Will Success Spoil MySpace.com?
In two years, MySpace has become the most popular social-networking site on the Web, a virtual city of sex and youth culture, with its own celebrities, Casanovas, and con artists. But MySpace's most unlikely character may be its conservative new owner: Rupert Murdoch.
by James Verini March 2006
On the second level of a shopping mall in Costa Mesa, California, a short drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles, is a nightclub called Sutra Lounge. Don't let the location fool you: to the partying young suburbanites in these parts, there is nothing incongruous about a nightclub in a shopping mall. (Shopping is fun; clubs are fun; there you have it.) And anyway, once you're inside Sutra, you could be anywhere—anywhere in the vicinity of Los Angeles, that is.
At around one a.m. on a Monday, Sutra is pulsing with that special brand of synthetic Southern Californian abandonment. Tanned, toned girls in denim skirts no wider than cummerbunds rub up against surfers and real-estate pashas as actress-waitresses pass by carrying trays loaded down with bottles of Grey Goose vodka. Professional dancers make mock love to assorted poles and railings. There is enough silicone bobbing around to improve the Statue of Liberty's self-image.
Even in this place, though, Jeremy Jackson stands out. A child actor turned club promoter, Jackson is one of the most shameless voluptuaries on MySpace, the social-networking Web site that, according to ComScore Media Metrix, had more page views in November than Google or eBay.
And even on MySpace, a haven for shameless voluptuaries, Jackson stands out. His profile page is plastered with photographs of him out on the town in a series of increasingly preposterous getups, like a walking Zoolander outtake, accompanied by one busty woman after another—some of his 1,818 "friends." His name assaults you in an oversize pink-and-black font that could have been ripped from a Def Leppard album cover.
Jackson, 25, does not disappoint in person. He meets me at the door of Sutra clad in a designer camouflage-pants-and-jacket number, a handcuff awash in gold and bling on one wrist and a watch with a giant fake-gold dollar sign covering its face on the other. Jackson's hair is exactly as advertised on MySpace: a spiked mullet that adds four or five inches to his stature.
"Wassuuuup!?," Jackson yelps in a boyish voice that calls to mind his best-known character—David Hasselhoff's son, Hobie, on the syndicated lifeguard drama Baywatch. Leading me through the labyrinth of sofa-lined alcoves, he makes it known that he is the toast of the club. Every passerby high-fives or hugs him. He breaks out into a spontaneous dance every few seconds. And, before long, he is extolling MySpace.
"I met half of these people on there," he says, waving an arm. "MySpace is about the ass. There's an unlimited supply of ass. It's ridiculous!"
He dashes off, and returns a moment later with a towering blonde.
"I met her on MySpace," he says, and winks. "I e-mailed her."
"What did he write?," I ask the blonde.
"Something perverted!" she giggles. Moments later, Jackson is back with another blonde, this one not quite as tall. She makes up for it with a general lack of fabric on her upper body. We'll call her Jennifer.
"She found me on MySpace," Jackson says.
Jennifer shakes my hand and says matter-of-factly, "I just want you to know I'm probably the only girl in here who hasn't fucked Jeremy yet."
This is very possibly true. A few nights earlier, Jackson took me to the Shark Club, a nearby spot he also promotes, where a small army of women he'd bedded with the help of MySpace were in attendance.
"I fucked this girl off MySpace!" he announced, indicating Loraine, a dark beauty. She smiled and spelled her name. Next was a striking Romanian woman, and after her a more matronly catch, whom we'll call Chrissy.
"Chrissy is the one I was telling you about today—the ejaculator!" Indeed, earlier that day, Chrissy had called Jackson while he was trying on a pair of pink cowboy boots at a boutique in Hollywood. After describing to me her signature sexual skill, he'd jumped up and launched into an interpretive pelvis-thrusting jig as an oblivious Japanese family looked on, nodding amusedly.
Chrissy rolled her eyes and tried to swat Jackson, who bounced off again in search of more conquests.
"He's so fucking funny!" she said. Chrissy, it turned out, was a mother in her 30s.
