Forgotten Web Celebrities: PsychoExGirlfriend's Mark McElwain
Just about seven years ago, a guy named Mark McElwain came up with a stunningly simple idea for a Web site: take a bunch of old voicemail messages, convert them to MP3's, and upload them for the multitudes to listen to. What made McElwain's project, dubbed PsychoExGirlfriend.com, a bona fide Web sensation was the bizarre and troubling content of these voicemails, which were claimed to have been left by an estranged female lover who begged, cajoled, screamed and raved through fifty of these 45-to 120-second psychodramatic recordings before lapsing into a catatonic funk.
Media pundits were quick to dub PsychoExGirlFriend part of a new wave of sites inverting the public and private spheres, and McElwain soon became the most sought-after man in cyberspace. Were the recordings real or fake? Had the girlfriend committed suicide as she often threatened to do on the voicemail system? Was McElwain the most cosmically callous lover since Hamlet or an earnest, heartbroken Dallas IT professional seeking psychic release by sharing the rantings of this charmingly desperate woman in a post-new age rite of catharsis?
Nobody really knew the answer. Soon an investigative Web journalist offered what appeared to be undeniable proof that PscyhoExGirlfriend.com was nothing more than a sinister hoax meant to lure browsers into the clutches of an evil ring of pop-up advertising vendors. Others deemed the messages real but the purpose of the site vile, abusive, sadistic, and oppressively mysogonistic.
The spiralling cycle of uncertainty and confusion propelled the site's popularity to hitherto unknown heights, as did Cafepress.com's preemptory decision to close down the online store associated with PsychoExGirlFriend.com after receiving a blizzard of furious anti-abuse e-mails. Now "corporate censorship" added itself to the poisonous cloud of issues swirling around McElwain, further driving traffic and media attention from such press organs as Wired, USA Today, and even Good Morning America (which subsequently declined to interview McElwain after he failed to produce his allegedly "psycho" ex-girlfriend. The end result soon made PsychoExGirlFriend.com, in McElwain's words, "the most viewed non-commercial website to date."
Today, little Web matter beyond several hundred broken links marks the place where psychoexgirlfriend.com once stood. The original URL is unoccupied (albiet still reserved by someone who's very hard to track down), yet original copies of the controversial MP3's can still be listened to, thanks to their being mirrorred by fans of online psychodrama as well as being spidered by the Internet Archive. McElwain himself has dropped off the Web's radar screens, although it is not impossible that he is at this very moment gathering additional libraries of emotionally-charged voicemails that may someday appear on the Web.
An apparently unrelated site called Psycho-Ex.com continues to function (although its badly bitrotten Weblog section, last updated in April of 2001, suggests that its spirit may be seriously ailing). It does not seem that Psycho-Ex.com was a "rip off' - an all too typical occurence on the Web - of McElwain's original project. In fact, the Internet Archive contains proof that Psycho-ex.com actually predated PsychoExGirlfriend.com by at least six months, a fact suggesting that McElwain may have been influenced by it when considering the purpose, if not the actual morphology, of the project which ulitimately became PsychoExGirlFriend.com.
Despite the predictions of some journalists, "jilted lover" sites such as PsychoExGirlFriend.com never caught on as a genuine Internet meme. Perhaps it's because too many of these disappointed people have moral scruples about uploading their intimate recorded moment to the Net to be pored over and passed around by guffawing strangers. In my view, however, the fact that psychoexgirlfriend.com has no descendants has nothing to do with morality: it's simply because most voicemails left behind by jilted lovers are just too depressingly pedestrian to listen to.
If you have information about the current whereabouts of Mark McElwain or any amplifications/corrections to this article, please send e-mail to Steve Baldwin and I will include it as time provides.
(Update 6/29/07: A page on the partially-restored Netslaves.com site contains an interview with Mark McElwain, plus an extensive discussion of his site. This page was originally published on March 26, 2001).