I'm Every Chica, Stevie Ryan
Stevie Ryan received her first Oscar, after a fashion, this year, at the age of twenty-two, only eighteen months after moving to Los Angeles to become a movie star. She grew up in California’s high desert, a couple of hours to the east, in a town along the road to Las Vegas called Victorville. Her parents worked at calibrating truck scales for weigh stations on the interstate—a family business going back two generations on her mom’s side. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Ryan harbored escape fantasies involving the Hollywood of her parents’ and grandparents’ generations—Lucille Ball, Audrey Hepburn, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow—but she never participated in high-school theatrical productions. She did attend her high-school prom dressed as Marilyn Monroe, down to the elbow-length gloves. (Her date wore a Mohawk and muttonchops.) After a brief stint in community college, she concluded that she was “too right-brain for school,” and followed an older brother to Huntington Beach—anything to get out of Victorville. “Then I thought, Screw these people—I’ll just go to L.A., see what happens,” she said recently.
The Oscar was delivered rather unceremoniously—not in March, at the Academy Awards, but in August, three and a half minutes into a sketch Ryan was filming, while she was still in character as Cynthia, an eighteen-year-old Latina from East L.A. who is better known as Little Loca, after the handle Ryan uses when she uploads some of her homemade sketches onto the video-sharing site YouTube. This was about the fortieth in a series of short Little Loca videos that had by then attracted over a million viewings, thanks to Loca’s “big old mouth” (both literally—her heavily outlined lips command attention—and figuratively) and her irreverent putdowns (“You better watch out, fool, because God’s gonna come around and strike you down with some lightning if you don’t be careful”). Loca was wearing a bandanna and hoop earrings, and sitting on a sofa, against a plain white wall, between two women who were known to regular viewers as Smiley (a friend of Ryan’s) and Silent Girl (Ryan’s cousin). Rap music was playing in the background.
“Damn, this shit is heavy,” Loca said, in a pronounced Hispanic accent, after accepting the gold statuette from Smiley and waving it around. “I could knock somebody out with this.” Then she launched into an earnest acceptance speech. “I want to thank YouTube,” she said. “You’re so important in my life right now. And without YouTube there’s no way in hell Loca could have, you know, got something like this.”
It seemed to be a genuine Oscar—stolen from a bar by a friend of Ryan’s—and the moment was rich with postmodern significance. Over the previous three months, Loca’s fans, many of them Hispanic, had warmed to her story: spunky ghetto kid—a chola—with an overprotective older brother, a 4.0 grade-point average, and her innocence proudly intact. (That gang sign that she seemed to flash at the end of each video was really a sideways V, for virgin.) They knew she’d been prom queen, and they had met her onetime boyfriend Raúl. They’d learned that Silent Girl went mute after the death of her brother, an innocent bystander in a botched robbery. And they’d grown accustomed to Loca’s distinctive, almost bewitching screen presence—the way her dark eyebrows and pursed lips slide effortlessly from a knowing smile to an outraged glare. At the same time, they’d begun noticing suspicious details that called into question the diary’s authenticity: the mole on Loca’s right cheek seemed to vary in size and placement; Raúl bore a striking resemblance to Drake Bell, the co-star of Nickelodeon’s “Drake and Josh,” a teen sitcom; and didn’t Loca resemble a young woman—a white woman—named Stevie Ryan, who’d been photographed with Drake Bell at the MTV Movie Awards, in June? Accepting the Oscar as Loca was Stevie Ryan’s tacit way of acknowledging the act while also congratulating herself on having legitimately achieved a kind of alternate-reality stardom. Smiley and Silent Girl wore black Little Loca T-shirts they’d bought on the Web from a total stranger.
Loca’s outing mirrored, in some ways, that of the season’s most famous Internet adolescent, LonelyGirl15, whose homespun, if sharply edited, tales of science projects, boy troubles, and religion captivated millions of YouTube viewers before she was exposed as the creation of filmmakers represented by the Creative Artists Agency on Wilshire Boulevard, instead of, say, a girl in her bedroom on some sleepy Midwestern Main Street. But whereas the people behind LonelyGirl15 were interested, from the outset, in exploring the possibilities of a “new art form,” as they called it, unfolding in two-minute episodes, Stevie Ryan came by her YouTube celebrity accidentally, while killing time between auditions and acting classes.