All in all, it is an astounding display. Part of the credit goes to Jackson himself: charming, unrepentant, he is impossible not to like, even when he's vulgar, which is often. But the general atmosphere of permissiveness owes just as much to MySpace, which in its short existence has emerged as a new breed of communication medium for the Internet Age, a place where identity and performance mingle wantonly.
"People are just way more comfortable on MySpace," Jackson says the morning after our Sutra expedition. He'd ended up going home with Jennifer at 3:30 a.m. Her roommate had walked into her room at eight a.m. and asked, "Is that Hobie?"
"I know guys who are not even as good-looking as me who get laid like crazy because of MySpace," Jackson goes on. "I'm actually shy. There are women I wouldn't go up to at a club. But I'll e-mail them on MySpace. For some reason you get on there and all the barriers come down. Girls will say things they'd never say to you in public. And there is the mystery element—the intangible thing. 'Is he real?' It makes them want you more."
As if overnight, MySpace has become an Internet phenomenon. Launched in January 2004 on a shoestring budget, it now claims more than 50 million registered profiles, about half of which seem to belong to regular users. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, in November there were 24.5 million unique visitors. Each day, 170,000 new members sign up, creating their own pages, filling out profiles, uploading photos, and linking to an extended network of like-minded others. The average MySpace user spends over two hours a month on the site. One analyst estimates MySpace took in $30 to $40 million in 2005, and says that number will likely triple this year.
What's more startling is the way MySpace has already soaked in to acquire a potent social currency. It is a taste-making force in music, fashion, and other cultural ephemera and a de facto dating service that generates more carnal energy than Match.com or Nerve on their best days. And in the way that Google, Craigslist, and eBay have changed how people share and absorb information and goods, MySpace has changed how people, particularly young people (25 percent of users are under 18), share and absorb one another. They blog, flirt, and diarize, post pictures, videos, personal artwork, songs, and poetry, and generously distribute compliments and insults.
With its infinitely customizable profile pages, like interactive headshots in some central-casting department of life, MySpace has become essential to its users' notions of themselves and their tribes. It is where they concoct alternative personas and download new friends, most of whom they know only online, like so many new MP3s or JPEGs.
Faster than would seem possible, MySpace has become a "lifestyle choice," as co-founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, otherwise unpretentious guys who occasionally lapse into marketing-speak, like to say.
Similar ventures—the Globe among the first generation of Web sites, Friendster among the second—have tried and failed at this. What distinguishes MySpace from them? It's the same archaic characteristic that distinguishes MySpace from the Web itself: a sense of place. If the Web has rendered geography obsolete, as is often said, DeWolfe and Anderson have turned the telescope around. They have rendered one bit of psychic geography—Los Angeles, Hollywood—supreme.
"This generation wants to be known, they want to be famous," DeWolfe, whose official title is C.E.O., says. "MySpace facilitates that. This generation is self-involved, but they're also self-aware."
"I think of it as the reality TV of the Internet," adds Anderson, the company's president. "Or like a nightclub."
Indeed, the more popular it becomes, the more MySpace exudes L.A.—the city and the idea. It is a Sunset Strip for virtual boulevardiers, a hall of mirrors for fame seekers, where the shy, the neurotic, and the desperately run-of-the-mill go to become exhibitionists and tarts. You cannot peruse the site for long before coming upon hordes of would-be models in thong bikinis and tweens posing in their underwear. Their comments and biographies, open for all to see, are composed in a syntax-challenged, !!!-riddled new argot of desire and frustration.
It is a place where lonely songwriters, brooding would-be thespians, reality-TV personalities, millionaires' kids, drag racers, drag queens, religious nuts, D.J.'s, rock stars, stalkers, wrestlers, Marines, gangsta rappers, recovering addicts, active addicts, porn stars, fashion designers both talented and horrible—and legions who are just pretending to be those things—go to be seen. There are also plenty of seemingly well-adjusted users, fascinating if only for their normality, as well as successful musicians, artists, and authors. For all of them, it is a stage and a confessional, turgid with the promise of sex and as omnivorous and refractory as pop culture itself.
