Well — as was evident in my presentation on Wednesday — netprov has captured my heart. To be honest, I discovered “Being Spencer Pratt” first and foremost because Pratt’s name popped out to me in the e-lit collection. I’m happy to report my media interests have once again led me somewhere fabulous.
Netprov stands for networked improv narrative, and select elements of a netprov include the use of multiple media, real-time exposure and the incorporation of breaking news. Netprovs are often parodic and satirical and are designed to be incomplete. Taking cues from traditional improv acting, the form is big on “yes and.” Another motto? As improv hero Del Close once said: “Play and go deep.”
The history of netprov is long and fantastic (look up “Invisible Seattle,” “I Work For The Web”, “One Week, No Phone,” “Grace, Wit and Charm” and “Workstudy Seth” for a taste). In very early 2013, Netprov pioneers Mark Marino and Rob Wittig set upon their newest venture. Originally dubbed “Reality,” the project would come to be known as “Tempspence” or “Being @spencerpratt.” On January 1st, 2013, Heidi Montag, Pratt’s wife, tweeted about how Pratt had lost his brand new phone somewhere in the UK as the result of a crazy New Year’s Eve. People responded as they do to any tweet by a star, but updates ceased as the couple set forth into a month of filming a season in the phone-less Big Brother UK house. And then a tweet came from Pratt himself. A bunch of tweets, that is.
“Testing … testing… ”
“Yes, cheers, everyone, this is actually Spencer Pratt.”
“And I am married to Heidi Montag. Wow.”
Over the course of a week, it was discovered that an imposter had found Pratt’s phone and taken over his Twitter (though die hard fans could see this right away). The imposter soon revealed himself to be an unknown British poet (“Tempspence”) who was happy to use the accounts one million followers to gain a bit of exposure. He continued to tweet from Pratt’s account, playing games with followers who loyally returned to engage day after day.
Soon enough (upon leaving the Big Brother house) Pratt confronted Tempspence.
The game was up.
And yet …
There’s a kicker: none of this was real. While Temspence wasn’t Spencer, Tempspence wasn’t Tempspence either. Tempspence was Rob Wittig and Mark Marino. Spencer Pratt, a master of contrived character who had been a student in one of Marino’s classes at USC (where he learned the wonder of netprov) had offered the pair use of his Twitter account while he worked on Big Brother. What resulted was a piece of e-lit that questions what it means to be “real” and how we relate to our social media personalities. And a 33 page PDF of tweets.
The editor’s comment from the E-Lit Collection Volume 3 says it well: “Marino and Wittig’s repurposing of a celebrity identity offers a compelling example of the unreliable narrator in an age of social media and the unexpected reactions that this mode of digital storytelling can inspire when a tiny bubble of fiction is dropped into everyday life.”
Uff-da. That’s a lot to chew on.
Because I’m not sure how to succinctly express my thoughts on the matter (soon enough, my friends!) what follows is a copy of questions I sent one of the piece’s authors (players? writers?), the brilliant “coach” Mark Marino. Some things that came up and thoughts I had while we were chatting are italicized. Some questions are without additional comments because there’s so much I have yet to ponder. Of course I want to continue the conversation around these questions, so if anyone has any input the comments are open on the post and my inbox is waiting.
Let’s dive in:
“I understand that netprov can come in many forms (from fake twitters to fantasy football teams). The whole reason this piece stuck out to me in the first place was because when I was browsing the e-lit collection I saw Spencer’s name. How does having an already established character make the development of a netprov easier or harder? I know the audience can easily come up with a narrative about how they see Spencer reacting to the piece (not knowing he’s in on it), because they think they know him from TV — does this complicate things?”
I don’t think the idea of an established character is that important overall, except maybe if we’re talking about audience interest; incorporating an already known player is a good way to get new people into netprov. In the case of one of my favorite forms of netprov: the celebrity baby Instagram …it just makes things a little more fun.
“I love this quote of Rob [Wittig]’s from the interview
with Kate Durbin: “The truth of it is that it’s not just Spencer and our poet who perform their identity self-consciously in Twitter . . . pretty much everyone is doing it, all the time. Who is the real Twitter you? The grumpy one from this morning, or the drunk one from last night? The bitter-breakup you or the new-love-affair you? The job hunter or the job hater? Language is performed and written language in social media is very much performed — because of timing, how you reply and retweet others, how you spell and misspell. And our recent netprov (networked improv narrative) projects had played with all that. And Spencer himself enjoyed playing netprov and figured out it would be a great form to use to explore these issues of “reality.”