Ryan’s show-business career started when she landed a bit part in a Hilary Duff video (playing Marilyn Monroe) as a result of her first audition, while still living in Victorville. That was all the encouragement she needed, and before long she was dating Bell, whom she met in Huntington Beach. But steady work proved hard to come by, and her reel, after more than a year in L.A., was a typically mixed bag: another music gig (a Billy Idol video), a Japanese commercial, modelling for a fashion startup. She got a job working at a Levi’s store in Beverly Hills.
Six months ago, she borrowed Bell’s Sony Handycam and started making videos. They were mostly vintage-style silent films, with names like “Beyond the Sea . . .” and “Satin Doll,” which she edited, with no formal training, using Windows Movie Maker. She experimented with uploading a few of the films onto YouTube, and only then discovered the site’s ruthlessly populist ethos: what people seemed to like was not pretentious art films with obvious Hollywood aspirations but the confessional blogs of young girls in their bedrooms. Little Loca—a composite of the tough-talking, strong-willed cholas Ryan used to admire in Victorville—was born.
Within a few weeks, YouTube became a full-time pursuit for Ryan. “It’s basically all I do,” she told me. In addition to Loca, she began doing spoofs and impressions of established YouTube bloggers (a surefire way of getting attention), and kept up, sporadically, with the artsy silent films. The quest for stardom that had led her to Hollywood now pitted her against nonprofessionals in Toronto and Pittsburgh and Tasmania.
Three days after Little Loca’s Oscar speech, a seventy-nine-year-old widower named Peter turned on his Web-cam, in the English countryside, and announced, “I got addicted to YouTube. It’s a fascinating place to go to see all the wonderful videos that you young people have produced, so I thought I’d have a go at doing one myself.” (About half of all registered YouTube users are said to be under twenty.) He was wearing a beige V-neck sweater and glasses, and sat in front of nineteen-seventies-era wallpaper and a small painting of a motorcycle. “Oh, yes, and, incidentally, I really am as old as I look,” he said. “What I hope I’ll be able to do is just bitch and grumble about life in general from the perspective of an old person who’s been there and done that.”
Peter called himself geriatric1927, after the year of his birth, and uploaded the video, which was two minutes long, under the title “First Try.” It had been viewed scarcely more than three hundred times when it came to the attention of a staffer at YouTube headquarters, in San Mateo, California, who showed it to Maryrose Dunton, YouTube’s director of product management. She is one of the people in charge of selecting videos to feature on the YouTube home page, which serves as an informal recommendation list. Of the seventy thousand videos added to the site every day, fewer than a dozen receive this special treatment. Dunton, who says she is “totally fascinated by old people and tech,” put Peter’s video at the top of the featured list. The YouTube audience, bombarded by frenetic, attention-seeking teens, immediately warmed to Peter’s reserve. By the following week, geriatric1927, who had begun narrating his life story, from primary school through the Blitz and on into health-department work in Leicestershire, without ever leaving his chair, had more subscribers than any other user in YouTube’s history. “First Try” has now been seen nearly two million times.
One hesitates to cite these statistics, because the story of YouTube, since its launch, ten months ago, has been one of exponential growth, at times challenging the company’s abilities to cope with the demand on its servers. (Bandwidth costs are thought to exceed a million dollars a month.) Last week, according to Alexa, a Web-traffic monitor, it was the tenth-biggest site on the Internet, drawing more visits than eBay, Amazon, or Wikipedia. By late summer, there were approximately six million videos archived on the site, and daily viewings had crossed the hundred-million mark, a great many of them devoted not to original content, such as Peter’s or Stevie Ryan’s, but to preëxisting footage in a wide range of genres: weird home movies (an old woman punching another old woman in the face), sports (Zinedine Zidane’s infamous head butt), music (Hendrix playing “The Star-Spangled Banner”), and politics (Senator George Allen referring to a rival’s campaign worker as macaca; Bill Clinton attacking Fox News on Fox News).
YouTube was founded in February of 2005, in a Silicon Valley garage, by a couple of former PayPal employees, Steve Chen and Chad Hurley. Their background was technological, not visionary. They aimed to provide an easy interface for storing, sorting, and sharing the kinds of digital videos that, thanks to cell-phone cameras and Web-cams, have become more and more prevalent. When, in late August, I visited the YouTube offices, which sit above a pizza parlor on the main commercial strip in downtown San Mateo, several of the sixty or so employees had just finished watching clips of a dance number from the previous night’s Emmy Awards show, in which the host, Conan O’Brien, sang, “At this very moment your kids are on YouTube watching a cat on a toilet.” Julie Supan, YouTube’s senior director of marketing, handed me a copy of a recent People Hollywood Daily. Its cover read, “Television’s Brave New World: How the YouTube Revolution Is Changing Everything You Knew About the Industry.” She was unclear about what, specifically, the YouTube revolution is, however. “We don’t have time to stop and think a lot,” she said.
