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Saturday, September 15, 2007

I Was Here: A look back at Cassieiswatching one year later

Earlier in the week we published a link to this brilliant article on Anchor Cove . With Milowent's permission we are now able to reprint the entire article here for any readers who may have missed it the first time around:

I Was Here: A look back at Cassieiswatching one year later
Written by Milowent
Wednesday, 12 September 2007 09:31

On September 12, 2006, the story of Lonelygirl15 changed forever.
And it wasn't because internet sleuthers discovered on that same day that unknown New Zealand actress Jessica Rose was playing the part of "Bree." No, the creators of Lonelygirl15 knew that day was coming upon them quickly, and were somewhat prepared for it.
But what they weren't prepared for was a young evil girl called Cassie.

This is her story now. More or less.

The Bait
In late August 2006, the popularity and press coverage surrounding Lonelygirl15 on youtube was skyrocketing. In about two months time, "Bree" had gone from being another promising young youtuber to one of the most popular celebrities on the internet, with her videos topping the "most viewed" charts almost daily on youtube, and garnering daily mentions in major newspapers.
On August 29, 2006, Bree posted a video entitled Swimming!, where Bree and Daniel went on a hike to go swimming one day. At perhaps the peak of their powers, the creators of Lonelygirl15 ("the Creators") were playfully toying with their audience, most of whom were going bezerk arguing about whether "Bree" was "fake" and what the ulterior motive of Lonelygirl15 was. Was she Mormon? Was she a Scientologist? Was this viral marketing for indie music? Every little word and action of Bree and Daniel, every minute item in Bree's room, and every possible theory no matter how ridiculous, was being endlessly dissected.
"Swimming!" deftly played with many fans' belief that Daniel was quietly pining for Bree, whose ugly one piece black swimsuit starkly contrasted with her physical beauty. And at 77 seconds into this 26th video posted by Bree, out of nowhere Bree asks Daniel:
"Whatever happened to that girl Cassie?"
"WHO IS THIS? " asked Bree's adoring fans, "Someone in Daniel's class?" But Daniel seemed not to remember her. "Everyone was mean to Cassie," said Bree. What the hell can this mean? This must be IMPORTANT. At least as important as the fact that Bree had a picture of famous occultist and bad boy Aleister Crowley on the wall of her bedroom, something that had come to light only three weeks prior.
Speculation ran rampant among fans, some of whom at that very same time were trying to capture Lonelygirl15's IP address to track her down, were having botanists look at plants in the Swimming and Hiking videos to determine the filming locations, and were scouring for clues on the myspace pages of bands like the Jane Does, whose song "Junkie" was featured to great effect in Swimming. Among the more outlandish early Cassie theories was one that referenced a Cassie killed at Columbine, and a stealth marketing campaign for R&B singer and P.Diddy protege "Cassie".

Cassie Speaks, Sorta Kinda.
A few days later, Virginia Heffernan, New York Times TV critic and probably the journalist most interested in the Lonelygirl15 phenomenon as well as the one due the most credit for the buzz created around the show, noted on September 5 that she'd received a cryptic message from a "Cassie". She also shared with fans a very weird and mostly unintellible voice message supposedly from this same Cassie. No one was sure what it said, but it was kinda scary. The mystery of Bree was already rubbing off onto Cassie. On September 11, Ms. Heffernan followed up and reported that Cassie would be branching out into video:
And soon we might see two plots diverge. Two lonelygirl15’s? Look for a renegade plot to show up in videos on YouTube, using much of the lg15 mise-en-scene. Including the swimming hole! Will fans follow the new plot? Can a new plotline restore some of the sheen of verisimilitude, which was the beauty of the original, before it overnight came to seem all overthought and agented?
Virginia's post was read by many to suggest something sinister was going to emerge that was connected to the creators of lonelygirl15. Much later, she admitted she didn't really know:
"I was tipped off to it in weird ways: Morse-code text messages, Skype IMs with a mysterious name, and that screwy audio file. The only proof that what the person was saying was true is that he/she/they/it had a photo and the coordinates of the swimming hole, so I believed that there had been some contact with the original creators. But who knows? (Source: LGPedia)"
Whoever Cassie was, then, she knew her stuff. Including little details, like that she was using an email nickname of "cassiestruggles18" that mirrored the "breesnuggles15" email address used by Bree.

