Are Infertility Blogs about Bearing Witness or Entertainment?
Clarification at the Bottom
Josh and I started listening to This American Life’s podcast, Serial. We place my phone on the bed between our two pillows and lie on our sides, listening to a disembodied voice tell us about a murder of Hae Min Lee that took place in Baltimore in 1999. While the narrator is talking, my mind is simultaneously processing the facts and imagining details from my own life. Could I tell you what I was doing on a specific day last month? Whom I saw? Whom I spoke to? What I ate? Did Adnan Syed really kill his ex-girlfriend, or is there a man in my state serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit? Will the answer be apparent by the end of the final installment? The story is gripping; I keep checking the app to see if the next installment is in because I don’t know which day it will normally be released.
Gripping. That word. Isn’t it one we usually associate with entertainment value?
It only took a few minutes into the first segment for an uncomfortable question to bubble up in my brain: was I bearing witness or was I being entertained?
If I was bearing witness, I was participating in something important. I was listening to a story that honoured the end of Hae Min’s life and tried to bring about justice. If I was being entertained, I was the lowest form of human being; someone who derives pleasure by passing the time gawking at someone else’s misfortune.
Two segments in and I’m still not sure which side I fall on this line.
Entertainment or pleasure are perhaps the wrong words. What do we call rubbernecking? Unless we’re slowing down with the intention of helping, looking at the accident as we pass merely to look at the accident feels like emotional trespassing. The subjects never asked to be watched. And even if the case of a blogger placing their story online, they didn’t do so for anyone else to gawk at. They wrote out their story to take it off their heart or inform their family (or long-time readers). And yet people come in droves when there is a loss, when there is a mishap, when the drama is high.
There is also the greyer truth that many infertility bloggers state: there is a readership when they’re going through treatments or processing a loss. But the moment they get pregnant, all those readers disappear.
[I would argue that it is just as common for infertility bloggers to stop blogging once they get pregnant, which may be because they’ve gotten busy but could also be seen as using their readership to get through a moment of life and then disappearing as soon as they’ve gotten what they needed. That’s neither here nor there. I only point it out because there is more than one side to that rise and fall in readership situation. And there are millions… well, at least, dozens… of reasons why people stop reading or stop writing.]
It begs the question: when we read an infertility blog, are we doing so to bear witness to someone else’s experience, or are we reading for rubbernecking-like entertainment?
It points more towards rubbernecking-like entertainment if the readership dries up once the dramatic moments of infertility have passed. BUT it’s also possible that the readership dries up because our role of bearing witness is over. What are we bearing witness to after the moment has passed?
I mean, beyond regular, everyday life.
There are the people we read because we love their blog. We stick with their story simply because we like the writer, not because of any detail in their life. And then there are the people that we click over to read because someone has posted a link to post highlighting a horrible moment in their life. On any given day, we encounter both situations.
Unless we’re reading a blog to offer support or learn about life from someone else’s point of view, looking at a post about someone else’s tragedy is akin to rubbernecking. I try not (though how successful am I?) to click over to look at a post unless I’m doing so for one of those two reasons because Allison’s situation with Zoë has always been in the back of my mind. So many people clicked over on the day her daughter died, but how many of those people stuck around to help her through the emotional fallout of the loss?
The point is that I don’t think we can paint all infertility blog reading with one brush: I think sometimes we read because we’re bearing witness and sometimes we read because we’re doing a bit of rubbernecking. But I do think it’s important to ask ourselves which one we’re doing.
I still don’t know which one I’m doing by listening to details of a murder on Serial, though I know I grow uncomfortable when I see the show described as compelling or addictive or riveting, words I associate with entertainment value.
I just wanted to add that I think there are just as many reasons for reading as there are for not reading. There are the people I read because I’ve read them for years and years, and I am invested in their life. There are the new people I start reading because I find them and their voice compelling. They make me think or laugh or feel something, and therefore, I add them to my feed reader. But we also know there are people out there who “hate read,” specifically reading blogs of people who annoy them. (I’m going to admit, I don’t really get this. It’s hard enough keeping up with the people who make me happy.) And I think there are definitely rubbernecker readers.
Listening to Serial has made me wonder whether I’m stretching my mind by listening to the facts the podcaster was able to undig. Or am I bearing witness, honouring Hae’s life? Or am I being entertained? Because I know I am interested in this story. I am waiting for the next segment to be released. And doesn’t it fall into the realm of entertainment if I’m treating it like that? Is listening for Hae, or is listening… for me?