Hurley, the company’s C.E.O., told me that he wanted to “democratize the entertainment process,” but YouTube’s business model remains somewhat undefined. The found footage that generates the bulk of its traffic is, in many cases, subject to copyright restrictions, leaving YouTube vulnerable to lawsuits. (“The only reason it hasn’t been sued yet is because there is nobody with big money to sue,” Mark Cuban, the co-founder of HDNet, said recently.) Networks like NBC and Fox have intervened to request that particular clips—“Lazy Sunday,” from “Saturday Night Live,” or Clinton’s Fox appearance—be taken down. (Fox later relented, possibly because of complaints of censorship; NBC has begun uploading promotional spots, if not actual footage.)
YouTube’s long-term strength seems to lie in the devoted community of users and bloggers (or “broadcasters,” as the company likes to call them), some of whom turn out to have crossover potential. Brooke Brodack, a skinny, gap-toothed, twenty-year-old receptionist from western Massachusetts, became, in effect, the first real YouTube star, when she was hired in June by Carson Daly to develop content for his production company on the basis of her defiantly madcap skits and lip-synching.
“They want to be seen, and we’re providing the largest audience for that,” Hurley said. “But I think the stars on the site don’t necessarily translate to television.” His plan is to develop a new advertising model that’s “not forced on the user.” Yet the site’s popularity stems from its openness—anyone can upload a video—which makes much of the content difficult to monitor and target ads for. Hurley has therefore begun experimenting with “branded channels,” and he pointed to the recently launched Paris Hilton channel as an example. In a joint arrangement with Warner Bros., Hilton’s record label, and Fox, which sponsored her channel to promote one of its new shows, her videos—Paris waving at fans in Tokyo, Paris having her hair done—received front-page placement, just like the featured spots. YouTube has also agreed to provide the Warner Music Group with “fingerprinting” technology that will help locate its copyrighted material on the site, which it will be free to authorize or remove as it chooses. Warner will upload its own music-video library, and will share the revenues from advertising targeted at its content.
Perhaps the best case for YouTube as a “democratizer” is Peter the geriatric. “What’s interesting to me is he doesn’t really have a different story,” Maryrose Dunton said. “He wasn’t famous. He’s just this average old guy, like, telling his story. That’s so endearing.”
But geriatric1927 was not, in an important sense, a truly democratic star. Like an aspiring model who is spotted in a drugstore by a hot-shot agent, he’d been plucked from the crowd and thrust directly into the spotlight. Ernie Rogers, a twenty-three-year-old guitar player in San Bernardino, may represent the ultimate realization—and corruption—of YouTube’s democratic ideal. Although on his user profile he bills himself as a “typical guy,” Rogers, who goes by the name lamo1234, has watched more than nine hundred thousand videos on YouTube since May. That averages out to approximately two hundred and fifty per hour, not allowing for sleep. What he watches, primarily, is his own guitar solos (or the first few seconds of them), over and over, to boost his view counts to levels that will make others take notice. His strategy seems to have been successful: one of his solos, a medley of Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, and Beethoven licks, has been viewed two hundred thousand times—and only sixty thousand of those viewings were by him. Unfortunately, this strategy leaves little time for actually playing music. “Next year, the No. 1 spot on YouTube is going to be me, every day,” he told me. “I just need to make my band.”
Stevie Ryan has a pale, egg-shaped face and dark-red hair that she likes to run her hands through when she’s not waving them about—punctuation for the many occasions she finds to use the words “cool” and “awesome.” She shares an apartment just off Melrose Avenue with Kendal Sheppard, a young woman she met in an acting class. The apartment, which is just a few blocks from the country’s last silent-movie theatre, is decorated with memorabilia honoring Ryan’s real-world idols—posters of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, an “I Love Lucy” pillow—but when I visited, not long ago, she seemed most animated while discussing her Internet rivals, people with names like LisaNova (“Don’t mention her in this article, cause I don’t want her to get attention”) and Vvvvalentine (“Oh, I love this girl—and her videos are about absolutely nothing!”) and FilthyWhore (“She’s a fucking bitch”). LonelyGirl15 had not yet been outed, but Ryan was already certain that her YouTube blogs were the work of an actress. “Oh, my God, she’s the worst deliverer of lines ever,” Ryan said, cuing up a LonelyGirl episode on her laptop and fast-forwarding to a spot where Bree, as the protagonist is called, claps her hands over her ears and says, without blinking, “My parents are unable to see things from my point of view no matter how much I try and explain it to them.” Ryan shook her head. “That, to me, is just so fake,” she said. “I don’t understand it.”