When it comes down to it, is there anything we can’t label a netprov? How come only some of them are perceived as art?”
It’s official: I think anyone involved in social media really is netprov-ing all the time. The idea behind only some of these netprovs being pieces of merit is similar to how every piece of writing isn’t labeled literature. Definitions are hazy and you can, of course, argue any which way for something or other to be labeled as you see fit. We may never agree on a set definition (thanks Marcel Duchamp) but people are really enjoying those Taco Bell tweets.
I know netprov is best enjoyed in “real time.” Do you think the luster is lost when we look at these projects after the fact?
Mark brought up a really interesting point here that brought us into a discussion of time, the then, the now and the sublime. We can attach an emotion to something in the past, but its impossible to know now how anything really was; memories can change and one person’s past may be radically different from another’s. The question, instead should maybe be, “Was there ever luster?” They need to teach netprov in philosophy courses.
You went into the project with Spencer’s account already having almost a million followers. These followers definitely weren’t following because they wanted an art piece — how does this play into the engagement and experience? Did anyone unfollow/react adversely?
How much of this was planned out in advance? How long did it take to plan the project? Were the producers in on it?
Here we chatted about the making of a netprov which is fascinating but not necessary for this post. Our #elit class will have the opportunity to see this first hand in a few weeks!
A quote from your website: “We ask: how good — how funny, how deep, how moving, how memorable — can netprovs get?” Do we have an answer? Do we need a connection
(ie. Spencer being a real person and the tie to you with Workstudy Seth) to reality to make them moving?
Does it depend on the reader?
Today, how should the project be read for maximum effect?
It would definitely be more memorable to have it popping up in real time on your phone. Is it like a performance art piece in that when it’s over it’s over?
Back to then versus now. This conversation could go on eternally.
We get to a point in the piece when the character is revealed to not be Spencer, yet the followers are still interested. How might this change if they knew it was all a hoax?
It’s rare that people are pleased when the curtain is pulled back. Blurring reality is part of what makes it what it is, so it’s good we don’t know. They’d probably be mad, maybe lose interest? I would just want to know the details.
Lastly, Spencer just made his newborn an Instagram account (much like DJ Khaled is posting on his baby Asahd’s behalf). Has the form run astray, or are people just not sure they’re netprov-ing? We see stuff like fake celebrity twitters all the time; people just retweet stuff that looks legitimate. Is this a form of (albeit not purposeful) netprov? Is it art if people are using it for retweets? Will any art form ever be sacred anymore … if any ever were?
My conclusion: Probably not. But again — were they ever? In any case I’m happy Gunner Pratt’s IG is verified.
As Marino said, we’re “taking part in the performativity that is existence.” “With netprov, you can play in a safe space that’s supposed to be artistic. You can play with the idea of producing yourself. Anytime someone tweets “I hate Spencer Pratt” they’re playing a game and hating the persona — and creating it.”
With netprov, you’re able to enter a realm of people’s minds and intervene in popular culture while still having the ability to be creative. You encourage others to be creative as well. It makes you wonder about yourself; it makes you wonder about the whole freakin’ world. There are still many questions, but — like with a netprov —incompleteness is part of the fun.
Now onto the next order of business …
Every time I sit down to figure out what I want my final project to be a million ideas rush through my head and I get excited about something new. I know I want to do something that has to do with netprov (surprise surprise), and I want to use my own social media accounts as base. One idea I have that I want to workshop a bit is taking my own Instagram account and writing a sort of “behind the scenes” conversation behind the curation of it as a conversation between myself and an “Instagram curator” I hired to make my feed spectacular for my time abroad. The idea is that someone else is behind everything I post, telling me what would be the most “me” and helping to create this perceived image of my self and my time in Norway. I can incorporate elements of my own trip planning such as a linked google calendar made “public,” my personal twitter, email and call logs, and can either use my already posted Instagrams and work backwards changing captions and “commenting” as curator or create a new account. I know I need to figure out logistics (and maybe tomorrow I’ll have a completely new idea!) but I’m liking the sound of this for now. We’re all really playing curator to our own lives online, so let’s bring it back around.