The Head That Launched The Frenzy
The next day (and one year ago today), on September 12, 2006, the brand new youtube channel Cassieiswatching (CiW for short) posted a 27 second video titled "This Is My Story Now". It consists primarily of footage showing where Bree walked to the swimming hole in Swimming!, the swimming hole itself, and some mysterious bag falling into the swimming hole. You can hear the freaky whisper "I was here," at the beginning, and "Come and get it," at the end -- an invitation to come get whatever was in the water. (A number of fans who first saw the video joked that the bag was the head of cassie, since Bree had joked in Swimming! that Daniel was actually taking her to the woods to hack her up into pieces. However, the youtube tags for the cassie video were "Bree tells lies.")
Within a few hours of the video being posted, Cassie updated the video description to include a link to Google Maps, showing the presumed location of the swimming hole. For most people, filming at the location of a recent Bree video was substantial proof that Cassieiswatching was connected to Lonelygirl15. No fan had ever posted a Lonelygirl15 response video like this--on holy ground where Bree had tread. In hindsight however, at least a few fans had already posted publicly where they thought the swimming hole was, and they were correct (Sept 8th: "I think it might me San Gabriel River East Fork."). So it is quite possible someone in the L.A. area figured it out without knowing directly from the Creators. And in the excitement of having such knowledge, decided to exploit it.
Meanwhile, Lonelygirl15's press coverage reached a fever pitch, hot with the new discovery of Jessica Rose's identity. Fans were literally pouring into lonelygirl15.com website and YouTube, and many of them were intrigued by the strange and scary Cassieiswatching video. Sucked in, threads about locating the bag shown in the video grew to enormous length, while at the same time others urged great caution, concerned that some "sick freak" was trying to lure someone into the woods and chop them into bits. Though a number of those who were interested in Cassie thought it was an ARG - or Alternate Reality Game, and jumped into the Cassie rabbithole excitedly. But before this date, the Creators of Lonelygirl15 had no idea what an ARG was.
In the first days after the first CiW video was released, no one seemed to be able to locate the bag, and Cassie messaged a few searchers with additional location information. Then on Sept. 15, famed ARG-veteran Cu Roi claimed to have found the bag, and posted his evidence online. (Casket of Tears, Sept. 15, 2006). All this was met with crazy excitement on the phorums and in chat rooms.
However Cu Roi was duped. The clue he found was a tarot card, and "Cassie" soon posted a disclaimer on YouTube saying, ""TOO SLOW I DON'T PLAY CARDS YOU ALL FAILED I HATE YOU." Someone else had "gamejacked" the clue to interfere with Cassie's game. In fact, gamejacking attempts were very common during the Cassie era due to the large Lonelygirl15 audience. Among these early gamejack attempts was the appearance of a Cassie profile on Myspace, whom "YouTube Cassie" discredited, and also on ebay of all places. The clones were deliciously spoofed in the video "Crisis of Infinite Cassies." (Not long after that, a voicemail message from Cassie appeared to be gamejacked and replaced with a substitute, and a new fanfic ARG called "OpAphid" later took credit for it.)

What's A Little Murder Among Friends?
What could Cassie do next? On September 13, Bree posted another video outside her room (only the third time she had done so), called in "In The Park." Somehow, Cassie learned this was La Cienega Park in Beverly Hills, and quickly put together her second video, all of 11 seconds, and posted it on YouTube on September 17.
It was called When I Get To The Bottom Where I Stop. The title references the lyrics of the Beatles song Helter Skelter, and also Charles Manson. A picture of a Manson murder scene is also included among the blur of images which appear in the video. Fans Cu Roi (again) and scdgoofy (who incidentially was the first person to discover that the creators had trademarked the term Lonelygirl15 via Greg Goodfried's father Kenneth--causing Greg and his family to feel majorly stalked), found the park and a note left by cassie. (Recovery video).
The Manson murder imagery drove many Lonelygirl15 fans crazy. And really, a stark clash was occurring between older Lonelygirl15 fans who had fallen in love with sweet innocent Bree, and brand new fans who were enjoying Cassie's dark mystery and didn't care much for Bree. So, it was almost inevitable that matters would quickly come to a head, and they did. Before the end of that same day (East Coast time at least), the Creators posted a statement distancing themselves from Cassieiswatching and disavowing any connection to it:
Cassieiswatching is NOT Official. Cassieiswatching is an independent fan creation. We are really excited to see fans creating their own storylines and riffing on our characters and our Universe. Although we encourage creativity and storytelling by our fans, we cannot be responsible for the outcome of the Cassieiswatching story or its content and imagery. Watch it if you like, but know that it is not official, nor is it guided by our team or a "splinter group."
We have plans to incorporate more ARG elements into LG15 so we are excited to see such a vigorous investigative response to Cassieiswatching despite the fact that the subject matter is darker than we would like.
We will leave the Cassieiswatching and related forums open so you can discuss it if you like. The most important thing is to have fun!
Others shied away. Anchor Cove, recently founded as an independent LG15 forum, went so far as to ban all discussion of Cassieiswatching. Some were afraid that Cassie would displace Bree. Indeed, the Creators had already claimed they would be incorporating "ARG elements" into their story, when a few days prior they had never heard of ARGs. Nor had most of Bree's fans.
And, in fact, Anchor Cove's concerns proved to be true. Since the Creators allowed Cassieiswatching to use its forums, it became dominated by Cassie fans. Within a few weeks of Cassie's debut, over 66% of all posts at the lonelygirl15.com forum were about Cassie, not Bree! It was as if Cassie had gamejacked Lonelygirl15.
And many of these Cassie fans didn't particularly like Bree, because the stories were completely different in tone. Different strokes for different folks and all that jazz. But the fervor of Cassie's fanbase deeply influenced the Creators to start adapting Lonelygirl15 to more of an ARG format, with a more violent story. Even though Cassie's audience was much smaller than Bree's (no Cassie video reached even 50,000 views during its run, and the last few were much lower), CiW's very devoted fans were very influential. The Creators may have not realized that ARGs tend to attract fans willing to devote a substantial amount of time to the game, and thus would not necessarily be representative of what the average Lonelygirl15 viewer wanted.

