August 1, 2011

Bloggers in the Bathroom with Brands

The following internet non-events have taken place over the past couple of weeks. They are interlinked and disagreeable to my sensibilities.

First, I received a slightly spammy but nevertheless slightly intriguing email to check out some girl's blog. I did. It was all faux dramatic narrative and teenage avant aesthetics and skeletal figures, alcohol, and mystery. I remained intrigued momentarily, not for the content, intentional controversy, or imagery, but for wondering how and why this exists in the world. I showed Michael who said the best thing: "Oh, that's just some kid playing on the internet." Indeed.

Yet on her blog I followed some links and ended on another, different, blog. Different because this one was all sunkissed skin and shiny things and platforms and always outdoor photos, always. It was young and thoughtless, like so much of the internet. 

Just add blogger.

But on each of these internet-space visits to other people's portrayals of their fabulous, cool, mysterious teenage lives, I saw that they had recently visited the same space IRL. One notable, name-drop worthy luxury hotel. Inside said hotel, a whole gaggle of girl bloggers convened in a bathroom to take photos of one another in their dress-up outfits. The fact that I am writing about this is serving the higher purpose.

(((Am I failing to resist this PR stunt? Can one be critical, engaged, and sincerely concerned in an era when the only thing that counts, absolutely, in the last instance, is numbers? Page hits, clickthroughs, backlinks, advertising revenue increases for someone somewhere, and the intrigue of lithe barely legal bodies drives an insatiable urge to consume without thought, without regard for others, to be on-trend at all costs.)))

And then I was invited to compete to join this bathroom party, so to speak. I received an email offering me the "chance of a lifetime" to be part of a group of bloggers that convene on a webpage to show off free shit they've been showered in by brands. The agency sending me the email had arranged the PR stunt in the bathroom at the famous hotel. They are elusive and cool, sort of. They are assholes, but self-aware assholes. Their email told me that I would violate copyright law if I reposted it here:
"This email and the information contained therein is copyrighted, privileged and confidential. It is intended for the addressee(s) only. The unauthorised use, disclosure or copying of this email, or any information it contains, is prohibited."

Really, you can copyright an email message? I actually just now read this very tiny print at the bottom of the email as I was preparing to copy and paste it here. But it's better this way, because that email was littered with unnecessary links. Perhaps you also received this email, my fellow readers who write blogs? I thought briefly of participating, to try to do something from the "inside." But that is stupid. We are all on the inside. There are no cool insiders, no rebellious ones, and no "plucky outsiders" anymore either. We're all in this bullshit together.

*****

Via some PR site. Blogs are relevant!
The above quoted phrase comes from a great post I recently came across (via a Susie Bubble/Luxe Chronicles twitter conversation), "Bloggers in Bed with Brands". The post includes further information worth viewing, especially the documentary "Made in LA." I was compelled to comment when I noticed that this blogger (who I just found because of the Susie Bubble repost to twitter) received mostly negative comments for this post. After involving myself in comment conversation, one responder asked if I, the arrogant, pompous, bitch who bothered to defend the gist of the original post, critical and cautious about the trend toward bloggers as their own brands, had ever worn Topshop?? (For the record: no. But Forever 21: yes, regrettably.) Because of course then, my purity would be spoiled and my ultimate hypocrisy revealed. This is a tired argument because it is not an argument at all. It's internet trolling. It's when someone thinks "ha ha, trumped 'em" when really they just missed the entire point.

Fashion blogging is so over, such an old trend. So 2007. Young, attractive girls sell their bodies as ad space to the highest bidder and fan the flames of desire in other young girls. This goes for men as well, but is clearly much more widespread among young women. Non-events are held in which things that look shiny and cute on camera such as mini-cupcakes, champagne, and frilly dresses with platform shoes abound, while the digital camera wielding masses clamor for the money shot, literally. This is not art. It is not fashion. It is not style. It is only one thing: marketing.

