Books

Stories Told on the Internet

There are plenty of things to dislike about the intranet and “being online” in general. In a world where we have access to more information than ever before, we also have access to more unsettling information. We have the ability to happen upon more lies, more falsehoods, and more manipulation than we previously did. We feel each and every terrible news story when, in previous decades, some of those stories would have had more trouble reaching us. It’s so easy to hate some of things that being online has brought into our lives that we can forget that there are some things that it’s uniquely great at — like new and weird art. 

While we all love a good creepypasta or viral Reddit thread, the internet is simply the medium by which these stories spread. They could exist anywhere outside of the sites where they live. One person’s creepypasta is another’s urban legend, after all. What I am looking at is something a bit different: stories told in a way that incorporates technology across the internet and makes something about the internet itself part of the story.

Here we have three very different projects, one of which is ongoing. They all share the fact that they could not exist without the internet.

Mouchette

Mouchette was a fairly early internet artwork created by the pseudonymous “Mouchette,” a girl who is “nearly thirteen years old” and “an artist.” Years later it was revealed that the website was actually created by artist Martine Neddam, who is known in the digital art world for her personae (she is also the artist behind David Still and XiaoQian).

The site was based on Mouchette, a 1937 novel by Georges Bernanos. It explores themes of sex and death and is made more disturbing by the age of the supposed site owner. There’s a story and it’s not necessarily one most people would want to linger on, but you have to appreciate the time that went into it.

I first discovered Mouchette when I took a digital art class in college and was surprised to find that she is still online today. Back then, you could submit your email address and receive messages from Mouchette a few days later and perhaps that’s why I’ve never quite been able to shake her, despite receiving her last missive in 2011.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Vlogging was in its heyday in the 2010s and so the Lizzie Bennet Diaries were truly of their moment. There were YouTube channels for the various characters of this Pride and Prejudice retelling. Though the story itself is told in a fairly linear way, Ashley Clements, as Elizabeth Bennet, would also respond to (real) audience questions in character in separate Q&A vlogs. Spinoff vlogs in the form of faux instructional videos and demos were also created.

Lizzie, a graduate student in communications, lives with her parents and two sisters, Jane and Lydia. She begins a vlog series with her friend, Charlotte. When new neighbors Bing Lee and William Darcey move into a nearby mansion, Lizzie’s mother schemes to match Bing with one of the girls and…you know where this is going, right?

If you missed this media moment but, like me, have always meant to catch up (2012 was not my best year), you can watch starting from episode 1 on YouTube or by streaming it on AppleTV+.

Question Mark, Ohio

Begun as a project on Instagram, Question Mark, Ohio has expanded to more websites and Twitter accounts than have probably been found at this point. Launched by Joe Meno and Dan Sinker, it follows the story of Violet, a young girl in Question Mark, a town where things keep disappearing. The art is AI-generated and adds to the spooky, slightly-off-kilter sense of the town itself. The project was built six months before it launched in April 2023. It is meant to be a novel written across “the whole internet.”

Violet hates French class and provides updates on town plays. Everything is going on as usual in Question Mark, a town where most students will end up working at the envelope factory, until her neighbor’s cat, Mr. Business, goes missing and joins the untold number of other missing things in Question Mark.

The story is expected to carry on for a year and you can get started by following the account @violetinquestion on Instagram. The deeper you go, the more you’ll find. I followed some links and ended up on the website of a 3rd grade teacher in Question Mark that managed to both seem eerie and also exactly like every other elementary school teacher’s class website I’ve ever seen. If you’d like to get caught up on the goings-on in Question Mark, check out the local library.

It’s exciting to be part of a story where you can pick your own path and discover things at your own speed. It is a good reminder that there are so many different ways to tell a story, even a classic story, and that we all have stories to tell.

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