Art Imitating Life Imitating Art?


When I sat down to write worldfullofnothing, I didn’t intend to write a screenplay about teen suicide. It was a component and certainly the inciting incident in the story but the overall piece was more about negative influences in peer groups, the media and absentee parents all leading our heroine to face the world alone whereupon she begins to reach out in a vaguely anonymous fashion using video blogs to parse out personal information in tid-bits along the way. The true initial inspiration was a little internet phenomenom called LonelyGirl15 – at first believed to be a real girl, telling real stories about herself and the strange religious cult her family belonged to. For a few months, “Bre” became a web sensation and the YouTube generation came of age. Upward of 300,000 hits a day were pinging LonelyGirl15 until a few enterprising hackers decided to find out the truth about Bre and it all came tumbling down: Bre was a Kiwi actress named Jessica Rose and LonelyGirl15 was a viral webisodic television experiment. Strangely, even after the truth was revealed, many of Bre’s fans still wanted to believe she was real and the ‘show’ lasted another year. At least we got Jessica Rose out of it, she’s pretty radiant. That, my friends, was the start of worldfullofnothing, the notion that a movement could come to life due to an internet-perpetrated event and my opening scene in the script became a teenager’s last will and testament before sticking a 9mm pistol in her mouth and blowing herself to infamy, kicking off a horrific craze of copy-cat teens killing themselves on camera, leaving the videos behind for others to upload to the world. Dark, yes, but not what my entire premise was about. The film goes on from there to introduce Rachael, a fifteen-year-old who feels plenty of peer pressure but is not really a follower… she’s not quite sure what she is, in fact, and her adventure leads her to certain conclusions. Along the way, she becomes the prey of an online predator and the object of an FBI profiler’s ‘savior’ agenda (the agent herself a woman not entirely formed).

I bring all this up because in the three years worldfullofnothing has been around, there have been at least three high profile teen suicide epidemics, one in Palm Desert, California, one in Wales and now an ongoing problem in Palo Alto, a leafy green suburb of California’s Silicon Valley. In all cases, just like the fiction I wrote, authorities are at a loss to find the cause for these copycat deaths. Currently in Palo Alto, four teenagers aged 13-17 have walked in front of racing trains at the same railroad crossing since last spring (a particularly eerie worldfullofnothing connection since one of the film’s suicides happens in the same manner). Also familiar to people who’ve seen worldfullofnothing will be the rhetoric and terror coming from police, school administrators and the media in this northern California city as all attempts are being made to counsel the teenagers there, propping up their self-esteem, pointing fingers at possible reasons (academic pressures, depression) yet unable to stop a trend that may or may not be happening. This is the problem with a scenario like this, answers and reasons can be looked for all day long, but the only people who truly know the ‘why’ are the ones who aren’t around any longer to talk to.

I found a comment in today’s LA TIMES article about the problem in Palo Alto to be right in line with worldfullofnothing’s approach to the suicide dilemma (the third leading cause of death among teenagers apparently). “Teens are suggestible and impulsive,” said Dr. Mel Blaustein, who has studied suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge, and if the first death “was romanticized and seemed like something special, that can start a cluster.” Exactly as the film suggests. I’m not writing this to toot my own horn and tell you all that I’m obviously some sort of genius for being so right-on with my characterizations and assesment of teen lives (but if you want to think it, please do), instead I’m looking into the whole art-imitates-life-imitates-art thing. There were teen suicides before worldfullofnothing, there have been since and unfortunately there will be more to come… I wonder, however, if when teenagers who might find themselves on the threshold of ‘the end’ get a chance to see worldfullofnothing, if they might hear a voice in the darkness, that of Rachael and her coming to terms with life in a world that seems to be void most of the time. I wonder if they might find a kindred soul in this character the way so many found interest in Bre during LonelyGirl15’s high-point. I wonder if a film can get through in ways that authorities can’t, a film that reflects a viewer’s own sense of hopelessness but shows them there is light at the end of the tunnel, not just the headlamp of an oncoming train. If any of that was possible, then perhaps life could imitate art for a better outcome this time around.


One Response to “Art Imitating Life Imitating Art?”

  1. Yo Jess,
    As close as I feel to WFON, I never really knew what started your ideas re this movie. So the above comments are of great interest to me. As a former school counselor, I took a “hard” approach to kids who talked about being suicidal because two girls at the local high school did kill themselves (they each shot herself while sitting together in an empty lot about a block from the school.) They involved a high school counselor in a way I am not going to discuss, but the incident told me I am not going to go there too. If even the experts cannot explain these teen suicides, then why am I going to risk my career and future by “missing” one of these darlings when I have no sure way of knowing when a student who talks about suicide is going to really do it. I just called parents and told them what the student said. Of course, almost immediately the suicide talk stopped in my office.
    I really think that the breakdown of the traditional family and strength of the once powerful American culture is what is behind these suicides. Young people simply are not prepared to face the adult world, and they decide that they want off the planet. Too bad because the only real reason for being here is to do the struggling that comes with the territory.
    Anyway, a great article and when this movie gets out there, it will help many people understand where you are coming from.

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