Ryan’s Little Loca videos are also fake, of course, but a number of plot points have been drawn from Ryan’s own life. For instance, Kendal Sheppard has a Cairn terrier named Baxter, so, rather than risk having unexplained barking in the background, Ryan wrote Baxter into the script, as a stray that Loca found one day while jogging. In July, back in Victorville, which Ryan calls “the meth capital of the United States,” her car was broken into and vandalized. Her first thought was: It’s a very Loca situation. So she got into character, put on the accent, and shot an episode inside the car, amid the wreckage. In some cases, the distinction seems to have blurred almost to the point of identity confusion. At one moment in the car-theft video, Ryan/Loca, who is visibly upset, says to the camera, “And this is real, you guys. I’m not trying to play no stupid YouTube joke or nothing. . . . I feel so invaded, and I just feel like everybody’s watching me, you know?”
“Loca is single—or Stevie, whatever people call me,” Ryan said to me, explaining that she and Drake Bell had split up earlier in the summer. Bell’s disappearance from Ryan’s life necessitated a falling out between Loca and Raúl as well. Ryan was clearly having cathartic fun with the exercise, blaming Raúl for the car incident (he needed cash to buy drugs) and, in another episode, mentioning that he’d been beaten up. (“Homegirl was telling me that, you know, they were hitting him and kicking him up on the floor and stuff like that.”)
During a recent trip to San Francisco, Ryan told me, she had been accosted by a group of teens at a mall, wanting to know if she was “Little Loca from YouTube.” (She was upset that she’d been caught off guard and hadn’t looked her best for all the pictures they snapped.) She also, thanks to Loca, was now being represented by a Hollywood agency. “Seriously, if you Googled me, like, a couple months ago, you wouldn’t get crap,” she said, typing her name into the search engine. “I’m just a normal person. And now you actually get stuff. It’s, like, crazy. That’s more than I could ever ask for, just to be on Google.” The search led to a fan site for various celebrities; Stevie Ryan’s name and head shot were featured alongside Tom Cruise, Rachel McAdams, and Johnny Depp.
Along with the arrival of a Google track record had come some anxieties about her place in the Hollywood pecking order, where, the revolution notwithstanding, YouTube still doesn’t count for much. She’d been embarrassed at a recent party when she wondered whether other guests were being patronizing about her Little Loca pursuits. “As weird as it sounds, being in L.A., with all these actors, nobody wants to do it,” she said. “There’s this whole thing in L.A. where, if it’s not on a billboard, it’s not really acting.” She’d been trying to persuade Sheppard, who once starred in the MTV reality series “Road Rules,” another ghettoized genre, to make videos with her, to no avail.
Ryan flipped through her high-school yearbook and volunteered, “You can see I was a lot fatter than I am now.” (Her Google search bar had recognized the name Stevie Ryan and suggested two related searches that she had entered previously: “Stevie Ryan thin” and “Stevie Ryan skinny.”)
Another anxiety grew out of a suspicion that YouTube was screwing her over, artificially suppressing her page views and going out of its way not to “feature” her the way it had featured geriatric1927. “O.K., seriously? They do not like me on here,” she said. “They hate my guts. I’ve never been featured, so I don’t watch the featured videos now. I’m really angry at YouTube. I don’t care what anybody says, they’re doing it on purpose. I have written probably like, I don’t know, a million letters.”
The transformation from Stevie Ryan to Little Loca takes about fifteen minutes and requires both a minor makeover (drawing the mole, teasing her hair, applying brown lipstick) and a personality adjustment, giving a strident edge to Ryan’s blithe Valley Girl persona. (“Cool” and “awesome” become “scandalous” and “nasty.”) Stevie wears heels; Loca wears Nike Cortez sneakers, big hoop earrings, and a cross around her neck.
Ryan retrieved a marble composition book in which she’d jotted some notes for her next video, not so much a script as an outline. One item read, “Paris Hilton and her big old nasty feet”—a reminder to talk trash about YouTube’s latest interloper. Another said, “Dog shots!” (“I really did take him the other day to get him shots, and I wanted to talk about why that shit really did cost me a hundred and fifty dollars,” she said.) There was also a plot-moving device: “Silent Girl is mad because I’ve been talking to Raúl.”
