“It was literally months and months and months of thinking about it, planning for it,” says Bebe Zeva, crying. I’m in a cab with the 17-year-old fashion blogger, leaving New York’s SoHo House where her documentary Bebe Zeva, by Tao Lin and Megan Boyle, just premiered. Zeva, who is relatively unknown beyond a small coterie of internet fans, is having what appears to be a mini celebrity meltdown. “It was a ninety-minute thing and everyone left right afterwards. And no one talked to me.” The two other passengers in the taxi, Dave and Leigh, are Zeva's internet friends, people who prior to tonight she had only met online. Another internet friend is sitting in the front seat of the cab holding up a MacBook and filming Zeva with it as we ride.
“Just take for granted that you’re going to be successful,” says Leigh in consolation. She pulls out her iPhone, holds it in the air and plays the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. “If you’re going to take anything for granted Bebes, it should be that you’re a special person who’s going to achieve what you want. You just keep your eyes on it.”
Bebe Zeva isn’t an online sensation in the Rebecca Black way – she isn’t even an online sensation in a Celeste Kellogg way, really – but she’s trying. What does she do? Well, she’s basically filling the void left by the disappearance of Cory Kennedy’s Wikipedia page by keeping two popular blogs, twittering voraciously (she has 2,494 followers as of 29/03/11) and responding to thousands of questions on Formspring. She’s not famous yet, but she wants to be.
The library of SoHo House was full to capacity for the premiere of Bebe's film, though most people there had never heard of her. Even Tao Lin and Megan Boyle — both writers who recently started producing films under the entity MDMA Films — didn’t know that much about Zeva before deciding to film her.
Zeva and Lin are kindred spirits of the “relevancy gaining stunt” (i.e. attempts to increase online notoriety). Tao Lin has attracted attention for shit like selling his personal effects on eBay and selling shares to royalties for his novel Richard Yates before he started writing it, while Bebe’s rise to micro-infamy started after she did a modeling stint for Hipster Runoff. “Carles and I maintain the same ‘the Internet is just a game’ mindset,” Zeva said in a 2010 interview about the editor of HR.
In the film, which took one night to film and 24 hours to edit, Tao Lin and Megan Boyle follow Zeva around her home city of Las Vegas. Zeva plays the part of compliant diva, welcoming them into her lavish condo then taking them through casinos, malls and Planet Hollywood as she’s filmed by Lin and Boyle with a MacBook while they ask her questions like, “How many Twitter followers does the toilet have?” “Would you rather weigh 500 pounds or not have two arms?” “Who has the best internet nose?” Sometimes you can’t hear what they’re saying. Sometimes there are jarring sounds as if the MacBook hit a wall accidentally. And sometimes Lin and Boyle say things to each other out of Zeva’s earshot like, “let the silence go on and she’ll say something revealing.”
Zeva talks about never having met her father, and about the “bleakness of life" (a statement perhaps casually lifted from any number of awful bedhead movies). She talks about being home-schooled, and not having any friends other than a couple of 15-year-olds. How does she deal with it? “I try to prove myself on the internet by like getting friends like that,” she says.
The film is basically just a series of meaningless scenes, like when Zeva shoplifts a bag from Bebe at the urging of Lin and Boyle, and when she lets Lin and Boyle force-feed her. “Tao got really creepy with the whipped cream,” says a young filmmaker I met about the scene where Tao Lin squirts whipped cream into the underage Bebe Zeva’s mouth. “Stone-cold creepy. And [Zeva] totally took it.” This filmmaker, (a Facebook friend of Tao Lin who only met him tonight) found Bebe Zeva interesting as an “internet creation” but he thought Tao Lin was “the cool kid in film school who makes some rad commentary on celebrity.”
Lin and Boyle seem less interested in traditional filmmaking than they do in capturing the kind of whimsical, low-stakes solipsism and staged hyper-self-awareness found on YouTube. Bebe, Lin and Boyle know that the barrier to fame has been broken down so much that the jump from home-schooled obscurity to some perceived celebrity status is just two to three thousand Twitter followers away. Enough people know who they are to fill this screening, anyway.
When the film ends, Zeva, wearing a long, gauzy black robe-like garment over a tight black dress and piles of necklaces, occasionally got up off the Chesterfield where she had been eating chicken wings and walked to the DJ booth to change the music. People socialised amongst themselves, but very few people did so with Zeva.
Although she has claimed on her blog that she’s not ‘internet famous – Not even remotely,” Lin thinks otherwise. When asked if he thinks Zeva is “famous,” Lin says, “I think Bebe is probably, factually, in the top 0.2% of the population in terms of being famous. I think by the end of this month she’ll be in the top 0.01%, maybe.” At the screening, he even calls Zeva a “genius”, much to the chagrin of some of his audience.
Later that night and back inside the car, Zeva’s still crying. “I was in the bathroom stall before the movie started,” she says quietly. “I was thinking: 'Jesus Christ, there was a time when I was in high school and I was sitting in chemistry class weeping into my elbow thinking no one would ever love me. No one would ever know me.'” She takes her floppy black hat off, her large metal bangles clanking, and leans her head against the cab door and cries some more. “What if this is my climax?”
WORDS: ROZALIA JOVANOVIC
PHOTOS: LEIGH ALEXANDER