It’s hard to remember a time before teens were becoming millionaires overnight by going viral online, slowly turning into our overlords. Maybe some of our readers don’t remember that time at all. But once upon a time, in a year historians and experts refer to as “2006,” the mere idea of “going viral” was a brand new concept. Before Addison Rae, before David Dobrick—hell, even before Rebecca Black—there were legends that would go down in history as our first online sensations.
In the delicate few years following the creation of YouTube, we got the internet at its purest form: all you’d get out of going viral was relentless abuse and getting doxxed. It was lawless, unmonetized chaos, the internet’s own Wild West. Among the viral legends of those days of yore are the people behind the YouTube channel xXblo0dyxkissXx—which, if you’ve existed on the internet in any capacity since 2008, have no doubt graced your screen in some capacity. Anyone who goes to Riot Fest has more than likely been inundated with clips, reaction GIFs and references to the Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness. Maybe you were even lucky enough to bear witness to the expert-level trolling videos of goth sisters “Raven” and “Tara,” sometimes with their friend “Azer,” in real time. Like many young people with a camera and an internet connection in 2008, these teens were trying their hands at trolling—the art of making people incredibly angry—but were unexpectedly met with a success they weren’t prepared for.
Had these videos and their successful analytics happened today, regardless of who “got the joke” or not, it would have translated into 250,000 Instagram followers for all three participants and a deal with whatever company sells those galaxy projection lights advertised under every single viral tweet. Going viral in 2008, though, was different. Three teens had the opportunity to never reveal their identities and never speak of it again. Leaving us all to speculate: Who were they? What happened to them? Did we collectively… imagine them?
Until now. “Raven,” over a decade later, has at long last come forward to tell us the truth. Riot Fest was lucky enough to score a tell-all interview with her.
RIOT FEST: We now know that “Raven” is merely your pen name for what will be remembered as one of the great 2008-era YouTube classics. How would you like to be referred to by us and the American people at large going forward?
SARAH: Hi! I’m Sarah. I’m also Raven, the Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness, and Mistress Petra Hunter.
Going viral in 2007–2010 puts you in great company. Catie Wayne,AKA boxxybabee on YouTube, comes to mind—she similarly had a satirical character she created that ascended to legendary troll status, even with mythology built around the character without her own doing. Have you ever spoken to anybody like Catie who has this kind of shared, unique experience?
Truthfully, I haven’t spoken with anyone else yet who’s had a similar experience. Prior to coming out at the beginning of the month, reaching out to others would have meant outing myself, and I wasn’t ready to do that yet. The decision to come forward was always tricky to navigate for a few reasons: my career as a sex worker means that anything related to my personal life is something I’m hesitant to share; Tara (my younger sister) prefers to stay out of the spotlight for her own reasons. Years ago, Tara and I agreed to keep the mystery alive for as long as possible—around 2019, we even established rules on how long we should wait before telling new friends and boyfriends!
I only came forward because too many people had started to recognize that my Domme persona, Petra, looks a hell of a lot like a grown-up Raven. Because there was such a mystery surrounding what happened to Tara and Raven, I was concerned that someone would doxx me in an impulsive attempt to be the one to solve the riddle and get that virtual pat on the back. In addition to the regular risks being doxxed as a sex worker poses, I was worried being associated with Raven would negatively impact my career. So, I decided to out myself instead. Coming out as Raven and being open about my real name was my attempt at regaining control over the situation. It was a power-grab, basically, and I had so much anxiety over it. I had no idea my presence would be this well-received, and I honestly didn’t even know people liked my videos or thought I was funny in the first place!
We don’t know much about what the reception and aftermath was like from your xXblo0dyxkissXx videos. What experiences did you have back then after going viral, and in what ways has it continued to follow you since?
I created my character Raven when I was 17 years old, based on my own experiences as a cringey 14-year-old, and convinced my younger sister to play along. Our first videos were filmed in August 2007, though we didn’t upload them to YouTube until July 2008. From [the age of] probably 15 to 21, I wanted to have a career that involved comedy performance and/or comedy writing. I discovered 4chan in 2006, quickly became familiar with the art of the troll, and in 2007 decided to mix comedy and trolling and take it to YouTube, a relatively new platform at the time. I wanted these videos to go viral and secretly hoped they’d maybe lead to something bigger for me.