For some it goes even farther: when the criminal-defense lawyer Robert Shapiro's 25-year-old son, Brent, a popular fixture around town, died of an Ecstasy overdose in October, his MySpace page became an interactive memorial.
Martin Scorsese once said of the cinema that it answers "an ancient quest for the common unconscious. [It fulfills] a spiritual need that people have to share a common memory." MySpace might be said to do the same thing, only in real time, and perhaps without the spiritual part.
And, in a twist as predictable as any Hollywood movie (and a MySpace movie will no doubt be made someday, perhaps even by MySpace), DeWolfe and Anderson find themselves at a moment of reckoning just as they reach liftoff.
Mainstream culture is catching on. The Black Eyed Peas, Neil Diamond, and Depeche Mode are among the musicians who've previewed new albums on MySpace. Much of its ad revenue comes from Hollywood studios. In November, Interscope joined with MySpace to form a record label, and a film imprint at Fox is in the works. Casting directors and reality-show producers scour its pages for subjects. Janice Dickinson uses her MySpace profile to announce casting calls for her new modeling show on Oxygen.
On the one hand, this is what DeWolfe and Anderson wanted. They based MySpace in L.A. to get away from Silicon Valley and draw on celebrity and industry capital. They even created their own celebrity in Anderson, who, in an inspired ploy that must have competitors kicking themselves, magically appears as the first friend of all new subscribers. Peering coquettishly over his shoulder from every profile page, he has attained an almost mystical status—somewhere between Jim Morrison and Steve Jobs. At MySpace's two-year anniversary concert, outside Dodger Stadium in October, the crowd gasped in awe and then dissolved in adulation when he took the stage.
On the other hand, if they're not careful, or even if they are, DeWolfe and Anderson run the risk of alienating the misfits who make the site such a rare commodity and keep them afloat.
The fact that they now work for Rupert Murdoch heightens that risk considerably. In September, the Australian media mogul's News Corp. finalized the purchase of MySpace's parent company, Intermix Media, Inc., in a $580 million cash buyout. The price now seems like a bargain for what Murdoch is getting: a gold mine of market research, a microscope into the content habits and brand choices of America's capricious youth market—not to mention millions of potential new customers for News Corp.'s Fox subsidiaries. Murdoch claims he wants MySpace to continue to grow on its own, and DeWolfe and Anderson have been voicing the party line. But at least one insider claims the partners opposed the sale and are wary of News Corp.
Here's a more pressing matter: will Murdoch, a byword of conservatism, know what to do with the louche compendium of subcultures on MySpace? If only he could take the time to come to L.A. and test out his new toy firsthand, he might rethink the deal. Or he might resign, leave his wife, and move permanently to the West Coast.
He might meet Christine Dolce, probably the best-known MySpacer after Anderson. If Dolce were the only person on the site, she'd be evidence enough that it is changing the nature of celebrity, ushering Andy Warhol's concept of baseless stardom into a bizarre new realm. Better known as ForBiddeN, Dolce is an Orange County woman, allegedly 24, who, for reasons no one save herself seems able to discern, has racked up 706,000 friends, including the rock star Dave Navarro and the band Nine Inch Nails. With not much more than a housepainter's flair for eye shadow, a distaste for grammar, and cavernous cleavage that she shows off on her page in an array of custom-torn T-shirts, Dolce has also turned herself into a business. From the site she's spun off a clothing line, Destroyed Denim, and attracted a manager and a retinue of hangers-on. They refer to themselves as Camp ForBiddeN. They have a rival gang in the circle of Tila Tequila, a West Hollywood woman who looks like a sex-crazed Asian Kewpie doll and boasts 760,000 friends.
Dolce has such a following that DeWolfe and Anderson asked her to introduce one of the headline acts at their two-year anniversary concert. (It was a fitting choice, since she has musical as well as acting ambitions.) She showed up with her own camera crew.
"We're turning her into a brand," says Keith Ruby, her manager. "I'm her Karl Rove. It's like beauty meets the brains. But she has the brains, too."
