Loli-chan is a modern-day Rapunzel, locked inside a South Miami fortress of rust and weeds on a dead-end street. She rarely leaves a guest house that sits in a jungle-like yard overrun with six peacocks and half as many junked cars. Ten paces away is her parents’ place. Wooden boards and strips of tin foil cover its windows.
This damsel in distress is a chubby-cheeked, blue-haired, five-foot-and-a-quarter-inch, twenty-year-old womanchild in a push-up bra and jeans with stylish zippers that zigzag across her curvaceous frame. She doesn’t drive and has never lived apart from her folks, except for an ill-fated year at a private university in North Florida.
Loli and I are chatting on a quiet Friday afternoon, when suddenly her Razr phone lights up blue. Her half-moon eyes turn to dinner plates when she pulls it to her dainty ear.
“We don’t have guests in our house, and you can’t, either!” her mom shouts in Colombian-accented Spanish so loud I can hear it. Then she tells her daughter this place is no “putería” ― whorehouse.
Loli gulps a glass of Smirnoff Ice Green Apple Bite and tries to calm herself. Her full lips swallow the tears as she translates: “I was told to end my social engagement and that I wasn’t allowed to have people over.”
Standing nearby is her boyfriend, who cooks a mean eggplant Parmesan and tidies their shared space. Lucien has short, strawberry-blond hair, wears a “Don’t Tread on Me” tank top over his slender frame, and punctuates almost every sentence with “bro.” The 22-year-old explains that Loli’s dad is probably paranoid because the last time she invited a friend over, it ended badly. After taking a particularly nasty brand of hallucinogenic known as 2-CE, Loli ended up in the hospital, he says.
Now visitors are infrequent and unwelcome. “They have a lot of handguns, bro,” Lucien says of her mom and dad. “You should probably leave.”
The real reason for the parental paranoia is this: Loli is a pedophile celebrity who began cultivating a following when she posted photos of herself online at age thirteen. She made her name on 4chan, the famously anarchic bulletin board that turned ten years old this past September. She befriended hundreds of men who would correspond with her daily over Instant Messenger. A few tricked her into taking her clothes off, which increased her popularity. At one point, a handful of fan sites existed solely to share her images.
She is what’s known online as a Chan ― one of maybe twenty girls who became famous in the mid-’00s for posting photos of themselves on image boards. Many men developed a lifelong obsession with the youngest Chan, whom they named after the book Lolita. Although some of these young women have gone on to achieve mainstream or cult fame, Loli now spends her days living a cloistered and fearful existence, stripping for dimes in front of her webcam.
When her parents gave her an HP computer at age eleven, no one could have predicted she would end up suspended from her Catholic school, committed to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s psych ward, and resorting to sex work as an adult.
Loli isn’t a big drinker ― she rarely imbibes anything with an alcohol content above 5 percent ― but now she’s uncharacteristically downing her third beverage in fifteen minutes. She’s doing it for courage.
Slumped over on a cream-colored couch, she admits how the whole mess began: “I used to make friends over the Internet because I couldn’t have friends in real life.”
As I head to my car, an aged beagle with a ping-pong-ball-sized tumor behind its right ear follows me down the meandering driveway. Even the peacocks jut their heads threateningly. Although I’ve agreed to return, the message is clear: Stay away from Loli-chan.********
Before there were sexpots, there were coffeepots. The first Internet celebrity was a first-come/first-served coffee machine shared by computer scientists at Cambridge University in England. The faculty members who sat next to the machine could smell a new pot as soon as it was prepared, which allowed them to bogart the brew.
In 1991, the faculty set up a camera that would allow people sitting in other rooms to view the coffeepot remotely. They aimed to level the playing field. But after they posted a link to the Trojan Room Coffee Cam online, it received 2 million hits.
It was proof that people will watch anything, even boiling water.
The first legitimate camgirl came five years later. Jennifer Ringley was a pretty blond Pennsylvanian who set up a live stream from her dorm room at Dickinson College. The twenty-year-old broadcast herself 24/7, chatted with fans on message boards, and kept publicly viewable diaries. Ringley told the BBC that 100 million people would log on each week to watch her muse about romance and perform mundane tasks. She would have sex on camera, but Jennicam wasn’t explicitly pornographic; it was a documentation of her life.