In January 2013, reality television star Spencer Pratt offered use of his official Twitter account to electronic literature writers Mark Marino and Rob Wittig while he was filming Celebrity Big Brother in London. The result was a netprov (networked improv narrative) project in which a fictional British poet supposedly hijacked Spencer’s phone and identity, was then unmasked, and began to promote his own poetry. The fictional British poet wound up encouraging Spencer’s followers to write their own poems. Originally titled “Reality,” the project was dubbed Temporary Spencer or “Tempspence” by fans.
As someone who follows and re-tweets celebrities on Twitter for my own conceptual Twitter project, I came across Tempspence naturally, as I followed and re-tweeted Spencer Pratt already. When Spencer / Temspence tweeted that he was buying his girlfriend Heidi Montag my collaborator Amaranth Borsuk’s digital poetry book Between Page and Screen, the top of my head exploded, in a post-Dickinson-cyberspace kind of way. My own transcription project of an episode of The Hills made Tempspence particularly fascinating to me, since I’d been studying the multi-faceted character of Spencer Pratt for a long time. And of course I cannot resist any project that implodes the false distance between mediums / worlds normally considered totally disparate, such as reality TV and avant garde literature. So, after eagerly following the Tempspence project to its completion, I knew I had to find out more about the masterminds behind it.
Kate: Tell me how Tempspence came about. It seems a miracle of literary and reality TV worlds colliding!
Mark: Spencer was a student in my Advanced Writing course at USC. During that class, Rob and I ran a netprov called F.A.I.L. (Fantasy Automated Investors’ League) with the students. That game introduced Spencer to #netprov, but I believe he has a natural affinity for improvised performance after years on Reality TV. He’d also seen my Workstudy Seth tweets and commiserated about having someone go rogue on your Twitter account. So as January approached and he knew he’d be sequestered from Twitter for three weeks (or less), he asked if I’d be interested in running a netprov through his account. He initially proposed me Tweeting as him on a phone hidden in the Big Brother house, but since the logistics of that were too difficult, given the distance, the constant surveillance, and the time difference, I proposed the “lost phone” idea. Playing a fictional character in England who had found his phone would be much easier, and so on Jan 1, Heidi Tweeted that Spencer had lost the new phone she’d bought Spencer for Christmas during their wild New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Kate: I love this on so many levels. I love that Spencer, the reality TV celebrity, was your student, Mark, and I also love that he was the one who approached you to run a netprov through his account. I love that he “got” the game, and was willing to play, although I think you are right that his work in reality TV would naturally attune him toward improv performance, as well as performance mediated through the latest technological mediums, trying out new ways of reaching an audience. Spencer on The Hills was such a fascinating character–you could almost see his mind working as he improvised scenes, manipulating situations to evoke audience response. It sounds like he saw a similar opportunity in working with you two.
Did Spencer talk to you at all about what he specifically hoped to gain through the experience, or why he wanted to do this? And why did you guys want to do it? Was there a particular experience you wanted to have, or to create?
Mark: Well, Spencer’s account is almost at 1 million followers. Almost. And getting to know him and his oeuvre, I have come to recognize him as king of the publicity stunt. That’s why it was almost impossible to shake people’s belief that Spencer was the one behind the account the whole time. Also, the literary element, the poet and his games, allowed Spencer to do something more sophisticated with his image than say, blowing his fortune on the 2012 apocalypse. For Rob and I, it was a chance to bring netprov to a huge audience that had not previously been exposed to it — except in the very general sense that Spencerpratt account is basically always netprov. But playing with Spencer’s image was the ultimate lure. Like I was saying, as a reality tv star, Spencer lives a kind netprov, and yet people always think they’re getting the “real” him. They were aghast (or pretended to be) at the thought that someone other than Spencer would Tweet from his account either as a stunt or having stolen or found his phone. I would get tides of hate from all sides. READ MORE >