[T]he death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world — and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover.
-Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition” (1846)
A famous American sports star recently suffered the tragic loss of his true love… or not. Manti Te’o is, apparently, a famous football player, and adored one Lennay Kekua. The latter suffered from extremely bad luck, then died. But the story was a hoax, a daring tale, one that helped build up Te’o’s reputation.
Lennay Kekua’s death resonated across the college football landscape—especially at Notre Dame, where the community immediately embraced her as a fallen sister. Charity funds were started, and donations poured into foundations dedicated to leukemia research. More than $3,000 has been pledged in one IndieGogo campaign raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
There are Gothic elements to this story, of course. We led off with the famous Poe quote, which helps explain the narrative’s appeal even to jaded audiences of 2013. Slate writes, wonderingly,
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend is neither dead nor Manti Te’o’s girlfriend nor a corporeal being.
Then there is also the posthumous aspect, from the CNN lede:
Manti Te’o’s deceased girlfriend tweeted late Wednesday night.
That is because there really is a Lennay Kekua, an actual person who never met the football star. What a weird burden to be placed upon her.
The creepy digital media aspect is also quite clear. Hoaxes have been part of the digital media world since it began. The story occurred in that rich space between digital storytelling and online hoaxing. As Deadspin notes,
Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
There are codes, some still unbroken (MSMK?).
As a final note, this story is an interesting one for the ancient American culture divide between geeks and jocks. Will non-geek sports fans see this as a digital prank played on one of their own, opening up that divide? Or has the sports world internalized digital technology so deeply that the issue won’t surface? And what does this tell us about the Gothic aspects of professional sports culture?