Is this the new face of evil? by Scott Weaver, C-VILLE cover story, August 19, 2008

New Face of Evil! post by Kyle on cVillain.com, August 19, 2008

Unrelated thoughts by James on nailgunmedia.com, August 20, 2008

I gracefully ended my tenure as “lilith” in March 2008, 11 months after creating the alias to cover Charlottesville news and culture for the website cVillain.com. I’ve never taken a dance class in my life, but I’d like to think I was blessed with graces of the social variety.

A lot happened in those 11 months—producing a few hundred articles and stories is a start. Most of my experience of cVillain had to do with people and relationships. “Villains” with whom I shared common interests became friends in the material world. And acquaintances in my life became the subjects (or victims) of online discussion among members of a community I knew only by IP addresses.

Often, something was lost in translation, between the physical being and the constructed identity of the individual.

It could be intentional. To help conceal my identity, I wanted readers to think I was older than I really am and had attended a university other than my own, so I habitually alluded to having lived in other cities before coming back to Virginia and referred to my college experiences in vague terms. I lived in Austin for 14 months total, with a 2-month stay in Dallas in the middle of that period working for MTV. And, as we know, I went to U.Va. and I work for U.Va.

It could be unintentional.

One night when I lived in Austin, I went to Book People to hear Chuck Klosterman do a reading and Q&A. I liked “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” and I figured his new book “Killing Yourself to Live” would be good. (I had it autographed to my sister and mailed it to her after I decided ten pages was enough for me.) What caught my attention was that he was traveling across country to write about his experience of visiting famous sites [of death] in rock music history. I had just finished writing a collection of short stories, and the protagonists were composites of young women I had interviewed when casting for MTV. (It remains unpublished, my first great work.) It occurred to me that our methods were different. I raised my hand and asked, give or take a few words, “Knowing that you were going to have to write about the trip, did you ever instigate a story? Was a story ever a self-fulfilling prophecy?” It did not occur to me at the time that he might be insulted by this question, being a Spin Writer and Published Nonfiction Author. What interested me about his response was that it was not confident. It was defensive. It was as though he was reflecting on his trip, thinking, “Did I?”

What would you do to be accepted, to be interesting to others? What would you do just to have something to say? Would you even know you were doing it?

What concerns me about the internet is that a dichotomy exists between the person and his or her projected self, the meta-self. And the meta, lacking physical substance, has no requirement of authenticity or accountability. What am I getting at? On the internet, we need not be right, we need only project an impression of authority.

In that translation between physical and virtual realities, I think we can lose ourselves to our desire to belong.

. . .

I want to commend Scott Weaver for choosing to cover a story with so much ambiguity, and I want to thank him for listening to me stutter, mumble, and digress for more than an hour. I feel validated by the response to the piece, and I hope he does, too. I did the interview for four reasons. One: when I learned the story of cVillain was being researched, I checked my near-instinct cvillainlilith@gmail account for the first time in weeks and was disappointed I had not been contacted. Site reputation aside, I am proud to have helped create such an active community, on and offline, and I am proud of a lot of what I wrote. Two: a few weeks prior to being contacted, my Letter to the Editor was printed in the Hook, praising the “integrity” of their new food writer for putting his name on what he wrote, and it would be hypocritical for me not to hold myself accountable for what I wrote. Three: I was once blocked from writing the story I wanted to write about a gymnast, when I worked for the Free Lance-Star, and almost ten years later, I’m not over it. Four: I’m tired of secrets. I like that I’m transparent.

A few notes to follow up.

With the exception of an occasional red wine-induced login to cVillain.com to run a search on “lilith” in the comment fields to see what people are saying (and they are right when it appears in the context of, “lilith would never allow this thread to happen”), this week was the first time in months that I’ve read whole comment threads. It was slightly terrifying. Reading comments on the online version of the article, cVillain, and Nailgun, I was mostly relieved, and I thank you for your kind words about me in the real world. Comments about my intentions and motivations are just that—comments. I’d be happy to arrange a fact-checking session with my therapist for any skeptics.

I don’t think “holier-than-thou” came across in my portrayal, and I’m glad. I like to go out, and it’s well documented in the first year of posts—my social life (in all its livelihood) goes without saying. In the “good vs. evil” allegory of the feature, I read me as the foil of the story, and necessarily, there’s a contrast between my depiction and Kyle’s.

To that end, C-VILLE gave me almost no instruction for my photo shoot—“computer” was the extent of it. I was not told to try to look angelic or cute or even pasty. I was going for “great hair”—I just found my old hot rollers and dusted them off last week, and I’m having fun. So the contrast, for my part, wasn’t staged. That’s just how I look. But did anyone else notice the accidental Microsoft/Apple juxtaposition? Interesting!

In the response to the story, I am confirming what I already knew: cVillain.com is polarizing. I don’t know that there was a way to leave the site without implicitly saying to people I cared about, “I don’t like that you do this, I don’t approve.” The reality is, “I like how you have chosen to do this, I like that you’re honest, that’s why we mesh.” I told Scott off the record that if I could do it all over again, I would, under my own name. Some things would have changed, but a lot wouldn’t have. Leaving was freeing, and yet lonely. I isolated. My ego took a really small blow, “losing an audience,” and if your audience decides to watch the show go on without you, then, well, it isn’t your audience to enjoy anyway. Even if I was missed, the audience didn’t know who to say goodbye to, so life went on. I don’t typically talk about cVillain with people I met through the site. I ask, “How are you?”

cVillain.com meets needs in the community. It does. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t get a monthly readership in the tens of thousands in a city with nary a Trader Joe or Verizon store. At best, it satisfies our curiosities. At worst, well, that’s a problem with humanity, a problem that’s too big a problem for even a Nordic god of thunder to be held responsible for.

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