Given a moment's thought, any reasonable 12-year-old could have figured it out. The notion that two teens would lose their virginity live on the Internet had to be a hoax. Yet media sources from Channel 11 news to Salon magazine responded to "Our First Time" as if it were either gospel or a mystery to be unraveled and exposed, reporting their findings as hot editorial dish and giving the organizers exactly what they wanted: a flurry of publicity, gossip, and attention from a curious public.
Scheduled for August 4, Our First Time featured "Mike and Diane," two recent high school graduates, both 18, inspired by the live broadcast on June 16 of the birth of Baby Sean to offer up a live video feed of their own. The initial text posted to http://www.ourfirsttime.com tells of Diane meeting a Web designer going by the name of Oscar Wells in a chat room in the wake of the birth, and Wells quickly agreeing to arrange for the young couple's rite of passage on the Internet - from getting AIDS tests and telling their parents to choppy real-time visions of the young couple in action.
From the start, the Web site displayed romantic photos of the young couple embracing in the sunset, holding hands on the sidewalk and, of course, swimming. Diane, a redheaded vixen if ever there was one, posed suggestively in her black string bikini - with a black rectangle over her eyes to protect her identity. Mike, clad in swim trunks, appeared radically shredded compared to the average pimply 18-year-old.
Press releases went out announcing Our First Time at the end of June, but that's not how the news broke: Most of the networked world heard about the site through an e-mail message from an anonymous source recruiting support to shut the site down. "I caught my grandson and his friends giggling over this," wrote the sender, who used the e-mail address stopthis1 @juno.com. "Please send a protest e-mail to your congressman or senator." All e-mail messages retain a record of their data trail, and a cursory examination of this one's revealed the address as forged. (Hint: The "Received:" and "From:" lines don't match up.)
What's more, the Internet name-registration service, InterNIC, reported that Our First Time was buying its technology from the Racine, Wisconsin-based Entangled Web, a company familiar with the high-traffic demands of X-rated images. (Pornography requires wires big enough to support heavy-data traffic and generous allotments of disk space, since pictures, particularly live, moving pictures, take up more bytes than text.)
Scarcely a week later, Internet Entertainment Group, host of such sites as Club Love, Girls Girls Girls and Seymore Butts' Buttsville, pronounced itself the site's supplier in a "banner ad" on Our First Time (the site's official registration notice, however, still reported OFT's host as the Entangled Web). IEG, which also owns the rights to the Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee sex video, claimed to be donating expertise and hardware in allegiance to the First Amendment. The very next day, IEG's Seth Warshavsky went to the media to declare the whole caper a fraud: Oscar Wells - the Web designer in the tale - was none other than Los Angeles character actor Ken Tipton, a film buff who hoped to rival Orson Welles' War of the Worlds stunt. According to a notice posted on the Web, Diane and Mike weren't bound for hymen busting after all; in the end, he said, they'd decide that shtupping could wait.
Which is exactly what happened: Complaining that the "cat's out of the bag," the Wells/Tipton character on Our First Time confessed to the story's fictionality, and posted the entire script for what might have been, including Mike and Diane agreeing to wait four more years, finish college and get married. A head shot of Ken Tipton now resides on the site, and all black rectangles have been removed. At a press conference a few days later, Tipton called Our First Time "the world's largest PSA."
Warshavsky's expose news announcement, which appeared on a separate Web site, was no less righteous. In fact, it read more like ad copy than a factual disclaimer, which all makes sense: Since Web sites attract advertising dollars in direct proportion to the traffic they lure, both Tipton and Warshavsky stand to earn revenue off the attention the controversy generated.
Our First Time, meanwhile, which looked like a condom ad all along, now trumpets Condomania as its official sponsor, and its narrative includes a shot of Diane shopping for rubbers under the store's neon logo.
Our First Time would be a dumb joke scarcely worth comment but for the Barnumesque implication that some people will trust anything that's spell-checked and art-directed. Distinguishing Our First Time from a garden-variety live sex act was, from the start, a meaningless exercise: Sex is sex, live sex is live sex, and live sex on the Internet, be it between virgins or hardened streetwalkers with conquests well into the four digits, is generally considered pornographic, no matter how it's pitched.
But the Internet, like most mediums of the imagination, is rife with real and probable deception. Teen porn, most of it performed by well-preserved 20-somethings, proliferates in the digitized world. In fact, back on the day when IEG was the site's official sponsor, two clicks away from their ad was a picture of a young woman in unzipped cutoffs, the words virgin pussy emblazoned across her downy legs.
If a stunt so obviously phony as Our First Time could fool some of the people, Jeremy Bornstein, a 31-year-old San Bruno artist, figured he could fool a few more, and make a satirical point about critical thinking as well. Hence: "Our First Anal Sex" (http://www.ourfirstanalsex.com), which mimics the overearnest copy of Our First Time in every detail, right down to misplaced quotation marks and bad punctuation.
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Instead of introducing his eager acolytes as "honor" students, Bornstein introduces them as "honor" "students." Not just "active in church and school," this Mike and Diane are "active in church and school with a little recreational drug use on the side." And in place of the ad banner from porn marketer IEG, Our First Anal Sex promotes "C4: The Place To Go To See Girls Fucking Farm Animals." The link leads to a page offering "Free Membership!" to Club Incest, "Free Shaved Llamas," a Tipper and Al Gore sex video, and GirlsGirlsGirlsAndAPig.com. All the links, by the way, are fake.
"I thought it was pretty funny, but not funny enough," Bornstein says of Our First Time. "So I decided to make it funnier. There's a pretty high level of gullibility about Internet things like this. It wasn't subject to a lot of scrutiny for the first few days."
But absence of scrutiny doesn't necessarily imply stupidity. The pornography-consuming public, he says, pay for fantasy; they believe because they want to believe.
"People are hungry for entertainment," he observes, "so the truth of something isn't always as important as the entertainment people would get from something if it were true." Customers rent adult videos that are representations of a fantasy they want to buy into. And not even Bornstein's drollery discouraged every net.sex fiend. "I'm continually surprised at the amount of e-mail I get from people who are asking me what kind of software they need to watch the [anal sex] event. Some people," he concludes, "are just looking at the pictures."