largely succeeded in persuading users of their platforms' neutrality. What we fail to see is that these new identities are no less contingent and dictated to us then the ones circumscribed by tradition; only now the constraints are imposed by for-profit companies in explicit service of gain.READ the article