Though most have never seen her, her fans are devoted. She gets hundreds of e-mails a day, the correspondence ranging from touching to deranged. Ruby claims she receives five marriage proposals per week. In October, a soldier in Iraq sent her a congratulatory letter. It seems his platoon had arranged a virtual beauty contest, Ms. Ramadi Iraq 2005. Dolce was pitted against Pamela Anderson, Jessica Simpson, and the porn star Jenna Jameson (who is on MySpace), and won. A few weeks later a young Pennsylvania man sent an earnest query letter asking if Dolce could help him break into the adult-film industry. He included nude photographs taken from various angles.
Moving on from Camp ForBiddeN on his tour of L.A.'s MySpace diaspora, Murdoch might find himself, as I did late one night, hurtling at 60 m.p.h. through the pitch-dark canyon roads of Malibu in the passenger seat of a stripped-down 1986 BMW 325e driven by an underground road racer named Schotz. A mechanic by day, Schotz spends several hours a week storming up these hairpin turns, once blackened by Steve McQueen and the original Hells Angels.
Like many underground racers, Schotz and his crew communicate and recruit new drivers primarily via MySpace. He finds rare parts, discusses technique, shit-talks rivals. Thanks in part to Anderson's affinity for car shows, where he gets the full V.I.P. treatment, MySpace has helped revivify California's car culture.
Or, had Murdoch been in town a week earlier, in the small hours of a Sunday morning, he might have found his way to a house, hidden behind a thick sheet-metal gate, among a very different but just as populous MySpace circle: the S&M enthusiasts. The house, on the outskirts of North Hollywood, had been converted into an underground bondage club, where Master Liam, a 49-year-old businessman in leather pants, whipped a petite woman who, dressed only in her underwear, screamed in delighted pain. Master and servant, it emerged, had found each other on MySpace.
Looking on were two dominatrices who had just tied up and gagged another woman and locked her in a giant cage. "You should really read my MySpace blog," one said to the other.
MySpace characters are the heroes of a new urban folklore. There is Bad Ass Frank, the freelance copywriter and divorcé who moved to L.A. with nary a friend. Now he has 15,000 of them and a burgeoning career as a comedy writer, thanks to the alternative persona he created on MySpace. There is RockDaMullet, who promotes himself by selling T-shirts silk-screened with images of his gravity-defying mullet. (It's even taller than Jackson's.) There is Bobby Carlton, the former A&R man who used to prowl around with Axl Rose and Tommy Lee. MySpace nets him just as many eager groupies as the rock clubs did.
There is Hollywood Undead, one of the most popular of the more than 660,000 bands on MySpace and the only one MySpace Records and Interscope have so far signed to their joint label. A rap-rock outfit made up of seven friends from L.A., Undead is enjoying serious buzz. Its members are already treated like rock stars on the club scene. But no one has ever seen them play. Their only known work is a handful of MP3 files available on MySpace, and a song on the label's first release, a compilation called MySpace Records: Volume 1.
There are chat and meet-up groups for every affliction and obsession. There are groups for single mothers, victims of domestic abuse, survivors of Hurricane Katrina (the That Bitch *Katrina* club), people who go to tanning salons too much, and people infatuated with bad sitcoms (Full House Still Kicks Ass—member count, 1,089). There is the self-mutilation group Cutters Not So Anonymous, the Girl on Girl Nylon Foot Worship club, and SoCal Christians, a popular religious community, headed by a young man who, when he's not on MySpace, is a professional wrestler. His page is plastered with pictures of him in Lycra and plays the theme from Magnum P.I.
And there are the women with bad grammar and near-barren profiles who e-mail strangers at odd hours and are generally presumed to be Eastern European prostitutes.
There are actual celebrities who use the site avidly, such as rocker Tommy Lee (Dolce claims he has tried to pick her up on the site) and comedian Dane Cook. Moving south down the list you'll find Kevin Federline and Kelly Osbourne. Then there are the legions of celebrity impostors. By my count there are at least 63 Jennifer Anistons.
