San Diego 'But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
-- Matthew 6:6
The secret is out. On March 29, The Leeza Show devoted its attention to what it called "Real Life EdTV" -- people who live their lives, or parts of their lives, before cameras that broadcast live, 24 hours a day, to the Internet. (Leeza also chatted with some ex-members of The Real World, but as they admitted, life after being processed in the MTV editing room isn't really life.)
Though she gave time to Jenni of JenniCam, a woman who has cameras throughout her house and lets people watch her live her life for $15 a year, Leeza spent the majority of the show talking to and about Chad and Kyla. Chad and Kyla are a couple who have placed a webcam in their bedroom and who, at least once a day, have sex in front of that camera. For two bucks a day, you can watch. "We think sex is good," argues Chad in the introduction to their website. "It's a beautiful, creative celebration of our love. Why should we object to other people enjoying our enjoying each other?"
Late in the show, Leeza sought reaction from a bunch of college kids sitting in the audience. The kids were themselves under surveillance, members of WebDorm (www.webdorm.com), a website that provides a prolonged peek into the dorm rooms of 30 college students nationwide, as well as bios, journals, guestbooks, and a dorm chat room. She asked Vega (his screen name) what he thought of Chad and Kyla. "I think it's good," he replied. "I don't have a problem with it. If you don't like it, don't go to the site."
"Would you do it?"
"I wouldn't do it, but I'd watch it." The audience let out some titillated oohs and aahs, chuckling at this young man's frankness. Vega's smile spread into a face-splitting grin.
Vega hails from Rancho Bernardo and is currently a junior at San Francisco State. You can see him on Camera 3 in the California WebDorm. In his online journal entry from March 18, he writes, "So I went on the goddamn Leeza show today. They've got the good-looking staff and superficially fake attitude, but it's all managed to put together and packaged nicely into daytime TV. I REALLY WANNA GO CO-HOST ON THE VIEW. I THINK MY OPINIONS AND VIEWS WILL BE RESPECTED THERE. AND IF I GET STAR DRUNK ENOUGH, I CAN PROBABLY BONE HER. ENOUGH ABOUT SEX WITH STAR JONES, LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX WITH BARBARA WALTERS! EW!"
Besides sex, he mentions drugs -- "Went to my first rave Saturday night -- OFF THA HOOK loud music and drugs are the shit..." -- and rock 'n' roll -- "When [Method Man] stepped to the mic, respect was in order for the realest rap music since Tupac Shakur." He also posts personal messages to friends, weighs in on movies, and makes nice with the ladies.
By way of explaining his "off tha hook, no holds barred" journal entries (and presumably, that grin on Leeza), he says, "I'm a broadcasting major. Any time I have a chance to do something in class that has to do with an audience, I just want a reaction, be it negative or positive." Example: "In my newswriting class, we had to do an interview." Vega interviewed his roommate, who had been in the Navy in the '80s. "I interviewed him on prostitution and all that stuff. The professor played it in front of the class. The girls were, like, 'Ew!' and the guys were, like, 'Oh, funny!' But all around, there was something, there was reaction, instead of all the other stories about homelessness or farms."
Vega, who hopes to have a talk show of his own someday, is a natural for the WebDorm, the sort of media-conscious extrovert you would expect to find online in front of a camera. Though he often forgets it's there, he enjoys sharing. "On Friday," he tells me, "we had people over, and it was pretty cool. We were just hanging out in front of the camera and being stupid in front of it and being drunk."
He's not alone. Once, "a girl had three beer bottles lined up in front of the camera. The bottles [took up] half the screen and her face [took up] the other half. You could just tell she'd had a few too many. That was pretty interesting."
(The image calls up a memory. The first time I was ill from too much drink was in college. A classmate followed me into the bathroom stall, stood over me and asked with dripping sincerity, "How you feeling? Not too good, huh? Pretty sick?" He had a high old time, enjoying the knowledge that I wanted very much for him to leave me to retch in solitude but was powerless to stop him. The WebDormer, though more vulnerable in the sense that anyone can watch, can at least move the camera as he or she pleases.)
As interesting as it might be, that kind of show is the exception. And so far, nobody has been drunk enough or brazen enough to have sex on camera, though Vega says there has been some smoking out. "It just depends. The camera's on all the time. You have to catch us on Friday night -- if we're home. Most of the time, we're just on the Internet, typing papers, studying, yeah, right, whatever. It's like mundane life, a lot of it." Some WebDormers show themselves sleeping; the still shot, which refreshes every 30 seconds, displaying their unconscious bodies as the song, pretty much just shooting the breeze, scrolls along below.
Vega became a WebDormer because "it was something new and interesting, with backing -- Collegeweb.com." He enjoys "meeting people in general, talking to people who are cool -- it's all good. It's fun." Fun for him; why would anyone watch? "Just to have a window into typical student life. It's interesting sometimes, it's boring most of the time, but it's something that you didn't have access to two or three years ago."