Cassie's Story Continues And Then Fades Aways
After the megadrama of the first two Cassie videos wore off, Cassie posted three additional videos (Revelations 1,2, & 3), which contained elaborate clues and puzzles in them. Hoever, there was no more filming where Bree had been. The CiW fans attacked the puzzles in earnest, even though they preferred the first days of excitement.
But, inevitably perhaps, Cassie slowly went on a downslide. The puppetmaster of CiW created a blog by someone called Frank, who claimed he heard strange voices. Perhaps Cassie was a figment of Frank's imagination? Hecklers polluted the comments of Frank's blog. Then Frank was reported dead on the blog by his wife.
Cassie's last YouTube video, Revelation 3, showed Cassie in an animated format, and online game players quickly realized that Cassie had moved into "Second Life", a large online role playing game (which also happens to be well known for cybersex, but that's really another story). Cassie's fans went to Second Life enmasse and followed Cassie to "Gothinger" church, where Cassie floated around and didn't seem to do much. But the fans had fun nonetheless, including holding an infamous "dancing cows" party (*The author did not follow the last part of CiW very closely, or dance with any cows naked, so anyone who sees fit to post more details about Cassie's life and demise in the comments to this article should do so!). And Cassie's last immense anagram puzzle lays unsolved to this day.
Conventional wisdom is that Cassie died out because it was too dependent on the plot of Lonelygirl5, which it could not predict. Everyone expected that Bree was going to take part in some bloody Ceremony on October 12, 2006, and when Bree didn't die that day, it left Cassie in the lurch (so the story goes).

Whatever Happened To That Girl Bree?

The lasting influence of CiW on the storyline of LG15 cannot be understated.
Cassie herself generated a wave of her own fanfiction and spoofs, including one from the Creators themselves! They posted a video on the youtube channel "Breeiswaiting" on October 13, 2006, the day after the Ceremony.

(Green shades of LaRezisto?)
However, the video failed to grab fans' attention (it got less than 1,500 views at the time), many of whom assumed it was another lame gamejacking attempt despite good evidence that the video - posted just a few hours after The Ceremony video was posted -- seemed to reveal the location. Such is the fickle nature of ARGS.
As far as I am aware, the Creators have never acknowledged that they made this video, but it had to be them. Nikki Bower later cited this video as directing her to the location where she found the box with the watcher symbol on it. And Amanda Goodfried of the lonelygirl15 team filmed Nikki's videos, though that wasn't known until months later.
One fan turned onto Lonelygir15 in early September 2006 was Glenn Rubenstein. He then stumbled upon Cassie, and became immediately addicted. He also rearranged his own ARG ideas he had been working on to fit into the Cassie and LG15 storylines, and OpAphid/Tachyon was born. Mocking Cassie in its early videos (and by allegedly gamejacking the Cassie voicemail message), the OpAphid ARG gained a fair amount of Cassie's audience, and quickly drew the attention of the Creators. Having failed at their own quickly done ARG attempt, and already overworked, they realized they needed assistance. And on November 21, OpAphid was made the official ARG of Lonelygirl15, bringing Glenn into the Creators' fold for an alliance that would last for four months.
During that (unholy?) alliance, Glenn (aka the "Intelligent Designer") brought OpAphid and Tachyon into the mainstream of the Lonelygirl15 plot. ARG puzzles were worked directly into the show, and Glenn also did a lot of writing for Lonelygirl15 episodes for some time. That has had a lasting effect on the plot, in my view.
After Glenn parted ways with the Creators, the Creators have continued to include ARG aspects in Lonelygirl15, such as the Hymn of One seminar which invited select fans in Calfornia to join Bree's cult (It's A Cult, June 1, 2007), and a recent clue hidden by the ominous LaRezisto (Way of the Gun, Aug. 23, 2007). They have also employed other ARG veterans, such as Jan Libby at Lg15, and Hazel Grian at Lg15 spinoff KateModern. And it has been pointed out that some of Kate's "art videos" on KateModern bear more than a passing resemblance to some of Cassie's styles and tricks.
So, without Cassieiswatching, there would have been no OpAphid or Tachyon, no influence or contributions from Glenn Rubenstein (including fan cult favorite videos like "Human Ransom") and, probably, no ARG elements at all in LG15. The type of audience would, perhaps, be more like Bree's original audience. Thus, the Bree who had once discussed the Heisenburg Principle of Uncertanity was drastically changed, herself, by her fans. And especially one anti-hero named Cassie. She was most definitely here. (Are you getting tired of these cliched CiW references yet?)