The 175 employees of MySpace occupy two floors in an office building in Santa Monica, just steps away from the ocean. The main floor looks like an Internet office from the late 1990s that was abandoned and then hastily reoccupied: pastel walls, curvy cubicles, a big, stocked kitchen. DeWolfe and Anderson have two not very large offices, both conspicuously lacking ocean views.
They're almost too perfectly cast for their roles as elder business-school pragmatist and young visionary with a film degree and guitar. (DeWolfe got his M.B.A. from U.S.C.; Anderson attended U.C. Berkeley and U.C.L.A.) DeWolfe, 39, is tall and lanky, with long, graying hair and a preference for baggy pants that give him a tech-dandy look. Anderson, 29, seems to live in a cap and tight T-shirt. (He lifts weights, so it works.)
DeWolfe is married, while Anderson, in a stroke of cosmic luck—or an insanely business-oriented libido—claims that he has always preferred meeting women online. He contacts MySpacers when he's intrigued by their profiles, which must make them feel pretty special—like teenyboppers getting asked out by John Lennon in the parking lot of Shea Stadium.
The two met in 2000 at Xdrive Technologies, in Santa Monica, where DeWolfe, who was vice president of sales and marketing, gave Anderson a job. Together they formed ResponseBase Marketing in 2001. A company named eUniverse (now called Intermix) bought ResponseBase in 2002, and DeWolfe and Anderson persuaded then C.E.O. Brad Greenspan to let them create MySpace the following September.
When we meet in the fall, they are about to leave for London, where MySpace is opening its first European office. (The site has more than a million U.K. users and counting.) They have the glow of newly minted millionaires still somewhat surprised by their success.
"I always thought we could take on the big-three portals," Anderson says, referring to Yahoo, MSN, and AOL. "But in terms of our cultural relevance—turning out to be cool—we just lucked out. If you start out saying you want to be cool, you won't be cool."
They walk me to their equivalent of a standards-and-practices department—a tiny, windowless office manned by a young programmer scrolling at robot speed through pages of photographs. MySpace claims not to have any keyword filter or other system for monitoring its users' pages and messages, but it does check the roughly two million new photos posted each day for inappropriate material. The site also uses a search engine and staffers to try to root out under-age (sub-14) users.
"What about that?," DeWolfe asks, pointing to a shot of a woman, naked from the waist up, pretending to stick some kind of giant novelty syringe into her breast.
"No, see, she's covering 'em up," the programmer says, gesturing to where her nipples are barely obscured by a forearm.
To their credit, DeWolfe and Anderson do seem committed to the idea of "user-generated content," which is industry jargon for letting the users, not the company, post and pick through whatever they like. (This explains why the site cost so little to start.) They also share a moderate fuck-the-system streak as yet unblunted by the Fox windfall. Despite the joint label with Interscope, they are elated when unsigned bands with no marketing budget—the indie breakout Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is a recent example—develop followings through the site, leaving slow-moving record companies in the dust. Still, they're not above exploiting their new big-media connections. In January, MySpace was expected to unveil a filmmakers' site feature, where directors can upload shorts. DeWolfe and Anderson plan to mine it for talent for an imprint with Fox.
"There are a lot of obsessives on there, and it's given them a creative outlet," DeWolfe says.
When I ask about the obsessives who might be more interested in the countless pictures of teenagers in their underwear, DeWolfe says, "The Internet was designed for free speech. We can't take on that responsibility. Anyone under 18, that's the parents' responsibility. Anyone over 18, they're consenting adults. And philosophically, I don't think we'd want to. I walk down the street and see offensive things. But that's life."
"Parents aren't clamoring for cell-phone companies to monitor their kids," Anderson says. "Parents don't want to see what their kids are really like, but MySpace makes that really easy."
