Since April, Defame Orlando (defameorlando.blogspot.com) has been stirring the downtown pot with its Internet observations on coke-addled club promoters, local girls gone wild, scenesters in long jean shorts and boat shoes, fixed-gear-bike riders and fame whores. The response — as noted from the 50 or so comments each blog post gets — has been both hilarious and frightening.
Defame is a sendup of Orlando's worst tendencies, and as such it's one of Orlando's best, most defining blogs. Is that a good thing? Or is it just another admission that Orlando hates itself and sports an inferiority complex bigger than downtown?
Defame's author, and most of the people who comment on the site, operate under the veil of anonymity, allowing the ubiquitous Internet hater vibe to flourish. On the "About Me" sidebar of the site, the author writes, "It's not because I hate Orlando. Or because I hate the bars and the clubs and the people. It's because I just enjoy poking fun at things. It's because I decided to say everything you were all thinking anyway. Do not mistake what I do for a gossip blog and please don't think that anyone Defamed is worth being written about. Let's not kid ourselves. I'm just holding up the mirror simply to remind you that your shit smells just as bad as my own."
After a little begging and some assurances that her identity would not be revealed — a lot of peoplereally don't like what she writes — the woman who pens Defame Orlando agreed to meet for this story, ironically at a dreary, uptight blogger seminar at the Grand Bohemian. In a booth off to the side of the main bar, where a large woman is howling some blues, she talks about life behind the keyboard, about being the mean girl everyone's reading, and whether or not she considers herself a "real" writer. Here's a shocker: She professes to not even really like the site.
"I don't want to do it anymore," she sighs. "I'm tired of it."
Defame Orlando launched in April with a bang. A post titled "Whose Coke Is It?" picked up on an e-mail war between Firestone owner Jan Harrold and spurned Firestone Saturday/Thursday promoter Paul "Pauly Crush" Geller that included blurred photographs of sex and cocaine. She tracked down the source of the drugs and the trail led to the home of another promoter who had already attracted her ire. After a threat of legal retaliation from Club Firestone, she removed the post. But she had found her calling: trashing the trash people put out about themselves in the public domain.
"I actually was on MySpace, and it was the tropical kids `who attended now-defunct club night Carnival at Suite B`, the people connecting their names to the word ‘tropical' and taking pictures with their shirts off and holding up the letter ‘T' with their hands," she says. "Everybody was putting the word ‘tropical' in their names on my `MySpace` friends list and it was annoying the shit out of me."
So she went after the tropical kids with a post suggesting that they all have poop on their heads. Here's her definition of the tropicals: "A group of people who have come together because of a common disease called Individuality Disorder. They cannot function as one human alone in the social scene. Status points are based on how many people they can get to distort their hands into a popular letter in the alphabet. You will find this disease is not uncommon."
Next she turned her guns on local musicians who pissed her off, specifically the Polka Dots, Kinetica, Blood on the Dancefloor and Random Acts of Retardation. She also savaged club promoters (Carnival's Adrian Giannotta, Crush's Geller), and everybody else downtown within view of a digital camera. There was, and is, no shortage of material.
It's not attention you necessarily want.
Petite blond MySpace model — for lack of a better term — Mandy Murphy can be found on Defame Orlando explaining, via YouTube video, how she did not give blow jobs to every member of the Boston hardcore band Colin of Arabia, even though the band used a photograph of her with semen on her face to decorate their CD titled, appropriately enough, You Sucked Our Dicks at End of Summer Jam. Murphy tells viewers that the image was meant only for her ex-boyfriend, and it found its way onto the Internet because "shit happens."
Then there's the downtown scenester identified on Defame Orlando only as "Fetus" who was Defamed for having his picture taken with Casey Anthony, his fist right by her face with the word "kill" tattooed across his knuckles. (The photo has since been removed.) There are party photos of the protesty Students for a Democratic Society from University of Central Florida rolling around in their underpants with giant inflatable penises and beer. And, of course, there are innumerable photo-service shots of clubgoers in nightlife disrepair, usually adorned with taglines like "gross," "gross" and "gross."
