You Say Fake Ads, They Say Satire
“CALLING all Roys or Troys or Leroys,” began an ad posted to Craigslist in October. A photo of a heart-shaped tattoo with “Roy” inside accompanied the ad, which continued: “I was with a Roy before but it didn’t last as long as my tattoo. Getting the tattoo removed is not something I want to do, plus I’m so accustomed to bellowing it (Roy) out in bed.” The writer said she was seeking a new Roy, or anyone whose name could be inked around the word, Scrabble-style.
It was signed Dynah, but actually written by Johnna Gattinella, a 31-year-old writer in Santa Rosa, Calif. Ms. Gattinella is working on a book called “My Year on Craigslist” that will include her fake ads and the often earnest responses.
“A lot of men took the photo of the tattoo and put it in Photoshop and then altered it with their names or different variations and e-mailed it back,” said Ms. Gattinella, who hasn’t shopped the book to publishers yet.
The tattoo, by the way, is real, as is her husband, Roy.
Across the country, aspiring writers are using Craigslist not just as a place to offload their futons, but as a pixeled writing workshop where they test their stabs at social satire on some of the more than 30 million visitors that the site draws each month. Their personal ads ostensibly seek a soul mate, but what they’re really looking for is an audience.
Some, like Ms. Gattinella, are working on a book, while others are just trying out material. Some find Internet fame when popular blogs link to the ads.
“One of the motives is they are trying to start something viral that takes off,” said Peggy Wang, an editor at Buzzfeed, a trend-tracking site that recently linked to several fake Craigslist ads.
Blog-worthy ads tend to fall into three categories: outlandish yet grounded by an internal logic and clearly true; probably fake, but funny; so absurd only a naif would believe them. The best fake-ad writers telegraph the parody but never wink.
Some ads defy forensics. In September, bloggers were agog over a New York Craigslist posting in which a 25-year-old woman who described herself as “spectacularly beautiful” sought a husband who earned at least $500,000 a year. The author, dubbed “the gold digger,” has never come forward.
Craigslist is “a fun place to look when you should be doing something else,” said Debbie Newman, an editor at the gossip blog Jossip who trawls Craigslist for offbeat ads. “If you’re a talented writer and maybe a frustrated one working somewhere like a law firm that limits your day-to-day creativity, you take your opportunities where you can find them.”
Craigslist has advantages over other soapboxes. “You can set up your own blog, but people are not necessarily going to go there,” said Jim Buckmaster, the chief executive of Craigslist. “If you haven’t established an audience, you can do worse than Craigslist.”
Scott Den Herder, a freelance writer, was moving from California to New York in March but could not find an apartment share on Craigslist. What he did find were roommate-seekers’ ads that could be persnickety, even hostile. So Mr. Den Herder, 30, posted a series of fake roommate ads, one of them seeking someone who would “let me perform hypnosis on you liberally.”
One respondent asked, “Would the hypnosis deter me from attending work regularly or affect me in any negative way?” Another wondered, “Are you a licensed therapist or are you learning hypnosis by a trained medical professional or is this something you’re teaching yourself?”
Mr. Den Herder, who now lives in Arlington, Va., has queried literary agents with a book proposal about the ads and their responses, but has had no replies.
Craigslist prohibits ads that are “false or misinformative,” but Mr. Buckmaster said that as long as they were not afoul of other standards, such as being pornographic or defamatory, spoofers have nothing to fear. Still, he said, many fake ads are removed when users flag them.
“For one good satire,” he said, “there tend to be 10 bad ones that get flagged down because, face it, they’re not funny.”
Kate McDade, a 30-year-old student at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, said she was gleeful that her latest ad — she has written about 20 in the last two years — is currently featured in the “Best of Craigslist” section, the site’s equivalent of being published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Posted in the personals category, the ad reads in part: “Due to shortages in men in the Greater Portland Area, the following categories of unforgivable lowlifes have been promoted to ‘potential relationship material’ for me.”
The list of 44 descriptors includes “Liars,” “Cheaters,” “Daily pot smokers,” “Dirty, smelly coffee shop poets,” “Men old enough to be my Dad,” “My Dad,” “The dental-hygienically challenged,” and “Your dumb friend, age 37, who still plays video games after work.”
As a single mother, Ms. McDade said that she was largely satirizing herself and the dearth of suitable men. When people respond to her ads, often men in on the joke who laud her wit, she never replies. “I wouldn’t look for someone on Craigslist,” she said.
Brett Michael Dykes, whose fake ads and their responses have been popular features of his blog, Cajun Boy in the City (cajunboyinthecity.blogspot.com), usually posts in the “Missed Connections” category. (Many suspected Mr. Dykes wrote the “gold digger” ad, but he insists he didn’t.)
He posted an ad in April from the perspective of a woman to the “skinny boy on the L train in manhattan this morning” and went on to describe the quintessential hipster (“your jeans were tight but sagged just enough to expose the waistband of your knickers,” “slightly androgynous, you looked upset about something, often staring into nothingness, perhaps contemplating infinity, kafka, or both”). The ad writer, meanwhile, came across as attractive but conceited, claiming that “every other guy on the L was checking me out.” Responses poured in, as they did for another ad whose presumed writer also described herself as attractive but made racist remarks.
“When you break it down, guys are just really pathetic,” said Mr. Dykes, 35, who lives in Manhattan.
The most buzz Mr. Dykes generated was with a September post, from the perspective of a male who offered sexual favors to anyone for tickets to a Genesis reunion concert at Giants Stadium. Web sites, including Gawker, New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer, and Buzzfeed, linked to the ad. Jossip even ran an interview with Mr. Dykes.
A San Francisco comedy troupe, Kasper Hauser, first posted fake ads to Craigslist two years ago and now posts them directly onto its parody sight, Khraigslist (www.kasperhauser.com/khmc). One with the heading “Into Meeting New People” follows with the message, “But I am a dancer and busy with dental school and gardening, so you know what, forget it.” Another heading, “One half of twin stroller,” continues with the message “Will saw off Tony’s seat — we are only keeping one of the twins.”
“It’s like an Advent calendar of humor,” said John Reichmuth, 37, a member of the troupe. “There’s an outside wrapping and then there’s an inside that can be set up and punch-lined.”
Among those who appreciate the parody site is Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, who once linked to it from his personal blog.
Ms. Gattinella, for one, is glad that Craigslist insiders are not upset.
“I don’t want to forever be banned from Craigslist,” she said. “That would be terrible. I still have an old lawn mower I need to get rid of.”