MySpace voyage

Journey through the MySpace online community and encounter underage punk fans, surrealist film clips and more than a few cheesy pickup lines

Peek into a handful of office cubicles at any given moment, and you’re likely to catch some proud member of our country’s workforce idling away the time at MySpace. In the past few years, MySpace and other social-networking Web sites have become increasingly popular. These free sites allow users to create their own profile pages—each with a selection of photos, a list of personal characteristics and favored pastimes, and even dating criteria. These profiles then can be linked to the pages of friends, and their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends (also known as total strangers). Users can send e-mail messages to one another, leave comments on their friends’ pages, post blog entries and send bulletins to their entire social network, creating an online community.

The trend started with the fatally successful Friendster, which became slow and unwieldy as the site’s traffic grew beyond its capacity. Friendster began losing its enthusiastic participants to, MySpace and other competing networking sites.

These days, it would seem that MySpace has emerged the victor. Its appeal lies chiefly in the fact that users’ profile pages are highly customizable—having the potential to become a uniquely expressive piece of art or a muddled mess of beeping, flashing annoyance. MySpace pages boast video clips, music samples, and custom backgrounds and fonts.

Popularity is a double-edged sword, however. MySpace is beginning to show signs of slowing, much like Friendster, as it struggles to keep up with demand. Technical glitches are increasing. Nonetheless, MySpace continues to attract users in Sacramento and nationwide.

Several MySpace subcultures have developed, as bands, artists, pop-culture fans, singles, teenagers and just plain folks learn to navigate the site. One of the more prevalent of these subcultures consists of the look-at-me girls and their counterparts, the girl collectors. Look-at-me girls post sexy pictures of themselves in tiny shorts, bikinis or lingerie and end up with thousands of “friends” linked to their profile page. The sexier the picture, the more friends will line up. Getting too sexy may mean getting banned from the site, as MySpace administrators do their best to enforce the site’s no-nudity rule. (It would seem to be a losing battle.)

Some of these women have their own pay-for-view adult sites and aim to entice users to click over and enter a credit-card number to see that which MySpace will not allow. Other women seem motivated by the same temptation that leads people to risk their body-image esteem on sites like Hot or Not, which invite users to praise or insult total strangers based on their uploaded images.

If you want to find a lot of look-at-me girls in a hurry, you need only find one. Then click on any random male on her “friends” list. Chances are you’ll be taken to the profile of a girl collector. Girl collectors seem to take great pride in having many “hot chicks” in their “stable.” They often post lists of their favorite sexual positions and body parts. (Surprisingly, most seem fond of tits and ass.) Additionally, most have large penises and “hard bodies,” as they are eager to tell you.

Changing the photo on a MySpace profile from a head shot of an average man to a photo of a “hot chick” results in an instant barrage of friend requests from girl collectors, enough to take your friend tally up to 500 in a matter of hours. Better still, your MySpace inbox quickly will fill with stimulating conversation. “Hey babe, what’s up?” is the most popular opener.

Lest you get the idea that MySpace is strictly the terrain of singles-bar hoppers out for a cheap ego boost and some free masturbation material, let’s look at some of the other fine folks utilizing this Web site. Independent musicians quickly discovered that a MySpace page is a great way to reach a lot of people with little, if any, monetary investment. Dozens of Sacramento bands, including the Snobs, Estereo, Supermodel Suicide, Las Pesadillas, Uberkunst, Red Tape and the Veronicas, have MySpace profiles.

Danny Reynoso and his Sacramento punk band the Secretions have used MySpace to increase support for their shows on the road, to get their music heard beyond where their van will take them and, to a lesser degree, to increase record sales. “It’s like dropping off 1,600 fliers,” Reynoso said about posting a gig on MySpace.

The Secretions have a customized MySpace band page, which Reynoso thinks is great. “It’s so much more accessible than most bands’ Web sites,” he said. “It’s fan-interactive; fans can leave comments on our page. They can interact with us on a one-on-one basis. It’s like band promotion for dummies, and we’re dummies.”

