Betty Purslip's first angry e-mail arrived Saturday, March 22, at 1:32 a.m., addressed to a group of undisclosed recipients collectively called email@example.com. Subject: "Boycott the Festival of Breasts!" Message: "Hello, I represent a group concerned with the exploitation and objectification of women. Please don't encourage this outrage in any way. Join us when we picket the Festival of Breasts on 6/15/08 at the Stork Club. With your help we can take a stand against this adolescent misogyny. best regards, Betty Purslip." Return address: "firstname.lastname@example.org."
Admittedly, the name ("Purse Lip") and cumbersome e-mail address might have indicated, to the various people who found Purslip's message languishing in their inboxes on Monday, that something fishy was going on. Still, some of them — myself included — were flummoxed. We couldn't have anticipated that Betty Purslip was actually part of a viral marketing campaign.
A similar e-mail from Purslip arrived Tuesday, May 15, at 10:51 p.m., this time cc'd to Bay Area news station KRON 4. It was followed, shortly thereafter, by a press release for the Festival of Breasts, a thirteen-band showcase and BBQ, with some interpretive dancing thrown in. Then, festival organizer Derek Lindsay sent out a mass e-mail of his own, subject line: "Please support the Festival of Breasts, drop KRON an e-mail." He wrote: "Dear Friends: As you probably have heard, there's a psycho named 'Betty Purslip' who is trying to shut down the Festival of Breasts on 6/15/08 at the Stork Club in Oakland. Please send KRON an email letting them know how you feel about this kind of censorship. While you're at it, send Betty an email letting her know what you think of her. Thanks!"
In fact, Betty Purslip doesn't exist. Lindsay — who christened himself after the Canadian who stole his identity a few years ago, and keeps his real identity under wraps — developed the gimmick shortly after organizing the festival lineup. He has a three-year history of putting on shticky events, starting with 2005's "Festival of Fans," which he and cofounder Anthony Da Rosa envisioned as a showcase for bands with names that no one would actually use, unless the quality of their music justified it (i.e., "Open Sores" or "Fecal Discount Company"). Part of the impetus, of course, was to create a forum for Lindsay's own two bands, rock four-piece the Bleu Canadians (who are supposed to be a separatist group from Quebec), and Bunny Numpkins and the Kill Blow-Up Reaction (in which Lindsay performs under a different radio handle, Patrick Swayze Double Dragon). Lindsay has played guitar in several local bands that varied in quality, though it's apparent his real gifts lie in planning and marketing. Since taking over Festival of Fans in 2006 when Da Rosa jumped ship, he has organized several well-attended spin-offs, including Festival of Capes, Festival of Fitness, and last year's Brick Day Festival — all held at the Stork Club. Each variation involved some kind of prop and a promotional campaign so well-executed it sometimes outpaced the event proper.
The twist, this time, is to get the show covered as a real news story — hence the provocative theme, fake boycott, and shrill e-mails to KRON. "If there's gonna be a protest, we decided we wanted KRON involved," said Lindsay. "They would be the easiest station to get on." But his attempts to reach KRON were met with an ocean of silence. (A KRON employee who didn't want to be identified said she didn't recall receiving any e-mails about the festival.) Lindsay did elicit responses from some people on his e-mail list, however — many of whom wrote to Purselip as though she were a real person. Kelsey Ahern, UCSC women's studies alum and former accordionist for Bunny Numpkins and the Kill Blow-Up Reaction, opined: "We cannot call ourselves critical thinkers if we assume the intentions of the organizers of a Sunday music festival entitled 'Festival of Breasts.'" (She later sent Lindsay a separate e-mail saying that she wasn't sure whether or not Betty Purslip was a joke, but she'd written to KRON anyway.) Others were more intemperate. "Go hug a tree bitch," wrote one unidentified festival supporter in an e-mail addressed to Purslip. "Go find something better to do with your time you boil on a horses [sic] ass."
Much of Lindsay's past success owes to a format that invites audience participation. During Festival of Capes, band members went to the nearby Dollar Store and bought shower curtains to wear as capes. At Festival of Fitness, people arrived in knee socks and neon-colored sweatbands. Lindsay gave out cassette singles of high-energy dance music from the '80s and early '90s (e.g., MC Hammer's "2 Legit 2 Quit" and Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy"), courtesy of his mother, a retired Jazzercise instructor. The Brick Day Festival spawned from a fake holiday that Lindsay invented as an excuse to ditch work and get drunk (you put a brick on the bar and when the bartender asks what it's for, you tell him it's Brick Day). The Festival of Breasts is more opaque, in that it's targeted to anyone who "has boobies, likes boobies, or wants to protest boobies." The theme is pretty much open to interpretation — save for one person enlisted to dress up as a Hooters waitress — though Lindsay promises that he will, indeed, have protest signs available. (Slogans include "Perverts!" and "Don't look at my boobies!") "It's audience participation, but it's not asking too much," Lindsay explained. "It's a step down from those bondage things."
Festival of Breasts marks the first time that Lindsay created a public beef in order to boost ticket sales — and given the success of widely publicized conflicts between reality TV stars and Top 40 rappers, it may be the first to actually catch on, even without KRON news coverage. Lindsay is relentless, after all. A week before the show, he sent out another e-mail with the subject line "Betty Purselip exposed!" It read: "After some crack investigative journalism by The East Bay Express' staff writer, Rachel Swan, it was exposed that Betty Purselip is a hoax! ... As a counter-protest to this chicanery, I am organizing my own protest against the Stork Club Sunday 6/15 Festival of the Breasts to take place at the Stork Club two days earlier on Friday 6/13 at 9pm. I also am organizing another protest to take place at KRON's channel 4 studios on Van Ness on Saturday 6/14 at noon. Friends, please join me, we can't let them get away with this!"
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