For the most part, the response was overwhelmingly negative. Pretty much every single day from 2008 onward, Tara, Azer, and I were subjected to a horrific amount of abuse. Obviously, you have to have a thick skin to be a comedian—much like you have to have a thick skin to be a sex worker—but this was different. People told us to kill ourselves, that we should have been aborted, that they hoped our families got cancer and died… This was so much different than just, “Wow, your jokes are lame.” Azer, a childhood friend, was subjected to a ton of homophobia; Tara and I were subjected to really offensive remarks about our looks and weights. When the three of us weren’t being bullied, we were being sexualized. There wasn’t much of an in-between. It was awful to live through at the time, and in hindsight even more horrific because so many people thought we were younger than we actually were. So, even though I may have been 19 whenever someone left a comment telling me to kill myself or to go choke on a dick, the writer in question was targeting someone they believed to be 13. What kind of garbage person willingly says that to a young person?!
At the time, Tara, Azer, and I were secretly suffering from depression and anxiety, largely related to the things the Internet had been so kind to point out for us. The comments didn’t just let up after a month or two… they persisted for years. Just the other day, Tara took a screenshot of a comment someone left implying they were going to rape and murder me. Posted three years ago! The constant barrage of negativity really weighed on us, but we couldn’t say anything about it—at the time, admitting the truth would have just fueled the fire and made the comments worse rather than elicit empathy. I gained weight between 2007 and 2009 and was quite self-conscious about it, and knowing hundreds of strangers noticed made things even worse.
I always thought our videos were funny, but 12+ years of constant negativity wore me down subconsciously. I started to believe that not only were my videos not funny, but I wasn’t funny, period, and no one valued my work. Eventually, Tara and I stopped paying attention to the comments because we knew they’d likely be the same disgusting shit we were used to—and we didn’t want to keep subjecting ourselves to it. When I saw our videos going viral and being reposted all over social media, I never paid attention to what people were saying about them because I assumed it would be 2008-era YouTube again. I truly had no idea how beloved my comedy was until just a few days ago. It’s been a mindfuck, to say the least.
I’m so, so happy I’ve broken my silence: it’s been such a great experience so far! But it’s also painful in a few ways because now I have to heal from 12 plus years of assuming I was bad at something I was so passionate about when, apparently, I was actually good at it. I’ve cried a lot this past week, both because I’m so happy to have gone public about something I’m so proud of and because such an unexpectedly positive reception after years of believing the contrary has exposed some deep wounds I didn’t know existed.
There seemed to be a mythology of its own that was built around your videos, starting with mere speculation and snowballing into fan theories about you and the other people in your videos—most notably, that the infamous Harry Potter fanfiction My Immortal was falsely attributed to you. What, other than that, is the weirdest or most off-base theory you ever read about yourself?
Even though Tara and I admitted to not writing My Immortal in a 2014 interview, very few people believed us. So in a way, one of the weirdest rumors I’ve seen is that despite our denial, we actually *did* write it but are just too embarrassed to claim ownership. Even after coming out as Raven earlier this month, I’m still being met with comments from folks who believe we’re just denying our involvement! That’s so bizarre to me, considering I only came out as Raven because I felt I had to.
Aside from that, the weirdest rumors I’ve seen online surround what became of us. A few years back there was a rumor circulating that Azer was actually a Russian neo-Nazi—so far from the truth, by the way! Every now and then I’ll see a rumor pop up that Tara died, which obviously isn’t true, either. She’s my younger sister and we talk almost every day. Just because she doesn’t have social media doesn’t mean she’s dead! Around the end of December, a day or two before I came out as Raven, I saw some folks saying I was actually Tara… that one was weird.
Did you ever get the sincere pleasure of reading My Immortal, despite not being able to proudly claim that work as your own?
Oh, I’ve absolutely read My Immortal! It’s been years, but I remember loving it—it’s truly a genius troll piece. I wish I could take credit for it, because I’d do it in a heartbeat.
The character of Raven was inspired by your former emo/goth self, but (as we now know) is a clearly different persona from the real you. So let’s set the record straight: how does the REAL you feel about preps, jocks, and haters?
Raven and my former self share a lot of similarities: little baby Sarah loved Hot Topic, possibly even more than Raven did. I also loved AFI, though I never got into My Chemical Romance at the time. I definitely wasn’t as boy-crazy or celebrity-obsessed as Raven. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup when I was her age, either, which probably doesn’t come as that much of a shocker considering my makeup skills between the age of 17 and 19.
I was prepared to answer this question by telling you that at 31, I’m a very “live and let live” type of person, but then I realized that my current version of preps, jocks, and haters are Trump supporters, COVID deniers, and QAnon folks… and with that in mind, maybe I haven’t changed as much as I originally thought!
