Naked Australian Redhead -- Missing!
She posed naked on the web, fought for pornography online, and even kept an online "Diary of a Virtual Girlfriend." But after earning a place in internet history, Bernadette Taylor vanished without a trace.
It's been almost a year since her site Bernadette.net disappeared -- so it's only fitting to offer a moment of appreciation. Geeks first learned to love Bernadette in 1998 when the feisty Australian banned Microsoft employees, MSN subscribers, and even people using Microsoft's Hotmail. The spunky Australian asked her subscribers to suggest additional Microsoft products to block -- asking that the emails be sent with the subject line "Piss off Microsoft."
The racy exhibitionist also made war on photo-stealing robots. ("I have most of the bots already redirecting to www.disney.com at the moment so you'll suddenly find your hard drive filling up with 75gig of wholesome family entertainment in no time ... devious huh?") And in her ongoing crusade for the rights of web exhibitionists everywhere, she ultimately tangled with the Australian government. Bernadette fought their new censorship laws by publicizing a list of government domains that were accessing her site. And by photographing herself wearing nothing but a blue ribbon.
She combined her sexy hey-hey with support for the geek community. With collaborator Scott Stubbs, there was tough talk to Wired News about thwarting the Australian censorship laws using off-shore proxy servers -- and she even learned how to program in Java. She also showed an exhibitionist's willingness to personalize her site, offering a free online diary that was surprisingly candid, and nothing but sex-positive. "I for one would rather my child masturbated over a porn magazine," she wrote in one entry, "than went to war, bible bashed people door to door or went around judging others because they were different."
Over the years, the saucy pictures kept a-coming, along with erotic jigsaw puzzles, an X-rated online role-playing game, and online chats. Bernadette was diagnosed with cancer and required chemotherapy -- but she still kept on running her site. Her diary included a stunning story about the thirteen-year-old girl who shared the bed next to her in the cancer ward. (Bernadette eventually went to the girl's funeral.) By 1998, Wired News reported Bernadette.net was racking up a million page views a day. Eventually, Bernadette even had breast augmentation surgery. And then -- the site vanished from the net.
So it's been almost a year, and still no sign of Bernadette Taylor. Like the local legend she is, her mysterious disappearance has provoked some wild theories. (A witness relocation program, durn aliens, a career in poetry writing...) Over at Peeping Moe's, the regulars sit on their virtual barstools, remembering the redhead who wasn't there. "It is my opinion that Miss B. offered and gave much more than she asked... reasonable respect. May she be happy..."
After a bunch of e-mails, I finally found someone who says he knows Bernadette, for whatever that's worth -- who says she's decided to move on. If so, the sad truth would be that Bernadette.net wasn't brought down by censorship, but simply by the passage of time.
There's probably a lesson there somewhere, but I'm not philosophical enough to tease it out. And there's no line of Hallmark cards for "Goodbye, beloved web exhibitionist." But I know that when I remember the giddy early days of the internet, the battles for free speech and the guerilla skirmishes against Microsoft, I'll remember the fun we had along the way.
And I'll remember Bernadette Taylor.
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