Commentary on Blogging: Why There are More Miley Cyruses than Adeles
It’s funny that A brought up Adele because she was the example I gave Josh when we were talking about the Miley Cyrus performance at the VMAs. For the record, I wasn’t upset with her performance because I think you get what you get when you turn on MTV. I expect MTV to be exactly like that, and they once again delivered. We personally skip that channel accordingly — our kids don’t watch the VMAs. That is partially because you get performances like Miley Cyrus’s and partially because like MTV itself, it really isn’t about music anymore. Music is shunted to the background. At the forefront are the lights and pyrotechnics and special effects and computer capabilities and dancing.
So I wasn’t upset in the same way that I’m not upset by the idea of strippers or strip clubs. That’s sort of what the VMAs were in that moment; a televised strip club performance without the pole. Woman onstage, scantily clad, shaking her body and rubbing her crotch so you think about sex. Not really such a big deal unless you’re morally opposed to strip clubs, and I’m not morally opposed to them even though I choose not to go to them. I don’t expect anything different from strip clubs OR MTV at this point; I think both have established exactly what they’re trying to sell.
So Josh and I were talking over dinner. I watched Miley’s performance online (in order to rage properly about the Daft Punk lyrics that weren’t), he didn’t. I think he should just so he can stop asking me to remind him what twerking is. But we were also talking about the comparisons that were being made between Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus, both Disney kids who grew up to take very difference performance paths.
It isn’t a fair comparison. Justin Timberlake has a penis. Because he as a penis, he is allowed to sing and be judged by the quality of his voice, the complexity of his lyrics, and the skill of his delivery. And that is all. No one talks about whether Justin Timberlake has love handles or whether his hair is sexy or whether his clothes are too form-fitting or not form-fitting enough. His weight could go up or down, and unless it was a remarkable difference, no one would comment. And even then, only to worry about an underlying problem.
And yet Lady Gaga’s weight goes up and down and that is worthy of not just being a footnote in an article, but the article itself.
Whenever the topic of women being objectified in order to succeed in the music industry is thrown out there for discussion, people trot out Adele. Look, they say, she is highly successful. It’s all about her voice.
And yes, Adele is a superstar who has plowed her own path. While her physical attributes are discussed just as much as her music, she commands big attention. Sure, Huffington Post has a tag on their site for “adele weight,” but perhaps what we all mean by trotting Adele out there as our example is that she is not bending to critics in the same way that other women have in the past. She keeps demanding that people make it about her voice, lyrics, and delivery.
But, as A pointed out, the larger problem is that for every one Adele, there are 17,000 Miley Cyruses. Somewhere along the way, the music industry got the message that we want all those Miley Cyruses. If that concept didn’t sell, if people didn’t tune in, if it didn’t get attention, they would stop producing it.
Sex sells. Drama sells. Controversy sells.
I think it’s clear to see this within blogging as well. There are people who blog to keep their family informed about their kids, and others who use their blog as a scrapbook. I’m not referring to those bloggers, but rather, those of us (myself included) who write for an amorphous audience. We send words out there and hope someone reads them.
Speaking in generalizations (as opposed to individual cases), what are the big female bloggers known for vs. male bloggers? Getting fired, estranged from family, having an ill child, divorce. We are attracted to people who allow their lives to all hang out. The more honest, the better. The more drama, the better. We tune into their lives in the same way we watch soap operas, treating these very real people as if they’re characters. The more naked they blog, the more interested we get.
And yes, naked blogging is a good thing, but not all raw and honest blogging is naked in the same way. We know that people respond to nakedness, and some people take that to mean being authentic; true to themselves and honest in their portrayal of their world. And others take nakedness to mean putting everything out there: even if it could get you in trouble or hurt another person or are thoughts the universe really doesn’t need.
It’s similar to the nude portraits hanging in the National Gallery. They present a naked body, just as Miley Cyrus presented her half-naked body the other night. And yet no one would say that Miley Cyrus and a Velázquez painting accomplish the same thing.
Because there is little guidance (it’s not as if our mothers were blogging and have passed down their thoughts about the online world to our generation) and because humans are prone to repeating what we see around us already works, a lot of naked blogging turns more into a Miley Cyrus performance than a Velázquez or — to go back to Miley’s musical contemporary — Adele. We all know how to create Mileys hence why so many Mileys exist on the music scene; women with half-decent voices who can also dance and have a lot of confidence to draw the eye who are also willing to strip down into little clothing to catch your attention. Whereas we don’t really know how to recreate Adeles, hence why so few of them exist. They’re the anomaly; the wildly successful woman who breaks out of the mold.