In a few more years, no one will remember that it even happened. The most apt comment on the "Bloggers in Bed with Brands" post noted that it's just like celebrity endorsements, "...who can tell me who was the face of Versace in 2004? And do we really care who was the face of Versace in 2004?" Exactly. We will forget these children and their Jeffrey Campbell sponsored frolicking, and we will wonder why we are still stuck in such a dismal state as communities crumble and unemployment stagnates. As global inequality continues to increase, and as infrastructure and social welfare further weakens, as we face grown up problems and our frail bodies lament our lack of healthcare, we will wonder, what else might we have been doing with our knowledge, youth, beauty, intrigue, and fascinations? How might we contribute, matter, live meaningfully, and thrive, not in our wealth but in our well-being?

This isn't about criticizing any person or any brand or any blog or any one thing. This is thinking out loud about how choices are connected to wider-reaching outcomes. It's about picking at that sliver of an opening where freedom of expression and self fashioning slides seamlessly into an always deeper reaching marketing campaign to drive corporate profits and thus maintain the status quo: the accumulation of wealth among a tiny percentage of humans.

I want to continue blogging, but a branded identity attached to my person is not the goal here. I remain interested in the possibilities of talking openinly about clothing, beauty, and style. My forum has been co-opted, like all the others. Oh well. I still seek out those driven by the desire for something more, something else. Not a way out (there is no outside), but a better way.

There is no "chance of a lifetime." Life is what is happening right now. The chance for transformation and to feel differently is present in each choice, big or small. Nothing changes because of a free drink, dress, or trip to a vestige of past relevance. Please don't be fooled by the shiny images. 

23 comments:

Corinna said...

Wow. I'm glad you were able to pick up on the connection between the teenage bloggers. And no, you can't copyright an email. I'm glad that you're revealing the "secrets of the internet."

Ann said...

This is why we are friends.

indigo16 said...

Trust me this kind of sharp practice is not just confined to the young, I once engaged in a series of conversations with an older blogger, who like me despaired of the quality of some branded clothing. Two weeks later she was suddenly trumpeting how wonderful their clothing was across the blogsphere and would you believe it, a day later and there was a flashing pop up ad for the same company.
The entire blogs focus changed from honest thoughtful posts to sycophantic posts all chasing the same blagging of freebies. Others have gone on to make a living from doing this and if that is what they define as a career than so be it. I am much happier to read ad free as much as possible, safe in the knowledge that the opinions are real and the blogger has a shred of integrity, and that their blog does not make me feel like a gullible fool.

lin said...

I've never commented on your blog thought I've always enjoyed your post, but this struck home with me so much that I just had to say: well said. My view isn't nearly as grim as yours though, I think plenty of blogs remain happily un-co-opted even though I've said farewell to many because they've become completely unrecognisable from the voices they began with.

lin said...

argh, sorry abt all the typos - "posts", not "post" and "though" not "thought".

Biobebop said...

I really enjoyed this little essay. You're absolutely right that these bloggers are being co-opted to serve nebulous corporate interests, but I don't necessarily think there is anything wrong with the profit motive or "branding" oneself. The marketing language of it is really sickening,(I keep thinking of how vacuous the "Obama Brand" seems today) but at the heart of it, it's a desire to be paid for doing what one loves.
Your desire to be self-fashioning without maintaining the status quo is admirable. I certainly gravitate towards people, blogs, whatever, that have an idiosyncratic voice that isn't afraid to be critical. But some of my favorite blogs are explicitly trying to monetize (an ugly word, but one of my favorites) their momentum. It's really a matter of maintaining that individuality and being open about these partnerships between small (but thoroughly capitalist at heart) businesses. A profit motive exists, but it isn't the only motive.
About the copyright/confidentiality issue: actually, anything authored (including my comment right now) is automatically copyrighted at the time of creation. That's a fact whether it's electronic, cotton-rag paper, or scribbled on a BK napkin. The little C in a circle simply means it's been registered as such, even though it's commonly used to simply mean "don't steal."
As you would be criticizing the PR spam under fair use, rather than claiming the writing as your own, you could totally reprint the email and snark away. It wouldn't matter that they said "copyrighted." BUT the confidentiality clause of the email totally is enforceable. Even if you weren't the intended recipient, you would be bound by it. It's bizarre that it is so just by writing it, but that's how it goes. So kudos to you for being prudent.

eri said...

