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net.wars: So long, and thanks for all the pink wishes...

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 09 June 2006


I thought for a long time she was a man. No real-life woman, I thought, could possibly be so absurd, even as an ironic joke, as to refer to herself as The Pink Princess.

Wendy M Grossman

"Dahling," she posted in 1999 when I (accurately) stated my age as 45 on the newsgroup alt.showbiz.gossip, "I think counting every birthday is un-necessesarily greedy, and quite vulgar." (Was the spelling deliberate?)

I figured she was as female as Dame Edna Everidge, but so what? It was Usenet as performance theatre. So there was a Pink Princess who lived in a castle (Havencrest, in Savanna, Illinois) and claimed to give sumptuous dinner parties. Sure.

What did give me pause in the blithe assumption that she had to be fake was the pictures on her (pink, of course) Web page, which she had described to me as "about my RL". It featured her and her Prince in a series of pictures of quite exotic and lavish-looking interiors: here and here. Even assuming you could get a friend, actor, or husband to do a photo shoot, where would you get those interiors? Yes, all right, film-makers dress sets all the time, but that seems like an awful lot of work just to make an impression on Usenet.

I see, searching through old email, that in 1999, around the time she published her book on etiquette, Millennial Manners, that I told her that I had always assumed she was male. The relaxed nature of her response was an important reason why I eventually decided she probably wasn't.

"I think that is rather common, especially considering the group, and its population," she replied by email. "My autobiography, published in 1984, has pictures of me from the age of three days, so, while it would have increased my ASG/ACF stock considerably, it would have been too easy for a troll to shatter that illusion. Amusingly, many think that LCM [a fellow poster and apparently a good friend of hers in real life] is a girl, I never let him forget that, teehee!" And she signed it, like all her messages, "Pink Wishes". I didn't have many emailed exchanges with her, but in one of the others I asked her about her "fantasy persona", noting that I didn't intend the characterisation to be offensive.

"Oh, dahling, I don't find that offensive," she replied. "I mean how seriously can one take flying monkeys and a diet of Godiva and pink champagne?" She added the URLs above and a note, "Although my RL has a good bit of fantasy in it, too, teehee!" This was, I think, the message that made me believe she had to be, utterly counterintuitively, exactly who she said she was, with only a modest garnish of poetic license. Someone acting a part – say, Mae West – would have responded in character, avoiding displaying this consciousness behind it. A psycho would have protested angrily. Or so it seemed to me.

It was rare for me to have this kind of suspicion. Oprah, sometime in the late 1990s, did one of those mainstream-meets-the-terrible-Internet programs, in which she casually tossed off the remark that "90 percent of the time people online aren't what they seem". I remember reacting with some outrage: my experience was that 90 percent of the time people were exactly who they said they were, though sometimes who they said they were was…unusual. Larry Gelbart, the creator of MASH, hangs out on Usenet; so did one of the Frasier producers. The Pink Princess obviously didn't have their achievements; but her presence was no more or less improbable.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that there are few things more likely to annoy me than flamboyant, classic femininity. I hate pink. I loathe the attitude that says women do or should lie about their ages. (In fact, almost all the people I've known who lied about their ages have been men.) I can't stand frills, non-functional garments, make-up, hair care that takes more than five minutes, and overly ornate jewelry.

And yet her combination of malicious wit and kindness made it forgivable.

Google records that our first exchange on the newsgroup alt.showbiz.gossip was on October 6, 1997, around the time when Drudge was getting his Drudge Report going. But the first exchange I remember was asking why everyone said "l___", as if lesbian had become a swear word. She responded, by email, with a full explanation. She didn't berate that "l____" was explained in the group's Anti-FAQ. She was welcoming.

Her real name, I know now, was Adrianne Blue Wakefield-St George. The castle was real, the dinner parties were real, and the business she and her husband ran manufacturing mascot costumes was seriously real. The old-timers in alt.showbiz.gossip report sending her their real-life addresses so they could get one of her (they say) lavishly ornate Christmas cards. An astonishing number of people remember her as "really sweet" and "an original".

And so, one of the great characters of Usenet becomes a search item in Google Groups. She lived the way she wanted to live, and she entertained others with it. How many people can say that? As the Princess was signing her postings recently, Live, live live!

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Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).