All the hating — or fun-poking, if you like — proved stressful for Defame's author, as did the rampant speculation that she was a vindictive fat girl or someone who just wasn't good enough for downtown VIP treatment. She shuttered the site in midsummer, though she now says that the hiatus was for personal reasons. The original "first season" posts were lost for a bit, then recovered from a Google cache when the blog went back up with the "Defammy Awards," loosely modeled on the Weekly's own annual Best of Orlando awards. Her categories included "Worst MySpace Celebrity" and "Worst Flamiest Faggiest Homo Queer," along with pokes at bands and bar staff. More than 200 votes came in, and the post registered 213 comments — way over the average 50 — prompting Defame to ponder another exit.
"Goodbye my little haters," she wrote. "That took forever and was the dumbest fucking idea I ever had and I realized this once all your votes started pouring in. I think this is a good note to take a long awaited vacation from this blog on. And by vacation I mean I'd like to quit this thing for a few months if you don't mind."
But she was back again before long. By midsummer, however, Firestone's scene-starting Saturday/Thursday closed, Carnival closed, downtown attendance dwindled. Did Defame Orlando single-handedly bring about another decline in the Orlando downtown scene? She laughs at the assumption, but not at the idea that a lot of people blame her for it. So she stays anonymous. And keeps the hate coming.
# # #
Perched in front of a computer in her candlelit downtown apartment, with a painting of Pee-Wee Herman looking down on her, Defame Orlando's 28-year-old author takes a sip of her vodka drink from a 7-Eleven cup and betrays a little uncertainty. She's not used to having the attention turned on her.
The native New Yorker seems torn between her conscience — by trade she works in human resources for nonprofits and describes herself as "a really nice humanitarian person doing evil things for the city" — and her girl-who-goes-out sarcasm. She is more than a little bit uncomfortable, full of low-voiced giggles and eye-rolls.
"Honestly, like I told you when we first started out, I never really liked the site," she says. "I like picking on things every now and then, I don't necessarily like picking on people. I like picking on clothes and music that I think are bad."
But it's the people in those clothes and listening to that music that take the majority of the site's barbs. She spends hours rolling through websites and MySpace pages for source material, laying it all out with skill and crafting biting text boxes of commentary. This isn't something that you just do because you're bored one evening. Despite her protestations about the site being an albatross, she doesn't come off as blase, or even tired. Mention a particularly funny post — and many of them are really funny — and she's beaming and giddy. Lately she's been concerned about Defaming people that she likes, but she's still at the ready with pre-crafted posts about some of them should the occasion arise. As much as she doesn't want to admit it, she's getting a kick out of the shit she's stirring.
That's because, at 28, she's been there already, slumming it up at the Bar-BQ-Bar, tripping her way through Firestone on her own blurry-eyed benders. She's been that anonymous girl at Saturday/Thursday, pretending to be above the indie-dance-pop-mashup nonsense and saying she's just there for the free vodka while dancing her ass off. She knows all the bartenders. She's been a scene girl, and judging by her fashionably thin frame and well-styled hair, she still is. Maybe she's just growing out of it, looking down at the youngsters the way seniors look at incoming freshmen. Or maybe she just sees something wrong, like we all do.
On the other hand, there is a level of self-absorption, courtesy of the Internet, that is unique to kids these days. When every bender becomes MySpace fodder, you do have to wonder if the quest for notoriety has gone too far.
"The people I do enjoy are the people who are so self-involved," she says. "Those are the people I do not mind putting on the site. And that's pretty much why the site was made, to point out how full of ourselves we are all getting with MySpace and the Internet."
But even that justification is contradictory. She's making fun of Internet culture and making Internet culture at the same time. She hates on Orlando, but she doesn't hate Orlando. She's proud of the site's popularity — it's registered more than 120,000 hits since April — but also scared by it.
"In the beginning I used to get comments like that all the time. ‘You're probably some dumbass who wishes they could get VIP,' or, ‘You're probably some fat girl sitting behind a computer.' No, actually, I'm the one you're dancing with," she says, playfully.
