Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Monkey Recycles: Part II

If you haven't read part one, scroll down to the "Part I" entry or click here.

Information Supernatural Highway
Soon after Teajay put Ghost in a Jar up for auction on eBay, unusually high bids were submitted and quickly withdrawn by new and experienced eBay users alike. By the time the sale ended more than 80 bids had been retracted or canceled. One bid was retracted because Teajay's approval rating as an eBay seller was too high. Retracting a bid because the seller's feedback summary is too good is akin to refusing food because it looks too fresh.

Two days after bidding commenced Teajay began posting almost daily to assure the audience that Ghost in a Jar was not a hoax. He also clarified that the other items referencing Ghost in a Jar were in no way related to his sale.

Ghost in a Jar had attracted so much attention that many seized the opportunity to capitalize on the phenomenon and make a profit -- like t-shirt sales at an execution. Dozens of items that parodied, mocked, paid homage to or simply stood on the shoulders of Ghost in a Jar were put up for sale.

Highlights of this generally humorous batch included:
~ A collar and leash for training your Ghost in a Jar
~ Movie rights to the story
~ Legal representation for Ghost in a Jar
~ A Fonzie tote bag to carry the jar

One listing offered a homeless ghost looking for a jar. The picture featured a white tissue decorated with a sad face, wrapped around what was probably a lollipop.

"Jar in a Ghost" (not Ghost in a Jar, the seller promised) boasted its own origin story and pictures of the titular phantom: a translucent figure named Herbert, who bore a striking resemblance to Thomas Edison. Floating in Herbert's shimmering white torso was a jar that appeared to contain okra or possibly pickles.

News of the Ghost in a Jar sale travelled fast around the Web via blogs, e-mail and a few news Websites. [Remember this was 2003, when RSS feeds were new and social networking had barely passed from Friendster to MySpace, not to mention that cell phones and other mobile devices in the U.S. were not nearly as sophisticated as they are today. -- ed.] And then it all came crashing down at the end of the auction cycle.

Less than 30 minutes before bidding closed on June 5, a buyer going by the handle "gary_the_gimp_horn" bid $50,922.00 (USD). He retracted this bid with less than five minutes remaining before eBay could legally force "gary" to pay in full.

The sale of Ghost in a Jar was nullified by eBay management and nearly every Ghost in a Jar-inspired item was likewise removed from the virtual shelf. Some who followed the bid history for Ghost in a Jar say the price reached as high as $999 million.

One disappointed participant and eager observer goes by the eBay user name Midnightdread. His Ghost in a Jar-motivated auction item was Gary_the_gimp_horn's Ghost in a Ghost Jar. To clarify, Midnight dread was selling the ghost of the final Ghost in a Jar bidder, in a ghost jar. The starting bid was $6.66.

Midnightdread described what the highest bidder would receive: "A ghost in a ghost jar, shipped flat with heavy cardboard protection, just like my instructions said … I might have included the Casper poster too."

The Casper poster to which he refers is a Haight-Ashbury psychedelic-style advertisement for a wrap party held for Industrial Light & Magic employees to celebrate the completion of the special effects for the 1995 film adaptation of Casper the Friendly Ghost -- a collector's item of unknown value.

But Midnightdread had the sell the poster on its own. Site managers at eBay canceled his Ghost in a Ghost Jar listing along with a swath of others. EBay informed him via e-mail that his auction did "not appear to be consistent with eBay guidelines."

Midnightdread sent a reply to formally protest the cancellation. His four-paragraph missive addressed issues of free speech and artistic expression. He pointed out than an item as potentially dubious as the original Ghost in a Jar went unnoticed despite the high number of inflated and retracted bids. He further argued that eBay was squashing an entertaining and ultimately harmless moment in Web history.

"They had a spontaneous, genuine happening going on," said Midnightdread. "Like true party poopers [eBay] killed almost all of it. Their response was an overreaction magnified by ten."

That eBay turned on the lights and told everyone to go home is no surprise. In the modified free market the auction site provides, there was nothing in place to stop joe_stoner_dork from placing a bid on Ghost in a Jar, with no intention of paying it, and accidentally winning. Teajay, the thoughtless bidder, and eBay would then be left to fight it out, possibly in court. No jar, regardless of the contents, is worth that kind of trouble to eBay.

Teajay was not interested in responding to questions posed for this article. An inquiry e-mail to eBay's "more info" address netted no reply either. Numerous questions are left unaddressed.

What would Teajay have considered a reasonable price for Ghost in a Jar? Since the incident, does eBay monitor transactions on the site more closely? If a legitimate buyer had paid in full, what would become of Ghost in a Jar? Would the Black Thing follow the jar to its new home and become a potentially dangerous pest for its new possessor? That is, can a curse be transferred from one person to another simply by selling the cursed item? Or would The Black Thing remain with Teajay, focusing its anger on the one who disturbed its burial site?

Update: For about a year after the Ghost in a Jar/eBay fiasco, Teajay was a minor celebrity on the Web and was even interviewed by a couple talk-radio programs dedicated to paranormal topics. He maintained a blog for a few months in an attempt to prove the legitimacy of Ghost in a Jar. Helpful commentors suggested that The Black Thing, and the method of containment, indicated that Teajay had incurred the wrath of an ill-tempered Djinn, a supernatural creature particular to Islamic mythology. The Website has archived all of the pictures Teajay originally posted on eBay.

Back to Part I