Most objects of Internet derision only remain interesting for a day or two, tops. The outrage and mockery come fast and furious, and then we move on to the next opportunity for cathartic Schadenfreude, satisfied that the perpetrators have been duly chastened. But a blog post announcing the impending arrival of a movie about blogging, called American Blogger, has inspired a week of steady disdain in the blogosphere and on social media, including countless posts, multiple hashtags, parody Twitter accounts, and spoof videos.
Upon initial viewing, there is a lot to mock about the trailer, released on Vimeo by first-time feature-length documentarian and husband of a popular “mommy blogger,” Chris Wiegand. First, there’s the voiceover. It sounds like a real trailer, in terms of the rhythm and timbre of the disembodied voice, but it immediately launches into a metadiscursive journey through the accomplishments of the filmmaker in this, his first feature-length film, that makes the viewer wonder if this is, in fact, a hoax.
“Beautifully filmed and artistically crafted,” it gushes, “this documentary will remind you of the value of your voice and the power of sharing your story.” “With stunning cinematography,” it continues, “this story is told against the backdrop of the great American landscape.” And then, as the soundtrack swells with what could be a forgotten Creed track, soaring vistas of the moon, the Grand Canyon, fireworks, Wiegand’s Ford F-250 and sweet restored Airstream trailer, and the swirling Milky Way stun the viewer with their artistry.
Then there are the human subjects of the film. If the trailer is an accurate representation of the final product, we can expect to see the face of Christopher Wiegand himself in about 30 percent the footage, grinning boyishly from under the artfully tattered brims of a variety of ball caps, practicing his filmmaking craft (including many shots of him shooting other people), or simply gazing upon This Great Country with a lump in his throat.
Everyone else in the movie appears to be young, slim, conventionally attractive, white, female, and endowed with impeccable fashion sense, interior design skills, and the resources to deploy them. These are the 51 “American Bloggers” that Wiegand has driven over 15,000 miles across the country, Airstream in tow, to interview for his debut film. (OK, there’s one African American woman featured in the trailer, just long enough for the narrator to say, “…interviewing a range of bloggers.”)
While the filmmaker’s focus on himself and his massive talent make great fodder for ridicule, it’s the lack of diversity among the group the title suggests comprises a cross-section of American Bloggers—as well as Wiegand’s seeming conviction that blogging is a mysterious new phenomenon that he has discovered and must explain to the layperson—that has so thoroughly rankled bloggers and other internet pundits.
Gawker published a pithy response, pointing out that most bloggers the author knows don’t fit Wiegand’s profile: “Will this movie, as it claims, ‘change the way you see an entire industry’? I’m sure it will. Because the American bloggers I know—with a handful of notable exceptions—look like row after row of pale, unattractive men in a dimly lit space.” The article includes a depressing photo of pasty nerds as evidence.
But even if we give Wiegand the benefit of the doubt and allow that his film’s title doesn’t refer to all American bloggers, but rather something like “American Lifestyle/Family/Fashion/Personal/Home Bloggers,” the sample he interviewed is still not representative of the genre.
I spoke to Heather Barmore, author of the blog Poliogue, where she writes about politics, race, yoga, life, and whatever else strikes her fancy, regarding the American Blogger trailer, and she explained why she finds it problematic:
“I began blogging almost nine years ago and I did so for the exact reason that many of the women in the American Blogger trailer state—to share my experiences. While I started to write because I was in search of camaraderie [with likeminded people], what I found was that blogging represents one of the most diverse cross-sections of America. We’re all in this to share our stories—however small—but what bonds us isn’t usually how alike we all are but our love for the written word. When I think of the American blogger I see women of color, men, brunettes, redheads, who aren’t all about finding the pretty, Pinterest-worthy moments of life; and the latter is what this project seems to represent.”
Popular mom blogger Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan made similar comments online, questioning why, when interviewed by the Daily Dot, Wiegand bristled at the suggestion that he could have put a little effort into finding more diverse subjects for his documentary rather than just visiting his wife’s best blogging buddies: “How is it ‘political’ to notice race,” Howerton asked on Facebook. “And how is it ‘unintentional’ if all of the subjects he chose are white, young, and attractive? Is it only ‘intentional’ if a person veers from that? I don’t understand the defensiveness or the reluctance to be intentional about diversity, as if it’s a negative thing.”
I asked Howerton why she thought Wiegand’s trailer has engendered such a sustained controversy, when most Internet blunders are quickly forgotten. “I think it touched two nerves,” she told me. “On one hand, you have people upset that a film called ‘American Blogger’ has such a narrow sample… I’m a blond, middle-class white woman and I can still recognize that this does not look like an inclusive selection of bloggers.” She continued, “I think the trailer also highlighted women who pay a good deal of attention to externals… to their hair, their clothing, and their homes. And there is nothing wrong with that. But when you have a group of 50+ bloggers and that seems to be a shared value, I think it illustrates a sort of collective obsession with pretty, perfect things that is off-putting to some.”
As far as I know, no one has seen American Blogger in its entirety, and it probably isn’t even fully edited yet. But as long as Wiegand clings to that title, he is up against a (most likely insurmountable) rhetorical challenge. For all the negative commentary this project has inspired, very few of the critics have attacked any of the bloggers Wiegand profiles in it. The comments have poked fun at the filmmaker’s ego and naivety, but a common thread is that it would not be such an object of ridicule had the name not promised so much more than the film can possibly deliver.
Many alternate titles have been suggested, the best of which, for my money, comes from @suebob: “Mansplaining Blogging Using My Wife’s Friends.” Everyone seems willing to give the film itself a chance, even as they resist the idea that the homogeneous subjects represent the American Blogosphere.
This resistance not only indicates dedication to diversity; but also a recoiling from the perpetuation of the stereotype of blogger as a privileged, white, self-absorbed, over-sharing, accessory-obsessed navel-gazer.
I reached out to the Wiegand through several channels for comment, but did not receive a response.