The same thing happens within blogging. Yes, there are the Adeles of the blogging world who write with honesty, presenting a truthful view of their life, laying themselves semi-bare and examining their foibles and their triumphs. They conserve certain aspects of their life, and speak with circumspect so they rarely upset other people. They hold back enough for themselves so they don’t give away their entire being. They have writing talent, and people read them in enormous numbers. But it’s hard to recreate that in another blogger. What works for one doesn’t work for another because they don’t have that same je ne sais quoi. But we do know how to make a Miley-of-a-writer. All you have to do is bitch about other people, detail the intimate, no-holds-barred moments of your relationships, embarrass the subject of your post, and do it all without your subject’s permission. That’s Miley Cyrus-like naked blogging.
For every Adele of the blogosphere, there are 17,000 Miley Cyrus’s of the blogosphere who think that the only way to get attention is to take it all off. To hold nothing back. To bend to what other people deem blogging trends and shape their site to match what others want.
I can count the number of bloggers I read who are Adele-like AND have a readership in the thousands on one hand. I mean, most bloggers I read fit that Adele-like description in online comportment, but they’re read by only a hundred or so people. They write like an Adele, but they’re unknowns, like a blues singer playing at a bar vs. a megastar booking the Barclay Center. The vast majority of widely-read bloggers I know (and yes, this is based on my limited scope of the blogosphere; you may read a very different section of the blogosphere and have walked away with a different point-of-view) — meaning their readership is in thousands and above — are more Miley-like in the way they write.
There’s nothing wrong with that, per se — remember, I didn’t have a problem with Miley’s performance. But based on the way we discuss the online world, I get a feeling more of us hope to be Adeles than Mileys.
I know I do.
How many women do you read who write about the world around them vs. what is happening in their house? Every reference I’ve seen from a man regarding naked blogging refers to business. Every reference I’ve seen from a woman regarding naked blogging refers to our personal story.
Think about how many men provide commentary on current events, popular culture, or specific topics such as technology. How many women do that and hit it big?
Women are told to make it personal, to put their lives out there (as opposed to their opinions). Even food bloggers are encouraged (for good reason: stories sell) to make their recipes personal. Tell a story. Explain how much their kids like this recipe for chicken nuggets. And once you get to general diarists, forget it. You mine blog posts from your life, and if your life isn’t very exciting at the moment, you can create linkbait, as the Bloggess says.
Women can get a big audience by being naked with their words and grinding against topics, a la Miley Cyrus. And to be fair, I can only think of one widely-read male blogger who has built his audience on providing that personal story and vulnerability.
For the most part, it seems that men get popular for their thoughts and women get popular for their drama, in the same way that Justin Timberlake can get attention by his voice and Miley Cyrus can get attention by her gyrations.
This isn’t as simple as refusing to watch a channel or not reading Miley Cyrus-like bloggers or asking female singers to put some clothes on. I’m talking about this problem without offering any solutions because I don’t believe there are any solutions at this moment except to overhaul entirely how we back women into corners. It’s a problem that is much larger than the VMAs or strip clubs or drama-filled blogs.
At it’s core, it’s a statement by the world how — as a whole — it views women.
Even though there is no solution that can be carried out by a single person or even a large group of people, I still think it’s worth discussing, especially with the twins. I want them to figure out ways to get attention that don’t include being objectified, even if they hold the power in that objectification by inviting people to objectify them on their own terms. I want them to think about what they’re sending out there, and whether they’re holding anything back for themselves. I don’t want them to give to the world in a way that depletes them; that takes away. I want them to give to the world in a way that is sustainable and replenishing.
And perhaps that is the most obvious distinction between the Miley Cyruses of the world vs. the Adeles. Miley gave away all that sex appeal, but what did she get back? Only the message to give away more sex appeal. Adele gave away her music, her thoughts, her voice. And the message she receives is to continue presenting her talent. The same goes for blogging as well. If you’re getting back a message to present more drama, more vitriol, more information than you’re truly comfortable sharing, you’re writing in a way that will ultimately deplete rather than sustain.
And I think we’d all like to be here for a good, long time. So write sustainably.