[Nameplate] Fair ~ 39°F  
High: 52°F ~ Low: 43°F
Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

Conjuring a fake reality can be kind of fun

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Around the time I graduated from college, I was in a band.

We called ourselves "Red Dot," a name we came up with after wandering around the woods one weekend following a Boy Scout trail marked by red dots spray-painted on trees. I played lead guitar, and also supplied lead vocals. My friend Ian played bass, and our friend Chappy was the drummer.

We recorded two albums, the first called "Monkey Bridge," and the second called "Chain of Rocks." Our albums contained songs such as "516," "Dropping the Ring" and "Science vs. Religion."

And though the Internet was only in its primitive years at the time, we even had our own website. Here, fans could view lyrics to our songs, see cover art for our albums and even read the back story about how our band got together.

But here's the funny thing about all of this: It was all fake.

The website was real, mind you. And we did have the album names, the cover art, the song titles, the lyrics and the back story. But we never actually produced any music. We never performed. We never practiced. None of us even had the slightest clue about how to play the instruments we supposedly played.

Basically, we were just a few friends playing make-believe, creating a complex figment of our imagination for no purpose other than our own self-amusement. Also, we were pretty big nerds.

But I've thought about my old band quite a bit over the past few days, as news has come out about Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o and the girlfriend who has turned out to be a complete fake.

The basic story is this: A young man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo apparently conjured up a young woman named Lennay Kekua, complete with fake Facebook and Twitter accounts and a profile picture stolen from another website. Connecting via the Internet, Te'o and the fictional Kekua became involved in a romantic relationship -- a relationship that ended when Kekua supposedly died last fall from leukemia.

The story made headlines as Te'o starred for the Fighting Irish, especially since Kekua's fictional death came within 24 hours of the real-life death of Te'o's grandmother. It made for a great story, one that was repeated many times on ESPN and other sports shows.

But the story began to unravel late last year and early this month, climaxing with a story published last week by the website Deadspin, which blew the cover off the hoax.

There's been speculation as to whether or not Te'o was a perpetrator to the hoax or a mere victim. As of this writing, the signs seem to be pointing to Te'o being mostly oblivious to Kekua's fictitious nature, but there are still some unanswered questions.

As the story has developed, many folks have been scratching the heads, trying to figure out just why someone would perpetrate such a falsehood -- especially since it turned out to be so cruel.

But given my experience with the fake band of my younger days, I guess I can kind of understand some of it. Similar to the satisfaction a fiction writer gets out of writing a story, there's a gratification that can come with creating a tall tale -- and making it believable enough that someone might think it's true.

In the case with Red Dot, nobody ever did, at least to my knowledge. The website was eventually purged from the blogosphere, and now Red Dot is no more than a fun memory.

But the Lennay Kekua thing got out of control. I don't know what motive Tuiasosopo had when he initiated the hoax, and it seems like the lengths he apparently went to in order to substantiate the story were excessive. Still, I wonder if he ever meant for it to get as far as it did. Once the apparition he created started being talked about every weekend on ESPN, I imagine it became exceedingly difficult to get the metaphorical worms back in the can.

But he should have tried. Certainly, he didn't need to wait until Deadspin was about to break the story to come clean to Te'o. Tuiasosopo could have ended it sooner. He could have apologized earlier. Letting it go on the way he did turned something that might have been conceived as a harmless diversion into something that was cruel and heartless.

It's OK to play make-believe once in a while. But doing it with real people's lives is just mean.

aweld@couriernews.net

Andy Weld
Andy Weld is editor of the Blytheville Courier News.
© 2014 Blytheville Courier News