Teens becoming viral sensations is par for the course these days—entire careers are built out of their fifteen minutes of meme fame. It was a completely different ball game “back in the day” for you. Do you think that, had there been more of a precedent set at the time for online fame and what to do with it, you and your sister would have chosen to pursue your success further?
Had that been more of an option for me at the time—though I can’t answer for Tara—for me, the answer is a resounding yes. I wanted a career in comedy back then, and truthfully I’d still love to explore it one day if I can work past the doubts I’ve lived with for the past 12 years.
If I could teleport back to 2007, I’d tell myself to keep at it and to not give up. I’d also tell myself about the importance of consistent uploads, good makeup, and good lighting.
Has the experience changed how you view other viral videos and the people behind them since?
Because of our experiences over a decade ago, Tara and I do worry about kids who have gone viral or who have large followings online. I was talking with Tara about this the other day and she mentioned that cyberbullying is often assumed to just be peer-to-peer, but there is a very real problem of adult-to-child cyberbullying that tends to get overlooked. We lived this firsthand: there’s no way in hell that every single person who told us to kill ourselves was our age.
Though I think the Internet has changed considerably since 2008, it’s still uncharted territory in a lot of ways. I worry about the folks out there who may not be prepared for what being visible can mean in the long run.
From an artistic perspective, it’s clear you and your sister took your roles pretty seriously. The dedication displayed in the video “A Message To The Haters” is Daniel Day-Lewis caliber commitment. What was your goal for these videos at the time of making them, what was your process like in deciding what your next video would be, and how did you get into character?
Most of our videos were completely improvised, from the dance moves to the dialogue—like Tara’s use of “creativism” in our 2009 New Year’s video. She and I spent a lot of time collaborating on comedic projects when we were growing up. I truly can’t say much about our process because everything came so naturally to me. Emo kids and Twilight fans were everyone’s punchline back then.
I loved the contrast of something over-the-top and dark with something so innocent and light. Take our names, for example. I wanted Raven to have a name that a 13 year-old mall goth would want as a nickname but was realistic enough to possibly be a legal name. I don’t recall how I created her title of “The Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness,” but I’m pretty sure I just strung a bunch of words together on the spot. To contrast with my character’s name, I wanted something that was innocent and just a bit preppy. “Tara” was perfect for that!
I already had some pretty solid insight into how to best push my target audience’s buttons: all I had to do was ask myself, “What I could do that would piss off my younger self?” Add all of that to my dry sense of humor, deadpan stare, and natural intensity, and bam, xXblo0dyxkissXx was born.
You are open about now being a professional dominatrix—we have nothing but respect for our troops here at Riot Fest. The world of a Domme is one of performance and commitment to a perspective or character, much like creating funny YouTube videos. Have you always been prone to performance and acting in some capacity? And do you find any parallels between your current work and the work you put into your old videos?
I’ve always been creative with a love of writing and performance. Funny enough, I spent my last two years of high school at a performing arts school where I focused on theatre, but my instructors at the time didn’t think I was cut out for acting. They tried to push me towards directing and dramaturgy. I feel a bit smug sometimes when I think about how I’ve been rather successful as a performer, albeit in different avenues than I’m sure they ever considered. A few years later, I dropped out of grad school right before my thesis semester, where I was studying creative nonfiction writing, to open my first dungeon.
Of course there are parallels between my work as Petra and my work as Raven: each persona contains a good portion of my real self as Sarah, but the rest is embellished depending on what’s needed at the time. Both personas rely heavily upon my natural intensity, as well as my strong improvisation skills and ability to adjust to another person’s actions without breaking character. Perhaps most importantly, both require a deep level of psychological understanding of another person. As Raven, I knew the psychology of my target audience and I knew what to say and do in order to push their buttons. BDSM is incredibly nuanced and individualized—as Petra, I have to quickly hone in on what makes each person unique and where they’re coming from psychologically, or else they’ll likely have a disappointing experience.
I’ll end with the question burning on everyone’s minds… Fuck, marry, kill: Marilyn Manson, My Chemical Romance, Evanescence?
This is tricky! I’d have a much better time if the artists were different.
Fuck: Evanescence, I guess? I never liked them enough to commit to more than just a temporary thing.
Marry: My Chemical Romance. I’ll commit to that.
Kill: Marilyn Manson. Sorry, Manson fans, but I believe women.
You can keep up with modern-day Raven on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok at @RavenIsAPoser and www.RavenIsAPoser.com—and you can find Mistress Petra Hunter online via Twitter, Instagram, and www.PetraHunter.com.