Ryan said that she prefers to shoot Little Loca videos straight through, without editing, to create the genuine feel of a video blog. She tends to ramble, however, and her videos, which once averaged about three minutes, now run for six or seven. (“Loca has too much to say.”) Before starting, she read over the viewer-feedback comments posted below her latest video, like a kind of pep talk. “People are so mean on here,” she said, after reading one particularly stinging insult, by a fellow-broadcaster named Mojojojoe69. “I give this guy all these shout-outs all the time.”
She sat on a bright-red sofa and held the camera in her right hand, just in front of her face. “Hey, everybody, what up? It’s your homegirl, Loca, all up in the house,” she started, before tearing into her critics. “All I see is you fools over here, crying like a bunch of damn babies, including you, Mojojojoe69. What the hell is your problem? . . . Either you better respect or you better get the hell out of here, fool. Make your damn mind up, all right? You can’t talk shit to Loca one second and be her homey.” After a minute or so, Ryan stopped, concluding that she was talking too fast. Take two ran for four minutes before she stopped again. (“I don’t remember if I talked about Mojojojoe.”) The third try, despite faltering arm strength, stuck: six minutes and thirty-three seconds. She downloaded it onto her laptop, and then, opening Windows Movie Maker, selected “grayscale,” converting it to a highly saturated (for YouTube) black-and-white. Next, she searched her music library for an old-school rap track (“Loca’s really gangsta,” she said), ultimately selecting “Protect Ya Neck,” by the Wu-Tang Clan, which she set to play on a separate track underneath her voice. A series of selections—“fade,” “in and out,” “moving titles,” “layered”—created a template for the opening credits. She selected a graffiti font and gave the video a title: “The Locamotion Isn’t Happy with You Guys.”
“I seriously can’t sit through my videos,” she said, after uploading it onto the site. “They’re, like, so annoying.” She combed out her hair, removed her makeup, and then got in her car and drove to the actor Crispin Glover’s house, in Silver Lake, to discuss plans for possible joint projects: a YouTube star landing a feature-film role, and a Hollywood star joining the YouTube community.
Crispin Glover was wearing a black jacket, black pants, black shoes, and black socks. His front door was open, and in the yard were a number of antique cars covered with tarps. Reverberation from an indie-rock performance, part of a street festival on Sunset Boulevard, made its way up the hill. Ryan curled up in a chair in the living room and looked adoringly at Glover.
A few weeks earlier, Glover had sent her a fan letter through MySpace (its subject was “Genuine Crispin Glover writes Stevie Ryan”). It said that he was planning to make a “party film,” set at a castle he owned in the Czech Republic, and he was looking for talented (and inexpensive) actors to work with.
“I saw that she was doing these things that fooled people, and that she had these various characters,” Glover said, explaining his initial attraction to her YouTube work. “And I’ve had some experience with that as well—things that I’ve done people will think different things about what they actually are. I like that.”
A search for Glover’s name on YouTube will uncover, among other perplexing things, at least ten different uploads of a 1987 appearance on David Letterman’s show. Glover comes onstage wearing a wig, funny glasses, tight striped pants, and platform shoes. He behaves very strangely (one of the YouTube clips was uploaded with the title “Drugs Are Baaaad”); Letterman is not amused. Glover challenges Letterman to an arm-wrestling contest, and then karate-kicks in the direction of Letterman’s head. Letterman rises from his desk and walks offstage. YouTube users have watched the incident more than a quarter million times. “It’s interesting now that there’s this whole new life for it,” Glover said.
Glover spent much of the past decade writing, directing, and producing a film called “What Is It?,” using mostly actors with Down syndrome, which he plans to personally present at art theatres in selected cities this fall. (He himself plays a character called Dueling Demi-God Auteur.) He didn’t seem to have much interest in exploring YouTube’s potential as a new narrative format, to compete with television and feature films, and instead saw it as a forum for discovering new talent and for promoting preëxisting projects, like “What Is It?” In fact, as he talked, the two major issues facing YouTube—copyright and advertising—were brought into relief. While he didn’t mind the clips that had been posted from studio films he’d acted in (Glover played George McFly, Michael J. Fox’s father, in “Back to the Future”), he was concerned about the prospect of someone posting a bootleg of his own movie. “That’s something I would be very litigious about,” he said.
Turning to me, he asked, “What’s the right word for the conspiracy theories that Stevie has about viewership counts? Did she talk to you about that?”
