Monday, August 7, 2006
Blogging may seem like a fairly simple, low-cost way to improve celebrity marketing (and I use “celebrity” to loosely mean anyone who might have fans). But, looking at it from the perspective of interpersonal communication research, blogging celebrities face some interesting challenges. Generally, in American culture (which is at an extreme on this matter), the prevailing pop wisdom is that the more a person self discloses, the closer his or her relationships become. That’s why you hear people bemoaning that “we don’t communicate” when in fact, they’re talking all the time. At the same time, we’re living in what’s been termed a “culture of confession” where everyone’s fessing up their private business for public consumption via talk shows, ‘reality’ tv, and half-heard mobile phone calls. Against that backdrop, blogs offer an obvious unprecedented new way to build a sense of closeness between celebrity and fan through celebrity disclosure.
But does self disclosure = relational closeness and large audiences? Interpersonal research tells us very clearly that inappropriate self-disclosures can kill a relationship. There are lots of things we don’t want to know about other people. Just as we’re likely to move gently away from the casual acquaintance who mentions at a party that he has recurring nightmares due to a lack of maternal attention in his early childhood, blogs have enormous potential to turn off fans either by revealing more than fans want to know or by revealing things that irreparably damage the fans’ image of the celebrities. If this is true in an American context, it’s even more so in cultures that place more value on public cool than openness. Consider, for instance, this disclosure from Amanda Palmer, singer of The Dresden Dolls, writing about an incident that happened when she was seventeen:
we pounded. then my hand went through the nail. i screamed. was it serious? well, it was bleeding, but not much. it was a hole, a nice little german stigmata. it only took 15 seconds before i didn’t know myself whether i was crying to get attention for a wound that wasn’t all that bad, actually in pain or shock, or crying about the fact that i was confused about whether i was crying for some real pain or over the confusion my possible ruse. this was a typical pattern in my life. maybe i was homesick. maybe i was just looking for a reason to weep and the nail was just a little gift. we bandaged and disinfected. the incident was easily forgotten. i think jan wasn’t there. but he must have come home at some point. thwok thwok thwok thwok thwok. is there anybody out there?
Now, the Dresden Dolls, who call their music “brechtian punk cabaret,” are always dramatic and over the top, and she always seems to be disclosing her deepest secrets as she sings. Could a celebrity whose career isn’t founded on being maudlin blog about this without damaging her image? And yet, even Palmer writes on her blog, about her blog:
all the journalists ask me: “aren’t you afraid you expose your private life too much?” i find this funny. my family reads this blog, my manager reads it, the label publicist reads it, brian reads it, our crew and promotors read it. this is the fucking ART of telling the truth carefully.
if i actually shared my private life in all it’s complexity and detail, i would anger and worry and confuse these people so much….i’d be crucified. so i generally save my personal conflicts, my true heartbreak, for the emails i send to the ones who don’t need me as a boss, a rock star, a musician, an idol, a promotional tool or even an artist.
it shouldn’t come as a surprise that everything i share here is heavily censored, well, slanted at least..a combination of the reckless impulses to emote and the simultaneous, hyper-conscious measuring of the consequences.
Interpersonal research makes it clear that even in our closest relationships we need privacy. It’s always challenging for celebrities to have a clear public/private persona boundary of which they are in control. With a blog, the celebrity has the added challenge of creating a very clearly defined public persona which nonetheless appears to be a private persona. Looks like Amanda Palmer has got this down, but how many others do?
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