Epilogue: So, Who Gets The Credit (or Blame)?

(pic from Cassie spoof "No More Cassies Forever")
If you are still reading this, perhaps you are wondering (other than wondering why you are still reading), who was behind this Cassieiswatching? Ah, the final mystery. The puppetmaster has never been identified, and has chosen to remain in the shadows from whence Cassie came and went.
There has been much speculation, though. Here's a sampling of the partial CiW-Duke lacrosse team candidates:
At first, many pointed to Grant Steinfeld aka Bukanator, who had been part of the original lonelygirl15 team and separated from them early on in strained circumstances. Marked as having an axe to grind, Grant also was the primary source for Virginia Heffernan's September 12 article identifying the Creators and Jessica Rose. However, just because Grant spoke to a reporter doesn't mean he also was behind CiW. At this time, Virginia was being inundated with hoaxes and other submissions daily. And there is no hard evidence. Grant's own video offerings (and he is primarily a photographer) have no similarity to CiW.
Other speculation has focused on the Creators themsleves, whose September 17, 2006 disavowal of CiW did not say they didn't know who was behind it. But the fact that the Creators tried to create their own ARG with Breeiswaiting, their quick moves to bring Glenn Rubenstein on board, and admission that they had never heard of ARGs before suggest otherwise. Also, Alli Danizger, aka "Nikki Bower", a friend of the Creators, has disclaimed any connection to CiW.
Glenn Rubenstein himself has been subject to suspicion of running CiW due to OpAphid's alleged hacking of Cassie's voicemail message. But OpAphid's mocking of cassie, and Glenn's early involvement as a fan of CiW appear to rule him out as well. Also, OpAphid's puzzles are not similar at all to Cassie's. Other candidates bandied about have been Cu Roi (Cassie fan who recovered drops), Christi Coors Beasley (current Kate Modern executive producer), and TWJaniak (uber cassie fan, but no where near California).
Who knows? Apparently the Cassie creator wants to stay quiet, perhaps he or she is right here above us, running another ARG as we speak. And if ARGs ever become financially viable on their own, maybe they will come out of the woodwork at Gothinger church one day. To paraphrase the now-famous "Message From the Creators":

Right now, the biggest mystery (left) of CiW is, "Who is she?" We think this is an oversimplification. Cassie is a reflection of everyone. She is no more real or fictitious than the portions of our personalities that we choose to show (or hide) when we interact with the people around us.
So, Cassie, whoever you are, may you rest in peace. You left your mark.

Note: The original article with active hyperlinks can be found here on Anchor Cove.


  1. Informative, enjoyable, and all around awesome.

    thank you for the kick ass article Milo


  2. QtheCish in length, so I haven't read most of this article yet (but I will, and thanks for the hard work), but I did notice this one small mistake, that was kind of funny...

    "The lasting influence of CiW on the storyline of LG15 cannot be understated."

    I'm the guy who cringes when people say emphatically, "I could care less" when they obviously mean "I couldn't care less," so forgive my pickiness. ;)

  3. Oh, thank you so much for reprinting this! An excellent article!

  4. Read the article. I still don't get how CiW influenced LG15. Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe it's because ARGs never interested me, I don't know. I just don't see it.

  5. The site is down. Again.


    Do I dare to brave youtube and the STUPID comments people leave there?

    "omg. u think dis is reeealll. itz soooo fake!"


  6. joe - my hypothesis, in part, is that the ARG elements of lg15 would have never existed without CiW.

    qthec- good catch. i hate the could care less thing too!

  7. wonderful article!!! ~ betz28

  8. ....and still no confession from the CiW PM:)

    cya next year!

  9. CiW Party in SL coming up soon. Stay tuned for news/date/time. U know the place:):):)


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