Fake Steve, Unmasked

by Charles Miller on August 7, 2007

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. -- John Gruber, Daring Fireball

I'm not so sure.

Two days ago, Fake Steve Jobs existed in a narrative vacuum. The only point of reference we had to connect him to the real world was the real Steve, and that's part of what made the character work. You couldn't see the man behind the curtain, so everything he said was naturally part of the fiction. The anonymity was part of the performance.

Today, Fake Steve is Daniel Lyons, a real man with an employer, a body of writing, and a book to sell. To me, that changes the game.

Two days ago, it didn't matter that Fake Steve was easier on Forbes than on the rest of the tech press, because Forbes' very existence was irrelevant to Fake Steve. Now you can't help but know that when he calls out a journalist, he's one guy from one magazine sniping at other guys from other magazines.

Two days ago, Fake Steve's hilariously biting commentary about Linux in China existed only in the context of Apple's status as a non-Free Software company. Now it is wrapped in the context of Lyons' own voluminous criticism of the Free Software movement and his running battles with Groklaw.

The act of observing something changes the thing being observed. The author is not dead.

I hope Lyons can continue to use the character of Fake Steve to "speak truth to power" in the tradition of satire. I hope he can stay outrageous now that people can point fingers directly back at the author. I hope Fake Steve can overcome the handicap of suddenly being a real person. It'll just be an uphill battle.


What's been really funny to watch, though, has been the apoplectic implosion of Valleywag.

Beaten to the scoop after so many wrong guesses, bested by the supposedly clueless old media, the gossip blog has been desperately flailing to find some part of the story to claim as its own. And when Fake Steve responds with a pitch perfect comeback, all Valleywag can do is retreat to primary school with "I know you are, but what am I?".

Previously: Big Brother, Uncoordinated

Next: You have got to be kidding...