I’m just going to leave this here. Let this set the tone.
Let this song help you understand the emotions I go through when I think about this time in my life.
After Angelina visited last weekend and we watched all those Phantom movies, we started getting wistful about our old days as sadsack lovelorn phangirls. Nella still had a lot of these old e-mail correspondences that chronicled the adventures, thoughts and ideas we penned together.
…and then she sent them to me.
What lay within that text was a veritable Ark of the Covenant filled with the most unimaginable blistering stupidity
Our earliest days on the Internet… it was real bad, y’all.
My dad, neo-luddite that he was, resisted us buying a computer for the longest time. Keep in mind, this was in the early days of TRL. The Clinton administration was drawing to a close. Hell, we as a society were quickly moving past dial-up. My family was possibly the last of everyone I knew to know the wonder and the glory of Windows 95 and those quaint dial-up sounds. Does anyone else remember the screaming that resulted of the surreptitious hogging of the one phone line in the house? Good times, good times.
When Dad did finally cave, it was just as I was getting back from that trip from New York with Young Life, Phantom soundtrack in tow, and boy howdy you best believe I listened to that thing backwards and forwards. KoRn, what KoRn? MTV, what MTV? I had a new Thang, and his name was Erik.
So of course, the very second our state of the art AOL connection began to crawl against the pavement of the Information Superhighway, I lit up my Yahoo! search for all things Phantom.
And that’s when it happened. That is when I found it.
Oh, fields of glory, how I romped through you. After I moved through every specialty site dedicated to Phantom fanfiction on the Internet, I read every single fic on fanfiction.net. Every. Last. One. You mean people would write stories about how Erik and Christine were clearly meant to be? Even better, that people would write stories where Erik moved on and found other women, better women than that moron Christine, who was just too much of a self-absorbed prissy pants to understand how wonderful and beautiful the Phantom was? Wait, you mean I could write one of my very own?
And I did just that.
Her name was Athena, because I like had a Greek Mythology thing and I was deep and wise and vaguely pagan, not like stupid Christine. Greek Mythology: it’s ethnic for white people! And she was an amazing pianist, and had black eye contacts because I might have still had a residual fixation on Wes Borland, and she might have had a pet cheetah or something, I dunno. All I know was it was the most original thing anyone had ever thought of, and it really captured my pure, pure love for Erik.
I later found out the hard way that there was something of a stigma against that sort of thing. Well, I didn’t care, I was proud of my creation! So proud I didn’t erase it from the face of the Internet for a whole six months when a random stranger finally called me out on what an abominable, unoriginal Mary Sue it was.
But I was not the only one with a love for self-insert Phantom fanfics. Oh, no, there were others.
Back then, fanfiction.net had a forum, and one thread might have been devoted to vitriol against Raoul and Christine. There appeared to be a group that already existed of like-minded folk, similar sorts that could stand against the tyranny of the anti-Mary Sue brigade. I joined one of their chats one night, absolutely giddy at the prospect of the new friends who were so very into the thing I was into. I remember arriving in the chat room, ready and willing to meet all these wonderful new friends so we could squee our lives away about how much we understood the Phantom’s pain. “We’re mostly here,” said one of them. “We’re still waiting for Antonella.”
“Antonella,” I thought. “What a weird name.”
There were five of us that first time. There was Kristen and Antonella, both from different regions in New York, Angie from Delaware, the youngest by a few years, and another girl who was a couple years our senior, a total snob named Lisa. She was a very dedicated and serious “phan.” Even then she was already amassing one of the biggest Phantom merchandise collections on the Internet. Right off the bat she wasn’t very interested in our silliness. Lisa was a proud Erik/Christine shipper, and was one of those who looked down her nose at the Mary Sue writers and sought to keep the fandom â€œpure.â€ She entered our group chats rarely after that first time, but despite our vast differences in fandom philosophy, despite the fact that she had her own group of friends, we kept in touch.
That summer, we talked every day for hours. Every single day. I remember the one week where Angie had to go on vacation with her family, and oh what agony to have this missing piece in our little chats! Oh, what agony! Our suffering was almost as beautiful as the Phantom’s suffering. We needed Angie to complete the circlejerk!
Between the four of us, we had some Heavenly Creatures shit going on. It was a good damn thing we didn’t live in the same state, or we might have ended up killing someone’s mother.
