Thursday, January 31, 2008

Short Story: The Suicide of Courtney Rayner

This is the rough draft of the short story I wrote in San Francisco. Feedback is welcome. This work is subject to a Creative Commons license (see below.)

The Suicide of Courtney Rayner
by Jason Mical
San Francisco, CA 2008

When Courtney Rayner finally committed suicide in front of the Chinese Theater the Nation claimed to be many things: depressed, pessimistic, faded, even a little sad. No one claimed to be surprised. The previous months were some of the most turbulent and troubled in the life of Rayner and by extension the Nation: the public fights with an eventual divorce from her husband, the late-night glamorous parties at the most exclusive of clubs, the entering and leaving of rehab and the now-famous breakdown on national television. The last occurred in what would become known as Courtney’s “hell week,” the seven days before ending her life in front of her last audience.

Great care was taken in creating the character of Courtney Rayner from the beginning: a marketable, fresh-cut, girl-next door actress and singer who could be equally comfortable selling movies to tweens as she was selling concert tickets to tweens. It is no mistake that the only people who use the term “tween” are the cynical types who see nothing but opportunities for financial gain from art, and it is these men and women who helped craft that perfect heroine. Great playwrights were humbled by the process, as even their most spectacular onstage personas only had two or three hours of life at the absolute maximum; Courney Rayner was a method-process that spanned ten years and millions of dollars in investments.

As the backgrounds on her compact discs switched from pink to more adult shades of blue and then to black on white, so too did Courtney’s character grow with her audience. Her dancing went from innocent to suggestive to erotic. And carefully-crafted rumors began to circulate about her wild and carefree lifestyle. If she wore a new pair of sunglasses, it was guaranteed that 100,000 girls would purchase the same pair in the next week. The Nation was almost Pavolvian in its predictability when it came to Courtney Rayner.

After the fact, many of the Nation’s experts agree that the toll of playing Rayner was simply too much for a young actress to handle. Others indicate that only once in the span of her ten-year career did Rayner ever step out of character, the breakdown on the Tara Sanders Show. That video is still the most played video on YouTube, and numbers do not lie. But the role was executed with such accuracy that it seems almost unfair to criticize an artist for a blunder that amounts to a fraction of a percentage of the overall time spent in character. That mistake is reprinted in whole at the end of this story for interested parties.[1]

As hell week began, the bookies who thusfar profited greatly from the Courtney Rayner death pool stopped taking bets. Evidence of cocaine use mounted, and the police were said to be waiting for Rayner on the lot outside of the Tara Sanders Show; she narrowly avoided them by running to a friend’s waiting Civic. Family members came forward, pleading with her to stop her partying. Somewhere, investors started drawing lines across old charts and planning what to do next with their fortunes.

In the end, Courtney Rayner died with as much dignity as she was allowed. According to the best corroboration of eyewitness accounts, at 10:52 PM on the 7th she drove her custom white Ferrari to the Chinese Theater, running it onto the curb and disturbing a homeless man camped nearby. She calmly removed a 9mm automatic pistol from her glovebox, stepped out of the car, looked down Hollywood Boulevard and without saying another word shot herself in the head. She did not miss. By the time the bullet entered her skull and ended life processes in Courtney Rayner’s brain, a crowd of about 20 people were assembled around her, many of them taking pictures, recording video or texting friends.

Within 30 seconds the first image hit Flickr and Twitter streams everywhere hummed with the news. Perez Hilton caught it from Twitter and posted an image, scooping Them magazine by a half-hour. YouTube routinely policed videos but they hit BitTorrent within minutes and had more than 500,000 seeds after an hour.

It instantly became the topic of conversation on message boards and blogs, and moved to talk shows the next day. The popular psychiatrist with his own show devoted an entire week to the problem of suicide, arguing that Rayner’s family should have done more. A month and a day later, Rayner’s previously-unknown brother crashed his BMW into a brick wall at 120 miles per hour, killing him instantly. Her husband was found in his bathroom, a pile of pills still clutched in his hand.

The Nation’s health statistics for that year list Courtney Rayner Copycat Suicides as the 45th leading cause of death, followed by accidental death from thresher insertion.

[1]Tara Sanders: Do you have anything to say to those would think you should be a better role model?

Courtney Rayner: Actually, I do. First I want to apologize. I never wanted to be a role model. It kind of goes with the territory, you know? The territory of being famous. Which I didn’t really want either, but here we are and I’m doing the best that I can at it.

Sanders (Looking uncomfortable): Right, so tell us about your plans for a comeback tour.

