We, Spy

Open-Circuit Camera: Through cosmetic surgery and a new housebound regime, Rachael "Ana" Olson has made herself over for public observation.

WHEN WE LAST left "thee immortal faerie goddess" Rachael Olson, she was still the unluckiest would-be rock star in town. After 11 years with her glitter-mod pop band the Blue Up?, she had given us three wonderful (and sadly out-of-print) albums--the last of which, Spool Forka Dish, was criminally mishandled by a bumbling Columbia Records. The Blue Up? deflated, she reinvented herself as an electronic-huh? diva named Ana (say "Anna") Voog and signed to Radioactive. She made an Ana Voog album. And waited for it to come out. And waited...

And got on the Web. Nowadays, Ana Voog is one of the most famous women in cyberspace. At her new Web site, AnaCam (www.anacam.com), a live camera in her apartment sends two-minute photo updates depicting the uncensored Life of Ana--24-7. Ana sleeps. Ana eats cereal. Ana takes a bath. Ana vamps. Ana writes haikus. Ana spray-paints herself silver and traipses about her trinket-strewn loft with number 7's on the wall. And she rarely leaves. So it goes that local music's most reclusive eccentric has utterly de-privatized the most private aspects of her life. Meet Ana Voog: media paradox.

Three months after going online, AnaCam now registers half a million to 750,000 hits per day. Since each two-minute update counts as a "hit," if every visitor stays for an hour, that translates into 25,000 daily viewers. A dozen strangers around the world have created Ana Voog tribute sites, replete with gorgeous computer art made from borrowed Ana images. One home page calls AnaCam "the first Webcam that belongs to the great lineage of modern performance art." Konrad magazine--the German analog of Wired--christened Ana its "Number One Most Interesting Thing." MTV Finland is ringing. And as I type this, my Netscape window shows her in the bathtub doing a photo shoot for the Euro fashion mag Maxx.

Anyone who followed her Blue Up? days knows this whole scheme is quintessential Rachael. She's always been a visual performer--her body and persona are as much an expression of her eccentricity and desire for stardom as her ambitious music. And while most other girl-themed Webcams out there are little more than pay-per-view peep shows, AnaCam mandates a challenging policy on sexuality that obliterates the borders we expect to find between porn, art, and everyday life.

"This cam is not about sex, stripping, or some sort of flesh show. This is just my life and I'll do what I want to," she writes in her site's "About Ana" section. "Don't send me any e-mails requesting any sex stuff like 'show me your tits,' because I'll just delete it and hate you...If you want to talk to me, write brilliant and interesting things and I will like you." And yet Ana, a one-time stripper, is frequently seen naked, and, now and again, having sex--facts that have left some of her art-minded fans accusing her of porn-inflected hypocrisy. "Sex is part of my life," she counters over the phone. "I'm sorry if I take showers in the nude--most people do! If I'm sitting around the house nude, is that porn?" Sex doesn't totally explain the AnaCam phenom, because, to be plainly honest, if that's all you come for, you'll get bored waiting. Consequently, the Cam continues to reach a growing audience of women and men from outside a scopophilic subculture.

Her perspective becomes clearer as you immerse yourself in all the banal and fascinating minutia of Ana's homebound life. "About Ana" lists data like her height (5 feet 2 inches), weight (90 pounds), neck circumference (12 inches), and "things I collect" (mannequins, keys, owls, glass grapes, egg beaters, etc.). Better yet is her "Ana Logs" and "Anagrams," a collection of oddly literary, lysergic essays like "Why I'd Make a Great Housewife," which defends her recent decision to have her formerly flat chest surgically "enhanced" to size 32-D. "I already knew what life was like the other way," she writes. "But I gotta tell you, it is a pretty f**kt thing. And surreal. And funny too."

But here's the clincher: Not only is AnaCam one of the few 24-hour, free girlcams out there, it's the only such cam operated by someone with a major record deal. When Radioactive finally issues her album, the Bobby Z-produced anavoog.com, Ms. Voog/Olson will have a ready-made fan base for the first time--albeit a modest one. Twenty-five thousand is a lot of voyeurs, but it won't necessarily translate into huge sales. And AnaCam, which gobbles up six phone lines and 100 gigabytes a month, is deep in the red and can barely support the cost of its popularity.

But for now, at this unique point in the history of mass media, Ana Voog has attained mass appeal through circumventing and spoofing the star-making process itself: You get all the tiny details first, and the product later. Ana Voog can be huge. Here's proof.

 
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