This is a valid argument, but it also has the faint ring of Dr. Frankenstein pleading the "he's his own monster" defense. The fact is that MySpace has always used sex to sell itself and still does. The site is plastered with graphic banner ads for online matchmaking services. A recent one showed a close-up, shot from behind, of a kneeling girl, her pants around her knees, in the process of pulling down her panties. "Find your next lover tonight," read the teaser. The music on the marketing head's personal page is a jingle being played on the radio. "Whatcha gonna do on MySpace?" goes the chorus. "I'm gonna get get get laid! Gonna get some boys from off MySpace!"
And some teens are engaging in activities that are far more alarming than exchanging risqué pictures. In November, a student at a high school in San Antonio, Texas, announced on MySpace that he was planning to bring a gun to school. The message was promptly circulated among thousands of students, who refused to go to school or walked out when they heard, and classes were disrupted for days. Also in November, an 18-year-old Pennsylvania boy, David Ludwig, was arrested with his 14-year-old girlfriend, Kara Borden, after he allegedly shot her parents to death. Ludwig and Borden were avid users of MySpace and other networking sites, and soon after their arrest visitors were posting comments on their pages, airing their disgust and cracking off-color jokes. A coordinator at the Massachusetts attorney general's office has been publicly warning parents about safely using MySpace. She says she receives calls about the site every day from parents and teachers. MySpace points out that it cooperates directly with law-enforcement agencies to swiftly address any issues.
Like L.A., MySpace is a place where the fallen and the exhausted go to re-invent themselves.
Hence Jeremy Jackson. Raised by a single mother who also helped manage his career, Jackson was cast on Baywatch at age nine. Before hitting puberty, he was spending his days on set with Pamela Anderson and a host of other bathing-suit-clad beauties. He was 17 when he fell for an extra who introduced him to crystal methamphetamine. Arrests and rehab followed. He was written out of the show. To support his habit, he built his own meth labs, which led to his arrest at 19. He then spent all his money on lawyers' fees and clinics.
Clean for five years, Jackson now lives in a small house in Newport Beach with his sister and mother, Jalonna, an attractive, friendly woman who often goes with him to the clubs. "I make sure the haters don't get to him," Jalonna says. I ask her about MySpace. "Oh God, he's on there all day," she says, like a mother whose 10-year-old son is playing too much Xbox.
MySpace has helped Jackson turn his life from a bad episode of E! True Hollywood Story into … well, a better episode of E! True Hollywood Story—one with a second act.
The site is more than just a harem wrangler for him. It pervades his life. He uses it to promote his parties as well as his sartorial sponsor, the clothing brand Ed Hardy, whose $75 trucker hats are replacing Von Dutch's as the faux-white-trash accoutrement du jour in L.A. Not surprisingly, he's been pitching reality shows about his life— one that he calls King of Clubs, which he envisions as an Apprentice for aspiring promoters (he'd play the Donald), and another that's about the travails of a former child star trying to break back into the industry. He refers producers and agents to his page. Jackson believes MySpace can help him sharpen his strategy for his imminent re-entrance into Hollywood.
That strategy, he says, is to make people think, This guy's nuts! So the wallpaper on his MySpace page is made up of Trojan Magnum XL condom wrappers. There is a picture of him wearing pink vinyl hot pants and grabbing his crotch. In the Interests section, where people normally list hobbies such as "reading" or "walks on the beach," there is a Flash cartoon of two stick figures screwing. A little ™ accompanies the Jeremy Jackson logo—yes, it's trademarked. And if you have any doubts about the number of women soliciting Jackson, or their degree of willingness, just scroll down to the comments section.
Jackson has been trying to save up for a move to Hollywood so that he can begin auditioning full-time. But he says he recently lost $5,000 to a phony music booker he had met on MySpace. That's in addition to $45,000 he says was embezzled from him by a con artist who claimed to be a consultant and promised to introduce Jackson to reality-show producers.
Joining Jackson and his mom at the Shark Club are his best friend, Wolfie, and Wolfie's girlfriend, Foxie Moxie, who designed Jackson's page.
"The closest he'd ever come to a computer before MySpace was the ATM," says Wolfie, who also happens to be Jackson's 12-step-program sponsor. "He used to type with one finger. He uses two hands now, so that's good—one finger on the left, two on the right. He comes to our house to use our computer, because he only has dial-up."