Rayner: Wait Tara, I’m not done yet. I mean, yes, I realize I have a responsibility. But is what I’m doing so different than what goes on in any other home across the Nation? Sure, I’ve got more money, but there are a lot of girls out there making decisions as dumb or dumber than mine. Right now, some girl is having sex with a boy she hates because she has no other way to deal with her psychological problems. Right now, there’s a girl doing weed or coke or something worse because she feels like she has no other way to deal with how she feels on the inside. Am I not a reflection of that? Am I not the Nation’s girls, just magnified a million times bigger and brighter than anyone wants to admit? Sure, we can take all the glamour and glitz but by God we can’t handle the single bit of fault. Show fault, and you’re a slut, or a drunk, or a bad kid or a bad parent or a bad person. What I have to say to them Tara is: we’re the same people. The only difference is, there’s a camera on me.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Barack Obama: MLK Day

I challenge you to watch this and not get just a little teary-eyed.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

100 Reasons

Offered without comment: 100 Reasons to Watch Jericho

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bless Me Father, For I Have Blogged

Bless me father, for I have blogged. It has been eight days since my last post.

In those eight days, I have been evaluating my priorities not just for this blog but overall in my life. I've also flown to San Francisco and back, so I had plenty of time cooped up on airplanes to turn my thoughts inward. But London is a thinky sort of city; being around this much stuff makes you start to look at things in ways you didn't before. Moving has that effect as well: a need to re-evaluate aspects of your life (do I really need to keep this coffee mug?) inevitably leads you to re-evaluate other aspects of your life (do I really need a big house that I feel compelled to fill with meaningless bullshit?)

I got some of my old fiction out and read through it, especially a story that I loved writing but hate the ending of called The Paper Priest. It's a story that started with a title and worked from there, and the first three-quarters are some of the best stuff I've written but it ends poorly. If I cut out the offending part, it doesn't end at all and clearly lacks something. But I've been writing other things. In fact, I've written almost two short stories in the last week - the second is incubating in another window as I type this - and I'm slowly taking this opportunity to shift some of the proverbial boxes around in my mental storage space to make things more conducive to what I want to do with myself. And one of those boxes is this blog.

So to any of my coworkers reading this, I apologize in advance. I've been posting about PR and marketing and Web 2.0 and all that stuff and while I find it academically interesting on the surface, I feel that it's a subject where most people have said all there is to say and 99.9% of the rest of us are just playing echo chamber. I'm not doing it anymore. Unless it somehow fits into what I want to write, I'm not going to be making any more fancypants posts trying to impress people (and myself) with my superior knowledge of podcasting the digital media revolution.

I'm getting reacquainted with my creativity and he's an old friend that I feel I've neglected far too long. I originally started this blog after one of the writers I most admire recommended blogging as a way to keep the creative pen sharp. For the almost 5 years I've been doing this, I've struggled to find a voice, largely because I've been concerned about what people would want to read on here.

Part of what I realized is that catering to what I think people want to hear - so-called New Marketing professionals, or PR people, or whatever - isn't true to the original intent of what I set out to do. It's not keeping the creative pen sharp. My creativity and I need each other, like peas and carrots, like Batman and the Joker. And I've been driving him away by flirting with all this other, well, bullshit.

So expect to see less of that and more of what I want to write. That may mean that I update less often, but if that happens, it probably means I'm off doing something more creative with my time. Like finishing this story.

Speaking of.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Temporarily Offline

The Subversive Puppet Show is temporarily closed for maintenance. All performances have been cancelled until further notice.

The management would like to thank you for your continued patronage.

Update: Nothing serious, just a lack of time and an attempt to reprioritize how I spend my time online.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Nietzsche vs. Jason

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is the artist?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him --- you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? ... Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying the artist? Do we smell nothing as yet of the artistic decomposition? Artists, too, decompose. The artist is dead. The artist remains dead. And we have killed him.

"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? ... Must we ourselves not become artists simply to appear worthy of it?


It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several galleries and libraries and there struck up his requiem. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "what after all are these galleries and libraries now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of the artist?"

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Morning After: Cigarettes and Coffee

It's cigarettes and coffee time following the Iowa primaries. So what happened?

Obama and Huckabee. Big upset for Clinton who came in 3rd (although she was within spitting distance of 2nd.) Ron Paul grabbed about 10% of the vote.

