Network: Every move you make, I'll be watching
Fancy your whole life being scrutinised by hidden cameras and broadcast? It's not 1984, just the latest web craze
Monday 31 August 1998
Winning an audition process that pitted them against hundreds of rival candidates, the aspiring performers Beth, Arwen, Myleene and Ellie-Ann have all signed up to have their domestic lives continuously monitored by Web surfers. In exchange, the four strangers have been allowed to stay together, rent-free, in a large house in an undisclosed North London street.
The project, called The Dolls' House, went online last Friday and is regarded by Bravo as the next logical step after the immense popularity of its GirlCam, which it claimed was Europe's first live Net "peep show" that earned the Bravo Web site around 100,000 hits on its launch day.
Bravo's selected "dolls" are in their late teens and early twenties, and have obviously been picked for their attractive appearance and friendly personalities. Audition notes made by Bravo executives reveal the tone of the enterprise.
"Up for it!" reads one. "Dead spit of Patricia Arquette!"
"She loves the camera. Ditsy. Andie McDowell vacuous style," commented another.
The dolls themselves are embracing the opportunity to expose themselves to the world.
"We are all exhibitionists anyway, although I think I may well decide to get changed in the bathroom from now on," admitted Arwen, a 21-year- old professional singer/model/actress/ receptionist/whatever.
"It will be great publicity for me and, to be honest, I might even have done it without the offer of free accommodation," she said.
"Although the good thing about us all moving in together is that it gives us the secret address that we will need for security. That side of it makes me feel much better.
"I know there is always a chance that a neighbour will recognise us, but I think it's quite remote."
Joining Arwen in her new home will be a professional Hawaiian dancer (Myleene, 20), a token Northerner (Beth, 20), and finally the "baby doll" of the quartet, Ellie Ann, aged 19, who once held the Miss Pears title.
The foursome's freshly wired home has cameras positioned in each of the bedrooms and in the communal living space, providing Net surfers with live images that are updated every 10 seconds. The bedrooms are also being fitted out with a computer terminal, so that the residents can chat online with visitors to the site.
Just like GirlCam, which chronicled almost every moment in the life of the actress Sara West, The Dolls' House site was put together as a way of creating a regular feed-in feature for Bravo's magazine show for men, The Basement.
By offering its viewers constant intimate access to these four young lives, Bravo hopes to turn its living dolls into, at least, minor league celebrities. Every week, one or other of the virtual dolls will appear on The Basement to offer viewers more information (what more can there possibly be?) about their lives, loves, hopes and ambitions.
Bravo are naturally banking on the fact that male fans will develop a penchant for their own favourite "fabulously sexy doll". The four will each post a weekly diary of their lives, and will be required to reply conscientiously to viewers' e-mails.
The Web page itself has been designed to resemble the plan of the house, so that discriminating visitors can choose which bedroom, out of the five, to go into. In addition, Bravo is offering online profiles of all the tenants and, eventually, a league table to show which doll is scoring the most hits each week.
In spite of the fact that Arwen claims it was the "revolutionary" spirit of the project that attracted her, virtual voyeurism is already a fairly familiar concept.
It was born, of course, in America, with Jennicam, which was set up by Jenni Ringley, a 21-year-old Washington DC-based Web designer. She first went ahead with the idea as a dare, and promptly garnered 100 million hits a week.
Happy to appear nude, but only when it seemed natural, Jenni was fervent in her defence of the site. She compared it with a wildlife documentary and said it was a site about real life and not about sex.
Whatever laudable motives Jenni may have had at the outset, the idea is essentially titillating for many, as Bravo were swift to spot. And the financial deal it has struck with its four new dolls is crucial to the project. If their chosen victims had simply volunteered to parade in front of the cameras, without pay, some of the frisson of naughtiness would have been lost. After all, watching people who are deliberately acting up for an audience is inherently dull.
On the other hand, who, however honourable, can resist the chance to watch someone when they don't know that you are there? Yet if Sara West's experience with GirlCam is anything to go by, the average visitor to the site is likely to be disappointed. The question she was asked most often online was: "When are you going to tidy up the mess in your room?"
`The Dolls' House' can be found at http:// www.bravo .co.uk
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