# # #
It's 9 p.m. on an October Wednesday and Defame Orlando's author is nursing a drink at the Bar-BQ-Bar in front of her bartender best friend, Stephanie. From the surrounding throng of scene regulars — most of whom know that she is responsible for the blog — there's no outward animosity. Then again, it is early.
One acquaintance approaches with some professional advice. He goes into a long-winded spiel on how advertising could help her, how she could actually make money Defaming Orlando. She avoids the topic.
"I don't want to be tied down to it, first of all," she tells me later. "When you start advertising, you have to keep it up because people are paying you to advertise. I keep it on Blogger because it's the easiest place it can be. To me, selling advertising is kind of selling out for a site that hates on downtown Orlando."
Next door at the Social, DJs Fishdicks and Harder Sauce are manning the tables for their monthly Pop-Off event, retooling jams like Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" for a younger audience. In the back corner, two hipster guys in ironic outfits make out, while a small collection of kids bounces in front of the stage. It's a pretty charming scene, albeit a sloppy one. Drunk girls, haircuts, kids.
Brad Register, who by now is on his third scene as the frontman for Summerbirds in the Cellar, bends her ear with a rant on Barack Obama and how important this election is going to be. Mike Feinberg, another longtimer who's recently left his leadership post at Firestone, pops by to say hello. It's like everybody already knows.
Until, that is, a girl whose age is just north of the scene demographic pulls me aside.
"I hear that girl you're with is responsible for Defame Orlando," she says. "I've never seen the site, but I just heard from the door guy that it's really mean."
When we're out the following week, on the night before Halloween, Ms. Defame is in the fray of day-too-early revelers in their My Name Is Earl, Heath Ledger, Sarah Palin and naughty nurse costumes. They are all easy targets, but she is nothing if not polite. She's much meaner on a keyboard than in person.
Over at Back Booth, a frequent target, the Hands Up club night is in full throttle and packed with scruffy misfits contorting to the broken rhythms of the new dance fallout. She crawls up into the DJ booth to chat with one-half of the Hands Up team, Ben Badio.
"It's nice to have someone out there to tell Orlando just exactly how it works," Badio says. "So that we can realize that a lot of the shit that goes on in this city needs to be made fun of. We appreciate good satire. Even if it's about us."
# # #
Not everybody agrees, obviously.
Local self-styled model, MySpace celebrity (28,000 friends!), 2007 contender for VH1's America's Smartest Model, indie-film and stage actor and blond-bobbed, low-rent runway ubiquity Jamesson Beane got his first big Defaming June 4: "If you weren't aware of this already, we have our very own version of ‘Leave Britney Alone!!!!' right here in this rainbow city of ours," she wrote, before scrolling out a collection of Beane's candid shots, all of which are available on the Internet.
In a Nov. 6 post titled "Jamesson's 27th Career Move," she laid into Beane's latest MySpace endeavor, two videos of him singing Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" and New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" a cappella into his computer's webcam for his new MySpace Music page. For Defame, stuff like that is raw meat to a hungry dog.
"God. Sometimes I honestly feel so mean when it comes to these posts. I'm just going to shut my mouth on this one," Defame wrote. "You guys are so cute singing and modeling your little hearts out on MySpace, complete with extreme poop face. … I almost hate to be the one to crush you all the time."
Beane says that Defame e-mailed him after the first post to let him know it was out there. For someone who thrives on publicity, he wasn't impressed.
"I thought it was pretty cowardly. It's high-school stuff," he says, before invoking a patently absurd comparison. "Perez Hilton says some pretty mean things, but at least has the guts to put his name out there."
He says that Defame's posts lack substance, and that if the author has a problem with him, he wishes she would confront him face-to-face so he could try to sway her opinion.
But Beane's treatment at the hands of Defame's creator has been almost gentle compared to that of promoter Adrian Giannotta. Giannotta feels he was unfairly targeted by Defame Orlando and is leaving town for the friendlier climate of Pittsburgh, at least in part because of her relentless commentary.
Giannotta's Carnival night shut down Sept. 3, the same day he sent this e-mail to Defame Orlando: "Dear Defame, I wanted to thank you for successfully destroying Carnival, personally. Since you have so successfully made something I created with some friends out to be the most dirty, disgusting, horrible thing on the planet, maybe you can help me out once again and today help me announce that tonight is officially the LAST Carnival ever."