What does this have to do with what I discussed yesterday? Mark "Rizzn" Hopkins on Mashable has a good (albeit a little hyperbolic) summary of the evening's successes. Money quotes:

    Patrick Ruffini’s Twitter efforts once again proved that using Twitter for major event coverage will give you a substantial lead over anything the mainstream news can do with their efforts, and for substantially less money invested...

    Somehow, without even turning on any cable news networks, I was able to get minute by minute coverage of the caucus results from actual primary sources with a high degree of accuracy and interesting analysis. [Emphasis his]
While I don't agree with his overly-optimistic report of Ross Perot wannabe Ron Paul's less-than-impressive 10% turnout despite his fundraising record and the large volume of noise about him online. It seems there might be some snakes on Paul's plane after all.

But Obama's success is something else altogether. Obama has married an extremely diverse new media campaign with a traditional media campaign - and this seems to be the formula for success. Despite the heavy emphasis on new media by the Democrats in 2004 with efforts on Daily Kos, it was not enough to tackle the (then) dinosaur-like Republicans who relied almost exclusively on traditional media in that campaign. Contrast that with Paul, who has worked almost exclusively with new media in this campaign and reaped a surprisingly small reward for doing so.

While Mashable declared that traditional media was "on notice," clearly that's a little premature of a declaration to make. I wouldn't go as far as Drama 2.0 and say "so what?" but I will say that exclusive reliance on new media isn't going to win anything, at least not at the moment. Drama 2.0 makes a very good point:
    But on the whole, [traditional media] usually does a more-than-adequate job of providing an accurate who, what, where, when, why and how for major events. For the vast majority of average Americans, that’s good enough.
I recognize that he's referring to Hopkins' remark about the success of Twitter, and I'm extrapolating a little to associate that with the overall success of the various kinds of media, but my point is that you simply cannot - yet - have an exclusively new media campaign and expect to "win." We're still in a time of change, and although we'd like to imagine that our work in the fishbowl is the most important work, we're as reliant on our traditional counterparts as they are on us.

I don't want to seem like I'm coming down on new media relations because I'm not. I'm simply trying to be practical in my approach to what I do. This relates primarily to expectations: Ron Paul supporters were expecting his record-breaking fundraising to translate to a from-behind major win at the polls. People expected the buzz around Snakes on a Plane and Serenity online to translate into major ticket sales. Clients expect to be able to throw a "viral" video, the definition of which no one can ever agree upon, onto YouTube and get a million hits (and sell a million units) just because it's there. They expect that a "viral" video game they created will be loved by the online gaming community despite a shitty concept executed in a farty manner.

That, if anything, is the lesson here. Obama has one hell of a campaign staff and my guess is that if they can keep this up, it will take him all the way to the White House. He also has a very optimistic message of hope, and that always helps - you have to make sure the product you're selling isn't awful.

The rest of the primary season will be very interesting indeed!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Primary Decisions

I don't have anything to offer the blogosphere that hasn't been offered by all manner of punditry both political and social, but I do feel that today's Iowa Caucuses will act as a sort of litmus test for the practical applicaiton of social media into a broader context. David Wescott's post that just came through my feed reader does a good job capturing the zeitgeist of the blogosphere and some of the different kinds of opinions and predictions floating around out there as the frozen midwesterners head to the polls. (His point about campaign finance reform and campaigns "resembl[ing] telethons more every day" is also a very strong one, and worth considering among the more political Puppeteers.)

The primaries for me will be a put-up-or-shut-up scenario about some of the more wild predictions those of us in the new marketing / new media community have been throwing around lately. CC Chapman recently referred to the New Marketing community as a "fishbowl," and running through my Twitter stream that seems quite approrpriate - it is often the same people saying many of the same things to each other. This ties back to my 2008 predictions - I feel we're starting to reach the summit in our development of this space, and the application of our theories to the wider world is the next logical step. We need to take care we don't construct our fishbowl-cum-tower too high, or we risk not seeing what's on the ground anymore.

To that point, the first real litmus test kicks off in a few hours. Will the Andrew Ryan-like Ron Paul's Libertarian views and Internet-driven fundraising record really make him a viable candidate? Long Tail he may be (tip to the previously-linked Chris Anderson and Newsweek), but the actual viability of this model outside of a few already-connected companies, artists, consumers and politicians is what's on the line. Will Paul's fundraising and online popularity equate to votes, or will it be so many Snakes On A Plane?

That is, frankly, what interests me about this race. If we really are challenging the old way of thinking as much as, well, we'd like to think - how does it play in the Midwest, and how much does it actually affect the bottom line - be it votes or units sold?

My prediction: tomorrow morning our little fishbowl will be a very interesting place.