Fake Steve, Unmasked

There are two erroneous reactions to The New York Times’s unmasking of Fake Steve. The first is denial. E.g., Erica Sadun at TUAW:

We’ve made a pledge to keep Fake Steve fake and we’re sticking with that promise. We all know the news has hit the wires. And you know what? We don’t care. We love Fake Steve just the way he is. Fake.

Pretending he’s still anonymous isn’t going to hold. Fake Steve’s author, Daniel Lyons, is an editor at Forbes, and now that he’s been outed, Forbes is taking over sponsorship of the weblog. The top link right now in the “Forbes.com” section of Fake Steve’s sidebar is “Video: Meet the Real Fake Steve Jobs”, an audio interview with Lyons by Forbes reporter Michele Steele.

Wishing the balloon had never popped is one thing. Trying to unpop it is another.

The second erroneous reaction is writing about Fake Steve in the past tense; assuming that now that he’s been revealed, it’s over, or at the very least all downhill from here. That’s not necessarily so.

The question hinges on what exactly is the main source of Fake Steve’s appeal. Is it that he’s so good — sometimes scathingly funny, sometimes deeply insightful, and, at his best, both? Or was it the fact that his identity was a mystery?

I say it’s that he’s good. That his identity was unknown certainly added a mystique, but it was nothing more than a distraction from the work itself. If it were the main source of Fake Steve’s appeal, the novelty would have worn off months ago.

It’s not surprising that Lyons is a published novelist; he’s created a very clever metafictional narrative, writing from a perspective where he acknowledges that he is Fake Steve while simultaneously never completely breaking character as Real Steve. Think about that. It’s tricky.1

Knowing who the author is doesn’t spoil Fake Steve any more than knowing which cast member is playing the president on Saturday Night Live. It’s the performance that counts, not the secret.

The obvious fear is that without the mask of anonymity, Lyons will be unable to perform with the same ferociousness. But the opposite is just as possible. Now that his identity has been revealed, he’s got nothing to lose. It’s not like he can simply go back to conducting boring-ass interviews with Steve Ballmer for Forbes.

He might as well just let it fly.

  1. In fact, what I expected from Lyons’s “I’ve been outed” acknowledgement on the Fake Steve weblog was something from Real Steve’s perspective, not Fake Steve’s. E.g. something like this:

    So our black ops team finally found the “Secret Diary” bastard who’s been mocking me for the last year. Ends up it’s the same over-the-hill hack from Forbes who wrote this cover story two years ago attacking bloggers for being mean, anonymous, unaccountable cowards. Hypocrisy, have you heard of it? I was about to dispatch Moshe and the boys to pull the guy’s teeth and fingernails out but Katie said no, it’d hurt him more to leak his identity to the press.

    So I sent it over to John Markhoff at The Times, and they had it on the front page of their web site 30 minutes later, just like I asked. Markoff gave the byline and credit for the “scoop” to some sad little man named Brad Stone, who, says Markoff, has been severely depressed since losing both his testicles in some sort of masturbation accident involving a cheese grater. Much love, John, backstage passes to Tuesday’s special event are on the way.