90DayJane Gets Her 15 Minutes

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Filed under: Media Pranks

Editor’s note: Alex Boese from the Museum of Hoaxes called this one right on February 11.

“˜Suicide blogger”™ claims project was art
by Jasper Hamill
Sunday Herald
February 17, 2008

Identity of “˜90DayJane”™ still unknown as site closed.

90dayjaneNews of her imminent death swept the internet – a young woman who called herself 90DayJane started a blog with one promise: “I am going to kill myself in 90 days.”

But last week, after only seven daily entries, it emerged that her promise may have been a hoax. In a final blog, the 24-year-old claimed the whole project was a piece of art made in tribute to Christine Chubbuck, an American journalist who shot herself live on air.

Overwhelmed by the public response, the mysterious woman with the thick black bob wrote: “My closeness to this project must have made art seem like reality to many people. That is not a reaction that I expected nor can I morally justify. This is why my project, 90DayJane, will be taken down in the next few hours.”

There has been a furious online search to uncover the artist’s identity, spurred on, in part, by the belief that it was her final statement that was false and that she wrote it to escape the unintended scrutiny of the 150,000 visitors to her site. Certainly, one of her final comments – the claim that her project was meant as a “mirror to reflect the isolation” felt by internet users – suggested a unsettled frame of mind.

Whatever her intentions actually were, the stunt has split opinion, even among people who sent her messages. Many wrote her messages of support, egging her on to commit suicide. Others begged her to reconsider. Some even left lewd messages urging her to pose naked before she killed herself.

For Dr Jairo Hugo, lecturer in journalism at Stirling University and expert on media psychology, 90DayJane was a woman whose motivation was no better than that of a fame-hungry Big Brother contestant.

He said: “More than any academic, it was Andy Warhol that said everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame. I would add that if they don’t have it, they are looking for it. We have lost a lot of our individual community meaning, and people need celebrity to replace that, even if it means taking their own lives or portraying a sinister hoax.”

The other accusation levelled at 90DayJane was that she was simply pulling off a hoax with one eye on the inevitable book deal to follow, something she denied. The internet is full of examples of blogs that have won lucrative deals – such as Belle Du Jour, the online blog of an Soho callgirl that was turned into a best-selling book and a risque ITV drama starring Billie Piper.

The blog tapped into a wider trend for faked, sensational events, said Francis McKee, art critic and organiser of the Glasgow International Art festival.

McKee said: “It would be pointless to kill yourself for no reason – now millions of people get to hear about the performance without the person actually having to hurt themselves. If a story is spread like a virus, which is now a common narrative form, people can become fascinated and the artist gets to see it all rather than being dead.”

But, after a double suicide occurred last week in the Welsh town of Bridgend, bringing the number of deaths in the area up to 16 in the past year, the man who counselled bereaved families said the 90DayJane project was in extremely bad taste.

Darren Matthews, director of Bridgend Samaritans, said: “I think that when a member of your family has committed suicide, anything that is related to suicide will bring back the memory and the trauma for the person who was bereaved. I can see that something like this 90DayJane could upset people around here.”

Reports indicated that the suicides were linked by social networking sites such as Bebo, something Matthews was quick to deny.

Online suicide is a growing trend. Paul Kelly, trustee of anti-suicide charity Papyrus, lost his own son to internet-assisted suicide. Since 2001, he has counted 31 people who have killed themselves, helped or observed by other people online. During this period, two young men also suffered severe brain damage after failed attempts.

He said: “If this is a prank or a hoax, it is an irresponsible and unthinking one which will impinge upon other people in a most unpleasant way. It can only be condemned as something which is harmful to others.”

photo: Museum of Hoaxes