In hindsight, it is clear that Jennicam was a pioneer of the Internet. Created in 1996 by a then 20-year-old college student named Jennifer Ringley, the website specialized in what were then novelties -- webcams (video cameras that continuously upload to the World Wide Web), Internet Relay Chats (IRCs or "chatrooms") and on-line journals (now called "blogs") -- all of which were focused on "Jenni" herself. Under the slogan "Life, online," she turned her whole apartment, her entire private life, into a public spectacle.
Ringley had no discernible talents, wasn't really beautiful and didn't have anything interesting to say. But she openly flirted with her voyeurs, talking about her "love life" and occasionally displaying herself while partially dressed or naked. And so "Jennicam" was an immense success. It received a great deal of press coverage and, by 1999, was receiving approximately 100 million visitors per year. Almost singlehandedly, she created the contemporary genre of "reality TV."
In 1997, Ringley realized that she could be making a fortune off of "Jennicam" and eventually started using PayPal, an on-line payment service, to charge a $15 subscription fee for one year of access to her site. In October 2003, PayPal regretted to tell her that her account had been terminated in accordance with the company's policy of prohibiting "the sale of items for mature audiences." According to The Washington Post (7 December 2003), Ringley wrote an e-mail to her fans that indicated what she was going to do in response: "I guess I've given up." No money? No Jennicam. The sense of "novelty" has long since worn off; it was gone even before September 11th.
We say good riddance. Exhibitionism, voyeurism and other forms of spectacular sexuality are both laughable and boring; situations that allow people play the roles of connoisseur, sociologist or detective are both psychogically and politically reactionary. "In a sense I'd like to have maintained the surveillance for the rest of her life . . . as a sociological experiment and a life-narrative art project," a subscriber to Jennicam named Paul Brown told The Washington Post. "I wish we'd been able to see it out." And now "we" can't. What will we do instead?
-- 7 December 2003.
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