And boy let me tell you what, we were fucking awful. I don’t mean that in the “We wrote shitty fanfiction” way (well, we did, but that’s beside the point). I’m not even talking about the truly awful “roleplay” we did, which I may attempt to post synopses of one of these days if I can force myself to wade through it. No, I mean we were awful people.
Our little Internet clique was predicated on disdain for Christine. The name we had chosen for our little club? “The Worthier Ladies.”
I just want to let that to sink in for a minute.
That word. Let it surround you. Marinate in it. Let it seep into your skin.
Not preferable. Not superior. Not even sexier. “Worthier.”
Our entire little club was predicated on the idea that we were worthier of a fictional man. Worthier than his fictional love, who was too “stupid” to “get” how awesome he was.
Oh no. We understood his Beautiful Suffering. We understood that Christine was a moron for refusing the hideously ugly, death-obsessed, possessive, controlling, kidnapping, torturing, murdering Erik. We were the Worthier Ladies.
Erik was the goal. And we were the worthy ones.
The Internet has given a forum for like-minded sorts to find each other. I should add the caveat, however, that this is not necessarily a good thing! NAMBLA, for instance, is an organization of like-minded folk who find each other more easily thanks to the Internet. Online fandoms can also exacerbate those obsessive tendencies to genuinely unhealthy degrees.
On the plus side, I had, for the first time in my life, found like-minded people.
On the other side, we used our newfound powers for evil. Pure unadulterated evil.
We made a subforum dedicated to how stupid we thought Christine was, and I can honestly say in all my dealings with the Internet, there is nothing I am more ashamed of than this. Not out of respect to Christine — Christine is a fictional character. She is not real. No, my horror stems from this god-awful internalized misogyny, that we would demonize the woman and worship the man. The sociopathic monster of a man who, might I add, killed people. Like, lots of people. And had a torture chamber in his fucking house.
Oh, but we understood him! Unlike that slattern Christine!
But wait. Sadly, there’s more.
Maybe five years later, I was at a Starbucks when, through a mutual friend, I met another girl who had been on the forums in those days, one of the first things she said was, “I think I know you. Were you with that Worthier Ladies group?”
It took me a minute to even register what she was talking about. I had buried that so far in my mind that I had totally forgotten that that was what we even called ourselves at one point. That was a lifetime ago! “I think so?” I admitted.
â€œYou guys were such bullies!â€ she said. She was saying it as an adult, but there was some hurt there, a resentment at least deep enough to remember what our little group was called. “You were so mean to me in the review section for my stories!”
I was shocked. We were? I don’t remember that. I don’t remember that at all. Perhaps this girl was over-sensitive, perhaps she was misremembering, but whatever we had done she recalled it enough to remember it us by name. I barely remembered the names we used, and that was all I did that summer! So clearly we had done something, in which case, as happens so often, the bullied, the misunderstood, the sad and the lonely find like minded sorts and become bullies themselves. Hey, we were insecure and powerless. This is a thing insecure, powerless people do. But to that girl, if we did bully you, I apologize.
As I said, we were assholes.
I think my mother tolerated my Internet doings because, even if it wasn’t her preferred method of going outside and socializing, I did seem happier. Filled with gratuitousness and stupidity though that summer was, like all good (or terrible) things it had to end. I remember somewhere in August talking to that snob Lisa again about college choices. I was hoping maybe I could move to New York when I graduated high school. “I’m actually moving to New York soon!!!” she said.
What a coincidence, thought I. “What, are you going to NYU? Columbia? Juilliard?”
“No, Pace University,” she said. “Getting on the plane next week!!!”
It seemed a bit too convenient, too coincidental. I decided that she was lying, and likely some old Internet pervert, the kind your parents warn you about.
I talked to Antonella around the same time about the same future, a future that now seemed a bit brighter. “I’ve been looking around, but I really want to go to NYU,” I said.
“Me too!” said Antonella. “It’s my first choice; my dad went there!”
“Really!” said I. Unlike with that total snob and probable pervert Lisa, this didn’t send up any little red flags. “Could you imagine how awesome it would be if we both got into NYU and became roommates?”
“That would be so awesome!” said Antonella. “Maybe we will!”
That possible future was all I worked toward for the next two years.