Well said. Like another commenter I have been reading here for awhile but never before joined the 'conversation' so to speak.

I really appreciate your talking about this because it is something I have been thinking about a lot recently. Trying to decide whether to cut out certain blogs from my life as reading them can feel like partaking in a giant marketing campaign.

Another facet of this is the 'giveaway' which requires you to 'like' someone on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. This makes me crazy! I realize small businesses and designers are just trying to survive and spread awareness of their brand but it saddens me nonetheless. Shouldn't small brands (maybe even including bloggers) be fighting against these tendrils of mega-capitalism?

I'll end this rant with a classic blog comment: I think I saw you at your work a couple weeks ago & did a double take. But, was too shy to say hello. Ha.

Stephanie said...

You're so right about fashion blogging being 'over'. It was a big contest held circa 2007: the winners have already been declared, everyone else can go home. (The pushy, spammy bloggers who didn't get this memo are surely the 'last girls dancing in da club' of the internet.)

Brand-name bloggers who attract page hits with perfect images rather than discussion try to maintain the illusion of 'community' and sharing, to chalk up their success to something more. I had something more once, and I consciously try to guard what's left of it: that sliver of an opening that you describe, and a space small enough to say whatever I want and still sort of feel like I'm only ever talking to myself.

Susie said...

Wow, thanks all. I was nervous about this post and hesitated to write something like this for a long time. But thanks to this post, I've discovered some new blogs that I'm excited to read, which is how a comment thread should work!

In a weird way, my exhausted frustrated post, and now these comments, plus some conversations on twitter, have renewed my hope that we can still make viable connections through blogging. I don't want to have to figure out what the "next big thing" is, I just wanna keep on keepin on with my crappy layout and .blogspot.com address and talk to cool ladies who I can come to mutually respect over some grown up girl talk about clothes and such (and in my case sprinkled with tedious wordiness from time to time).

-----


Biobebop: Thanks for the legal advice ;) And, I too read the more commercialized blogs, and give major props to those like Susie Bubble who can now do what they love for a living. I admire her, Tavi, and a few others who have apparently succeeded (in blogging) by showing the world something slightly different and having a discernible, thoughtful voice.

On the other hand, some other "biggies" have lost what originally drew me to them. Or perhaps it was never really there in the first place and I just liked their photos and DIY projects. Who knows. The newness of finding blogs has worn off and I can have a more discerning eye about what I subscribe to.

eri: cut em! haha, I'm enjoying finding new blogs that introduce me to new ideas and visual concepts rather than just pretty rich people and rampant materialism. currently enjoying yours.

STOP IT RIGHT NOW said...

A lot of good points here. It's an odd mind game this whole blogging thing. Sticking to one straight narrow plan is definitely not easy, there will be exceptions here and there, but I think as long as you stick to what your personal goal for your blog is, then well, what is there to be said. To each his/her own I guess. Good or bad blogs, there will always be audience. As mine has grown I've had some confusing moments and times when I've thought I've strayed, but I accept that things evolve and sometimes grow bigger (hopefully better). I choose not to be too critical or introspective. It's all in good fun anyway.

Derp. I don't know what I've written. I'm tired and that probably didn't make any sense. Whoops!

Joy said...

So wonderfully said! Despite I am a rather new blogger, I already am so sick and nauseated at the overwhelming amount of blind promotion of products. I wish there were more discussions of the same caliber of you and Helene! Thank you for renewing my motivation in blogging as I am now all the more determined to create better content. I will be back!

Anonymous said...

