Mommy Blogs and the Rise of Train-Wreck TV

14 Mar

This well-written New York Times article by Lisa Belkin explores the world of successful Mommy Blogs, specifically Heather Armstrong’s popular Dooce.com. Armstrong’s blogging success is a great story, but the article subtly hints at the uglier side of personal blogging – the lack of privacy, the hate mail, the family drama, etc.  In fact, Armstrong brilliantly created a “hate mail” section for her blog, which, the article says, draws significant readership.

I recently wondered if there’s a connection between the rise in popularity of “personal” blogs (like Armstrong’s) and the rise in popularity of reality TV – both media channels driven by our culture’s fascination with real-time drama.  And then I wondered:  What role as parents, do we play in this media?

As parents in a world where centerfolds, snarky designers, Charlie-Sheen-type meltdowns and conflicted teen moms tend to draw significant attention (and cash), we have to ask ourselves: Does watching (or reading about) someone else’s crazy life slowly unravel make us somehow feel better about our own?  Or does it just mean we feel less alone in our journey?  What do our media choices say about us as parents?  And what are we teaching our kids through the drama these choices highlight?

A recent statement from Marty Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School of Communication captured my concerns well:

“Sure, the media have been Charlie Sheen’s enablers. But he wouldn’t be getting wall-to-wall coverage if that didn’t win big ratings, so it’s the audience — us — who are his codependents. Is the attention making his behavior worse? Maybe. But the media didn’t invent people’s urge to rubberneck at car crashes.”

Now, before anyone gets up in arms, I’m in no way suggesting that Armstrong is of the Snooki or Charlie Sheen ilk.  Armstrong is a successful writer who has dedicated time, money and effort to cultivate her craft and build a trusting relationship with her audience.  She pioneered a market and has bravely shared her personal journey – the good, bad and the ugly – with the world in exchange for compensation and personal satisfaction.  And as the article highlights, she’s careful what she shares.

What I *am* commenting on, though, is “reality media” as a whole, and the increasing trend to openly share (and ultimately capitalize) on very personal, and often difficult challenges, fueled by conflict or addiction, and the audience’s role in fanning the fire.

Perhaps to make a blog a wild success, one could create (and then resolve) some sort of real-life drama…  But to that approach, I say “no thank you, very much”.  I’m happy with my chaotic, Snooki-free world.

And I’ll happily leave Ms. Armstrong to deal with the hate mail.

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5 Responses to “Mommy Blogs and the Rise of Train-Wreck TV”

  1. Jeff Silvey March 14, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    Nice post. The audience should definitely share some responsibility in this whole reality show meltdown craze. It’s the culture of celebrity that attracts the worst kind. Like the show Survivor: it really only worked for the first season, when nobody knew what they were getting into. Every subsequent season, people created conflict on purpose to get attention and airtime.

    Now we have people like Kate Gosselin and the Octomom who are trying to get famous, so they can then just monetize the fact that they are famous for being famous.

    • technotparent March 14, 2011 at 3:52 am #

      Exactly, Jeff. Thanks for reading. Like Survivor, it does makes you wonder if massive celebrity meltdowns are “authentic” crashes, or if they’re “engineered” for the audience they know they’ll draw. Either way, the audience needs to take some of the blame.

  2. Tom G March 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    I agree the audience should definitely share the blame for enabling the faux-celebrity culture of the moment. I like to think of personal blogs such as Dooce.com as something less related to reality TV and more akin to service journalism. In the old media, journalists made careers diving into unfamiliar territory and sharing their experience for readers. Mossberg, for example, has become one of the most influential tech reviewers. Of course, if old Walt started spewing on about his Adonis DNA and drinking Tiger blood, then I’d say the reality TV influence had claimed another victim.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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