"We were never trying to make something that was an epic party," he says. "We did the legwork to do something, then somebody who just goes out can anonymously bash it."
Giannotta claims that Defame's portrayal of Carnival as a haven for "naked girls, coke binges and underage drinking" was unfair, although as a promoter he says that there is only so much that he could do to curb
It wasn't so much the bashing of the tropicals and Carnival that got to Giannotta, though; it was linking him to drugs that put him in an awkward position and led to trouble at work.
"They made allegations about me that were completely false and just out there, like that had nothing to do with me," he says. "At the time when they were made I was working at Disney and I had someone come up to me in the tunnel at the Magic Kingdom and say, ‘Oh, I saw you on this blog. Do you really do drugs?'
"At that point, that was when I finally realized that this was getting out of hand."
On Aug. 12, Defame Orlando featured a mug shot of Giannotta following a drunken fight between him and his ex-boyfriend at Back Booth, along with more nasty commentary. Giannotta admits the event, but says that there's more to it.
"Obviously I did get arrested," he says. "But the charges were dropped after two hours. I literally got sent to jail. When they started booking me, they asked, ‘What happened?' And I told them. And they just let me out right then and there. Basically all I got was a free ride to jail, a mug shot and humiliated."
That post is still up on the site.
"Now people look at me like I'm some kind of monster," he says. "It made me ashamed. I never expected to become some kind of hated public figure."
Giannotta points to the violence and "death threats" the site engenders in its comments section as evidence of its corrosive nature. He says similar bloggers in Miami and New York have gotten "the shit beaten out of them." And then, as if on cue, he comes close to making a threat of his own.
"I want to call her out so bad," he says. (He doesn't know who she is.) "Before I leave, it would be more than satisfactory for myself — there would be nothing happier for me to be at Bar-BQ-Bar and spill a beer on this girl."
On Nov. 20, catching wind of Giannotta's exit from Orlando, Ms. Defame posted a farewell slideshow for him, set to the tune of Boyz II Men's "End of the Road." She's never one to miss a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
Even as a friend to Defame (and to a degree, Giannotta), Paul Geller suspects that the blog may be doing more harm than good. Geller helped start Saturday/Thursday, and thus downtown's most recent "scene." He was let go from Firestone in April 2007, but continues to host his Monday night Crush events at Back Booth while branching out into other club ventures throughout Florida. His nights, and he himself, have been Defamed many times.
"I've always sort of disagreed with Defame for what it was doing," he says. "It makes people really, really self-conscious. Basically it made my job harder."
He says that Defame raises people's inhibitions and makes them less likely to want to be out anywhere where there's a camera present, or worse, Defame Orlando.
But he doesn't suggest that Defame could bring down a scene by itself. Scenes by nature are short-lived, and the scenester class of 2006 was bound to have moved on by now. Carnival picked it up, and now it's gone, too. Giannotta certainly contributed to his own problems by letting things get out of hand in public. Also, the current economic climate is "unprecedented," he says. You can't fill a club with no money. The people are in the dive bars, not the scene.
Or they're reading about it online.
# # #
There aren't many people in the Bar-BQ-Bar on a Tuesday night in mid-November. Defame's author is sipping a nonalcoholic beverage and contemplating whether or not to reveal her identity for this piece. Meanwhile, an acquaintance of hers is gabbing about how she thinks a disco night would be a good thing, so long as it included some crowd-pleasers and some dark underground classics. She would do the hustle.
"She'll talk your ear off," the author texts me, Defaming in real time.
"Kids" by MGMT blares from the jukebox, like a shirtless indie hipster soundtrack, while we wobble on our bar stools.
She doesn't know what's next for the site. Maybe it would be better if the comment function were disabled. Maybe it would be better if her name were out there, so people would know it was her and not some "douchebag guy" writing those biting quips about downtown. She's proud of the site and thinks she's missing her due, although there are those nagging safety concerns.
She can't quite own the mess she's
"So," I pose the question. "Let's do it. What's your real identity?"
"OK." She pauses. "My name is …"