What exactly do you think the fashion industry comprises of or has ever comprised of?
Why do you think you want those ''special'' shoes, or that ''awesome'' bracelet or those ''whatever'' that's really IN right now?
Marketing has been around since anyone wanted what someone else had and now it's on the internet; boo hoo, welcome to the 21st century.

Lia said...

Really thoughtful post. I'm new to blogging myself and see my blog as a vehicle for my writing as I'm also just starting out as a journalist. It does irritate me when I see bloggers reviewing products and promoting brands but I suppose that's their prerogative and something I could never see myself buying into. Although I am sometimes envious of the free stuff, I wonder how these people feel when that have to shamelessly promote things that they would not necessarily buy themselves. But in a way that's the beauty of the internet and blogging. There is something to suit everybody's taste and if you don't like it then you have the opportunity to avoid it! Very glad I happened upon this post and your blog though and will certainly be followoing your story from now!

those tricks said...

I'm gonna go with an "lol."
Most have their "price" for something.
Doesn't make them bad people.
Though, it is hilarious that you can buy off a 20 year old with a cupcake.
I've been in various media disciplines for 15 years and all of it is marketing.
Manipulated selling of invented cool.
Then you grow up (hopefully).
WE ARE ALL COOL HERE.

Pearl Westwood said...

It is a narrow line to cross sometimes. Marketing and fashion go hand in hard of course but it has to be done in the right way. Of course it is flattering when you first get contacted by brands and I know it must be difficult for some of the younger, less experienced bloggers to say no to the offer of free clothes. On the other hand when bloggers and brands work together in the right way it can be great for both parties. I guess I am on the fence about it, I personally enjoy working with the brands I choose to, but there are just as many I have refused to work with. I do think it is great that you blogged about it though, we should as bloggers be more open about things like this.

GRIT AND GLAMOUR said...

A fascinating and well-written perspective. Love it.

Veshoevius said...

brilliant!

Soooali said...

God this is an absolutely brilliant post. I've been fashion blogging for about 18 months now and have come to a point where I'm wondering why I'm still doing it. I'm not trying to monetize and I'm not getting any recongnition either. So why am I still here? But every time I put up a new post I get excited....I guess that's what keeps me going. However, after reading this post and the comments, I'm wondering if I should keep going. Am I one of these spammy fashion bloggers?? Who know, but thanks for giving me something to think about,it's a really brilliant post.

plumbing said...

This is really interesting. Designers have put up a great effort to do those designs. I'm in for it.

Wild Cat said...

Although I agree with you completely on the superficiality of blogging and ignorance towards first world problems, I feel there's an angle that you failed to address (and targeted quite unfairly.) As your specific target for the "sun kissed, shiny things", I think it's a bit unfair to categorize and assume that someone who caves to the slightly intriguing opportunity is just a tool of mass-marketing, another victim of "group think". Yes, the girls in "the bathroom party" succumbed to the most obvious of "blogger behavior", but to assume that we were staged to pretend to like each other for the sake of marketing is a bit presumptuous. We all built a connection based on our skepticism and a shared fear of being taken advantage of. We're not blind to the situation that we've been put in. Because, as you perfectly put, We're all in this bullshit together.

And just as a tired defense, I think that the more material success a blog gains, it's just natural that it becomes a bit more impersonal. A commenter here noted that many become unrecognisable from the voices they began with. But I think this all derives from wanting privacy, but is counter-effective becomes it just leads to misjudgement. I don't think it makes a person thoughtless, it's just a personal choice on whether or not you want your life prominently displayed in a 360° lifecast.

DREAMY said...

Really interesting. Loved the Luxe post too. It needed to be said.

kittenmasks said...

Bloggers Wardrobe is a load of shit. The same with companies like Romwe that use bloggers to promote their outfits. It's a fucking brilliant marketing strategy (massive amounts of press with very little loss - those shirts must've cost like $5 to make), and I don't begrudge any of the companies that employ it.

I was going to write about BW but ended up scrapping because I lost my train of thought halfway through a 800 word diatribe. You've pretty much summed my thoughts, although I did add a segment regarding its ridiculous audition policy.

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