"I can't imagine my life without MySpace," Jackson says. "I don't know what I did with all my time before this."
Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson won't say how much they took home in the Fox deal. One source close to it put the number at about $15 million each.
Whatever the exact amount, it is certainly less than the nearly $23 million made by Richard Rosenblatt, a former Intermix C.E.O. But then it was Rosenblatt and his allies who pushed through the merger, at least according to three separate suits pending in Los Angeles County courts.
The suits—including one filed by Brad Greenspan, who founded Intermix—claim that the Rosenblatt cadre on the board cheated shareholders by selling the company for far less than its true worth, ignoring and even trying to scuttle competing bids.
Why would Rosenblatt et al. undersell the company? According to Greenspan, it was partly to appease a venture-capital firm that had bailed out Intermix and wanted to turn a quick profit, and partly because Murdoch had offered to indemnify Intermix in a spyware suit filed against it by New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer. (Spyware is illegal software that secretly transmits data to and from computers without the users' consent; MySpace was not named in the suit.) Intermix ultimately settled with Spitzer for $7.5 million, which it is paying off with News Corp.'s help, but the L.A. city attorney has filed a second spyware suit. A Fox spokesperson dismisses the charges in all four suits and says there was no indemnification agreement.
Greenspan left Intermix on unfriendly terms in 2003. Nonetheless, he remained the largest shareholder, and made approximately $48 million in the Fox deal. But he says he deserves more. MySpace, he believes, is worth between $4 and $5 billion. Rosenblatt scoffs at that figure.
But there can be little doubt that the company's value has gone up considerably since the sale was announced. "At first it looked like a great deal," says John Tinker, an analyst at ThinkEquity Partners L.L.C., in New York, and a former Intermix shareholder. "But now everyone's saying they should have held on. They could have got a lot more."
Greenspan, who in the meantime has started a rival social-networking site, Vidilife, also claims that DeWolfe and Anderson strongly opposed the Fox deal.
"We may have had a little reluctance at first," DeWolfe responds. "But we met with all the Fox management and very quickly got comfortable.… These are very smart media folks and they're not going to do anything to harm the user experience."
Eventually, however, he and Anderson will have to figure out if and how they're going to stay autonomous. They are too clever not to know what Murdoch, who has never been accused of being an empty suit, sees in their company. Like radio, film, and television before it, but to a much greater degree, the Internet has the potential to absorb the fringes of culture and translate and package them for the masses. MySpace does that better and faster than any Web site yet concocted, better and faster than anyone could have imagined even five years ago. MySpace is like a direct conduit to future trends, a high-speed connection to the next big thing.
DeWolfe and Anderson know this power may well be too much for a capitalist of Murdoch's caliber to leave unmolested.
"We're not programming the content—the users are," DeWolfe insists. But already MySpace is conspicuously promoting Fox. In the fall, it did massive rollouts for the film Walk the Line and the TV show Nip/Tuck.
And already the deal is causing unrest among users. In January, some complained of corporate censorship when MySpace began blocking links to the rival site YouTube from user pages. (MySpace says this resulted from a miscommunication with YouTube.) And upwards of 50 fake Rupert Murdoch profiles have appeared, along with a few Fuck Rupert Murdochs and one Rupert Murdoch Owns Your Soul.
But until Murdoch slips on the night-vision goggles and commences Phase Two of his world takeover, the ForBiddeNs, Tila Tequilas, Master Liams, and Jeremy Jacksons of the world will use MySpace as they wish.
"I think people take my page as funny, sexy, silly," Jackson tells me. "It's an image of myself. Maybe it's controversial. But, you know, controversy breeds cash flow. If they think I'm an exhibitionist, if they think I'm crazy, that's good."
Then again, the act goes both ways. Jackson was contacted recently by the Guess model Megan Ewing. She sent him personal photos and talked about her new house and her dogs. Jackson was smitten. Only after Foxie Moxie did a background search did they discover that the MySpace woman was an impostor.