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by Shawn Rider
November 15, 2005

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Dr. Joseph P. Morton, Professor of Cultural Studies, looked older than he felt. He always looked that way first thing in the morning, when he saw himself in the bathroom mirror. It wasn't that Morton was so obsessed with his appearance. It was the lighting. The fluorescent tube gave a pale green cast to his skin, and the light was angled just perfectly to highlight his thinning hair. He had long since convinced himself that, in fact, the light in his bathroom made it look worse.

Morton had been stymied on his research since landing the first position he applied to after receiving his PhD. His doctoral dissertation had been a groundbreaking write-up of key players in the Internet bubble of the late 1990s entitled "Radder Than Radd: The Radical Ad Rhetoric of RADDSTURR-dot-com and the Future of Marketing Culturization." Long after the "bubble popped," Morton had found plenty of success with any essay containing a URL or a smattering of techno-jargon in the title.

He had mined his dissertation for a few notable articles, including the seminal essay, "Radder You, Radder Me: RADDSTURR-dot-com and the Birth of P2P Viral Marketing." That paper got him calls from television shows, and eventually all the attention landed him a mainstream book deal. RADDSTURR-Nomics, the resulting book, was a detailed accounting of the company. He had interviewed founders Berkeley Knudsen and Stan Marshall to get the full first-hand account of the birth of the company. Morton had never engaged in any kind of investigative research, and it had proved to be a very difficult experience.

It became apparent that Berkeley was a semi-autistic obsessive-compulsive who lived for programming, fast cars, and women. He had famously wrecked three Ferarris in the first year of the company's life, endangering the then-fledgling business. Stan was a numbers cruncher, concerned with making good investments and draconian budgeting. It didn't take much to satisfy Berkeley, and everyone else at RADDSTURR was expected to deal with the same low-cost amenities. The company's offices stood in stark contrast to the personality they marketed.

When Morton had asked them about the creation of their legendary corporate image, Stan and Berkeley were candid: They had nothing to do with it. The whole thing was planned out by an old college friend of Berkeley's. She was starting a web and interactive design firm, and she worked cheap. She did all the work over the course of six months of intense production, partially for credit in a senior studio course, and then RADDSTURR had milked that groundwork for nearly five years.

None of these details made it into the book. It was a black hole that remarkably few of his colleagues had noticed, if any. Nobody had ever commented on the lack of explanation about the development of these corporate messages. The story of two rockstar entrepreneurs in the heyday of the tech boom building a new breed of corporate personality was enough to keep the book readable for most audiences. Without the details about their college friend, Stan and Berkeley became dynamic personalities, brilliant leaders. With the added realization, the book, and Morton's arguments, lost a good measure of appeal.

His career had been built on erroneous assumptions about planned and plotted corporate messages conveyed in deceptively ordinary videos, imagery, and text, proliferated using a vast network of connected teenagers and college students. He had previously envisioned a synergy of two wildly creative thinkers operating 'outside the box.' Other tech companies had contracted to up-and-coming design firms, creating a secondary wave of creative production agencies sprouting up to serve the ever-bloating needs of businesses founded on pipe dreams and pipelines, marketing hype and imaginary numbers.

But Berkeley was in the media. He was often the only recognizable face, and he was never shy about representing RADDSTURR, for better or worse. Berkeley and RADDSTURR were two facets of the same being, all agreed.

And that's what made RADDSTURR different in the minds of the customers and in the eyes of several key venture capitalists. When the now-legendary "Dorm-Cam" video came out, there was a huge furor over decency. This was marketing that didn't just lure you in with pretty sights and sounds; this was marketing that grabbed you by the balls and shoved them down your throat. It was sick and titillating and the public loved it.

Morton loved it. His roommate downloaded the "Dorm-Cam" video during their Freshman year and spent the next six months playing along with the dedicated online group, at first totally believing in the video, and later treating it like a treasure hunt.

It took him several months to accept the notion that there were "puppet masters" involved. The thought that someone had made up and planted every clue, every website, every photo and video--it was all too much for him to take at first. He had believed it so much. He had signed into RADDSTURR. He had registered for the premium account. Pre-paid for two years. He had bought in.

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