Observe the Secretions milking the potential of MySpace, and the dummies comment doesn’t hold up. The band has designed two custom comments to leave on the profile pages of anyone who signs on as a friend. “Thanks for adding the Secretions. By the time you read this, we will have already jerked off to your profile,” reads the less offensive of the two. It features a picture of an unhealthy-looking man in the throws of ecstasy (or perhaps suffering indigestion).

Logging onto the site, answering e-mails and leaving public comments on others’ profile pages is what keeps a MySpace user visible and keeps the friends rolling in. This is also what leads to MySpace addiction. In fact, a humorous bulletin called “12-Step Recovery for MySpace Addicts” currently is circulating the site. It lists reminders like “I will eat breakfast with a knife and fork and not with one hand typing” and “I will sit down and write a letter to those unfortunate few friends and family that are MySpace deprived.”

Reynoso gave up his personal MySpace profile when he began spending hours a day online. He now concentrates solely on his band page, and he’s narrowed his time down to a half-hour each day. But there are still times when he gets sucked down the MySpace rabbit hole. “You see a good-looking girl, and you click on her pic. And then you see another good-looking girl on her friends list, and you click,” Reynoso said. “It’s like collecting baseball cards.”

But bands are not doing all the work. Nor are they having all the fun. Fans form their own groups. The Secretins are Secretions fans who use their forum to organize carpools to out-of-town shows and to keep in touch between shows. On MySpace, fans of British comedy, independent music and even casual sex (a less populated group than you might think) are able to find one another. Locally, artists like filmmaker Jonathan Morken and DJ Shaun Slaughter, as well as businesses like Midtown boutique Olipom, all use MySpace to reach the masses.

Then there are the creative folks who use MySpace as an art form all its own. Local visual artist Steve Vanoni has created an endlessly changing profile page. “I consider it like an art piece unto itself,” Vanoni explained. “I have Un Chien Andalou on there in its entirety, and a clip from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! I try to turn people on to stuff that I don’t think is too common. I like to turn young people on to this stuff—stuff that’s improved my life a lot, like [Ed] ‘Big Daddy’ Roth.” Vanoni has so many floating images and film and music clips on his page that it takes minutes to load, even with a fast Internet connection.

Vanoni is excited about the many other artists he’s met on MySpace. “I wanted to hook up with artists all over the world,” he said. “Now I have a network of artists in every major city in the U.S., in Japan, in Malaysia, in Spain.”

Vanoni also enjoys the art of making up assumed identities on MySpace. He is a big fan of MySpace user Spungee, whose photo is an image of the human torso from Tod Browning’s infamous film Freaks. “People make up these silly-ass characters. The Kool-Aid man is on there!” Vanoni laughed.

Other MySpace artists reference the site itself in their creations. When a user first creates a profile on MySpace, he or she automatically is given one friend, Tom. Tom is the Betty Crocker of MySpace. Tom is there to help out, dispense MySpace news and save everyone from the shame of having no friends at all. There are now scores of Tom parodists: evil Toms, sexy Toms, Tom fan clubs and “I Hate Tom” profiles.

Then there are the celebrities. David Bowie, Tom Waits and Lux Interior are among the dozens with profiles. However, no one knows if these users actually are who they say are. “I don’t know if it really matters,” Vanoni mused. “I do think some of them are real, though.”

MySpace has received some negative press in the form of news stories about pedophiles using the site to find young girls. This is a problem with the Internet in general, but it’s also a problem at shopping malls, parks and anywhere else young people hang out without parental supervision.

Many young people are using the site safely and responsibly, however, such as the 7-year-old Secretions fan whose father has corresponded with Reynoso. The punk-rock parent monitors his child’s Internet use, and the punk-loving kid is able to discover bands like the Secretions— alternatives to the mainstream music that radio stations offer those who are not of club-going age. Of course, Reynoso had to design an age-appropriate comment for the youngster’s profile.

As Reynoso sat at a downtown coffee shop extolling the coolness of having a 7-year-old punk fan, he pointed to a teenage couple sharing a laptop computer at the next table. On the screen was a MySpace friends list full of thumbnail pictures, linking the couple to other users in the vast virtual terrain of MySpace.