“He’s, like, ‘Yeah, right,’ ” Ryan said.
“Who, me?” Glover asked. “No, no. I understand how those things happen, and it does have to do with corporate sensibilities. I don’t know what’s happening in her case—”
“Well, what do you think is happening?” Ryan interrupted.
“Well, if there would be things like that going on, the reason it would be happening is because they need to be figuring out how their sponsorship elements are going to be working, and corporate elements always get concerned about making audiences uncomfortable,” Glover said. He brought up the fact that she plays a Hispanic character. “Racism is a hot issue, and if there’s anything where people can be concerned about race issues, that’s a sponsorship issue,” he said. “In the seventies, there was that Frito-Lay character—he sang a song, ‘Ay, yii, yii, yiii, I am the Frito Bandito.’ And at a certain point they had to get rid of that character, because he was thought to be making fun of the Hispanic community.”
Glover was on a roll now, the wise forty-two-year-old actor-director schooling the naïve twenty-two-year-old on the ways of the world, and warning her against the inevitable corruption of her utopian Internet democracy. “My movie definitely goes into those areas that corporate entities would be concerned about,” he said. (Glover describes “What Is It?” as “the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are snails, salt, a pipe, and how to get home.”) “And you have to start questioning the basis of the culture itself, being a free-market democracy, which has to do with capitalism—and there are questions about capitalism.” Ryan’s eyes began to glaze over. “You know, you can question Communism, you can question capitalism, you can question fascism,” Glover went on. “They all have their innate evils, so to speak. And it’s the corporate entity that ends up getting power within a capitalistic culture.”
Ryan picked up on the doomsday narrative, if not the political theory. “Four months ago, when I was first on YouTube, it was not where it’s at right now,” she said. “I think Little Loca was, like, No. 5 most-subscribed, and now, like, I’m No. 15—because why? There’s all these other people they’re featuring on there. And it’s, like, bullshit.”
A few weeks later, Ryan posted a new Little Loca installment. It begins with Loca walking down the street (“My dad let me take out the camera,” she explains) and stumbling upon a vintage Bentley. “Damn, there’s a bad-ass car up right here,” she says. A man with long hair, funny glasses, platform shoes, and striped pants—Glover’s Letterman outfit—approaches. “This fool be lookin’ scandalous as hell,” Loca says. “Don’t tell me that’s his car. . . . Hey, wait a minute. You look like McFly, fool. Hey, are you Crispin Glover?”
“No,” the man says, acting nervous.
“You’re in a disguise,” she says.
“No, I’m not,” he says, now indignant. “People think that, and it’s not true.”
He drives off, but soon the scene cuts to Glover’s front yard, where the tarps have been removed from the cars. “Look at these cars and this house,” Loca says. “And you’re going to try to say that you ain’t Crispin Glover the movie star?”
“Movie star?” he asks. “That guy? That guy’s an idiot.”
At about the four-minute mark, the screen fades to a “To be continued . . .” Then there is a printed advertisement: “See Crispin Hellion Glover in a live dramatic performance along with his feature film ‘What Is It?’ ” The film’s trailer follows.
Less than forty-eight hours after Ryan uploaded the video she shot in front of me at her apartment, it was removed from the site, further fuelling Ryan’s suspicions. “They removed my video because YouTube always removes my videos,” she wrote me in an e-mail. “It’s O.K., I still love them.”
The real reason for her video’s removal had nothing to do with any personal antipathy toward her among the YouTube staffers. YouTube had received a Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint from a third party. Apparently, Ryan’s mistake had been to edit her sketch too ambitiously, post-dubbing the Wu-Tang Clan soundtrack that was distinct from the video recording, and therefore digitally traceable. Had she merely played the song on her stereo while shooting the scene on the sofa, there would have been no way for anyone to detect it, short of watching every video on the site.
In September, Ryan found herself featured at last on the YouTube home page. But the video that YouTube had selected was one of the derivative silent films, a sentimental Chaplin tribute set to the piano music of Yann Tiersen. In just two weeks, it was viewed nearly three hundred thousand times—far more than any of the Loca videos. The response, judging from the seventeen hundred comments, was largely positive, although one viewer named Draftgon wrote, “Can anyone tell me why THIS video got on the front page? I don’t see anything interesting about it.” A girl named Morbidangel wrote, “WOW! Beautiful. . . . You made me cry.”That comment drew a reply from Ryan herself: “Awww, please don’t cry. Art is beautiful, it reminds you that you’re really not alone.”