Great stuff, this! I independently had a realization about the idea of blog narratives a few weeks ago. Election day, in fact. I sat down to post a few thoughts about the election and music on my own blog, The Ashtray Says, and ended up writing a 3000-word behemoth that went places I didn’t expect it to go and resulted in me realizing plenty of things that I was only first thinking through as I was writing them. It got the most hits of any post I’ve ever made on there, and it was overall a really fulfilling experience. I realized that if one really spends a lot of time blogging, writes about their personal life to some degree, and writes more posts than I do and tries to write them all thoughtfully and insightfully, one’s blog could totally start to become a little narrative of certain aspects of one’s life. Obviously its truth value is all complicated and mixed up with the idea of your perceived audience, but it is not inherently less revealing and/or self-analytical and/or therapeutic to you than a diary, I think.
My absolute favorite current blog is a Tumblr blog called pitchforkreviewsreviews and it does exactly what i’m talking about. I have so much to say about this blog so bear with me. It acts as a narrative in two ways:
1) A semi-revealing narrative of a music-obsessed dude a couple of years out of college living in Brooklyn. This is a lifestyle that I am at least curious about if not dead-set on living, and I feel a kinship with him with him unlike what I’ve felt reading any other blog, by a long shot. I want to hang out with him! He hides some details of his personal life, i.e. his last name (his first name is David and he often uses the alias David Shapiro) and his day job, which we all know is a dangerous thing to blog about. But he is extremely forthright with a lot of other things i.e. past relationships, being a fat teenager, crying about comments posted about his “WEEZY F” inner-lip tattoo on some comment board, and crying about other various things. So it’s obviously not a completely open account of his life, but it’s open and sincere enough that I feel like I have a pretty decent idea who he is and what his life is like.
2) Reading the blog in chronological order shows a narrative of the evolution of the blog itself, as in his purpose in writing it. (I discovered it a few months back, and after reading a handful of posts and LOVING them, I went back to the beginning — March of this year — and read them all in order.) It started out doing what its title says: reviewing the reviews of albums on pitchfork.com. And it started out as a lot of invective about how much pitchfork sucks and how it has a fucking monopoly on current indie tastemaking etc, but after reading all five reviews that they post each day he quickly started to change his rhetoric.
*Side note: He writes in a breathless, grammatically-flawed yet eminently readable style with very little punctuation and no periods at the end of paragraphs which rushes you right on to the next one. So I apologize that when I write about him, I start to write like him. Maybe you’ve noticed
Anyway, he started to write more and more thoughtfully about how pitchfork is good and how it is bad and how they have a distinct writing style but it is not the end-all-be-all of current music criticism, it has its own strengths and weaknesses as well. He ended up writing a lot of really insightful things about music criticism and music itself. Then he started writing more and more posts that were not actually reviews of reviews, and eventually stopped writing the reviews altogether, with a post explaining why. He would write long posts about DJing a party or some chance encounter on a street or at a party with a musician or other public figure. Then, very recently, he wrote a post explaining that he was now working on the script for a movie about himself that some producer wants to get made (!!!). As we discussed in class today, this could be a lie, in fact the whole blog could be a fiction, but he is too sincere-seeming and the details too pitch-perfect for it to all be a crock of shit. I’m very inclined to trust him.
So, as you can see, his blog is one which evolved drastically in a relatively short period of time, and reading it “front to back” gives one a clear sense of the narrative of his life and of the blog itself.
Part of this narrative is also the rise of his blog’s popularity, and despite my lack of hard data, I would dare to say that it was “meteoric” (a Times article when your amateur hobby-blog is like 4 months old constitutes meteoric, right?). He probably could’ve monetized his blog but he wrote a post about not wanting to include ads and, at this point, wanting to keep his blogging/music passion separate from his day job. This brings us up to chapter 6, and the idea of “personal brand”. His personal brand is, well, personal, personable, sincere, insightful, and aesthetically simple.
A blog with basically the exact opposite personal brand is my second favorite blog. It is Hipster Runoff. It would take even longer (WAY longer) to explain than PRR, so I’ll let you do a little research on your own and just say that it is a blog about “alternative culture” that reports in an endlessly sarcastic yet weirdly poker-faced voice. (Disclaimer, as with PRR, I write like HRO when I write about it. With HRO it is the totally excessive use of scare quotes.) The anonymous blogger goes only by “Carles” and is often racist, sexist, scatological and otherwise immature, but don’t let that deter you. I had to read a number of posts before really “getting” his voice — it is totally unique and actually quite nuanced — the cheap humor is mixed with brilliant, incisive criticism of the “alt” figureheads he is parodying, as well as sudden bursts of existential dread.
Interestingly enough, I heard Carles talking about the idea of “personal brand” long before I read it in Rettberg. In fact, he practically never shuts up about it. In his world, almost every action by a band or music fan is construed as a deliberate attempt to construct/enhance/strengthen one’s personal brand. Take this recent post on Sufjan as an example. Stevens has certainly made a drastic shift in his personal brand during this “album cycle” (another one of Carles’ favorite terms), and he dissects this in his own weird style.
This has gotten long as shit and I need to go do other homework so I’m going to wrap it up here even though I’m leaving out some great stuff from this chapter. The discussion of the “sterile, untrustworthy” traditional PR voice vs. the need for truth and integrity in blogging was awesome. I also could use this argument to back up a not-contentious point I made in class recently which got unexpectedly shot down by, like, everyone, but I seriously need to move on to my other work. I’m just gonna transcribe her kick-ass quote from the closing paragraph, because it sums up my views about the inherent neutrality of most technologies:
“Blogs and participatory media have both a liberatory potential, as is visible in the energy of the Iranian and Chinese blogosphere despite their governments’ attempts to quash free speech, and a dangerous potential for increased surveillance and control. Blogs, knives and most other technologies can be used for good or for evil.”
Goodnight for now, internet.