Neither Man, Nor Manufactured: On the Refusal to Market the Self
Folks, I’m just gonna say it-
I do not give a shit about branding.
Generally, when people discuss blogging and how to improve a blog, they focus on how to better market your posts. They bandy about words like “traffic” and “influence” and “optimization.” The “experts” — (those who’ve successfully marketed their own blogs) — encourage writers to tailor ourselves to attract an audience–and then to tailor our writing so we meet that audience’s needs. After awhile, the advice starts to read like the digiculture edition of He’s Just Not That Into You.
Not to shock anyone, but I’m a fan of writing. I’m even a fan of writing with an audience in mind: My
favorite media — spoken-word, playwriting, blogging — tend to be those in which the audience explicitly figures. But there are some assumptions in this audience-based marketing model that irk me.
Say: the notion that I only blog for an audience.
Or the notion that the only useful relationship I can have with that audience is a business exchange.
Or the notion that my only offering is a product, to a consumer, in the context of said business exchange.
Despite the explicitly “social” nature of blogging as a medium, I started MMM for pretty personal reasons. I wanted an antidote to the increasingly fragmented, compartmentalized presentation I was falling into on-line. Over the years, I’d kept multiple blogs: I’d written here to be inspiring, there about my personal life, here about sexuality, there about mental health. I’d split myself between my family’s Mary and my friends’, my activist self and my self-as-academic — as if all of these selves didn’t consistently inform and shape each other, as if they were not all me.
With MMM, I actively work to throw these categories to the wind. Here, I don’t so much think inside a topical box as play ideological Twister. I experiment; my Klout profile — (not quite as off-base as I’d hoped) — informs me I explore. I bounce between commentary on social media and on sexuality, on eating disorders and on my own fascinatin’ self. Yet, some of you — (::waves and blows kisses::) – still continue to read this blog — consistently even. You’ve apparently accepted that your consistency will not be returned.
With this blog, more than any other I’ve kept, I err on the side of surprises, long-shots, and seemingly far-reaching parallels. I do not fit neatly into the niches that network and award bloggers. But – however self-servingly – I still believe this refusal to narrow our scope serves a purpose. My sister, with whom one might say I share more than a last name, suggested a similar belief in a recent post about adopting a liberal arts — rather than conservatory — approach. She writes:
Over the past decade, I have lived in New York City and made art. I have […] worked a variety of jobs – some of them directly connected to the performance that I make as an artist, and others wholly separate. Currently, I work a job in the latter category. At times, this feels like a bummer, and I have questioned what it means about my seriousness as an artist. But it occurs to me now that I am simply facing the same question again: Do I choose to be an artist surrounded only by other artists, or do I choose to be an artist within a more complex world?
I find myself asking this same question about other creative roles: Do I choose to be an activist only amid other activists? An academic only amid other academics? As a professor and fellow contrarian put it to me in college, do I really want to argue only with those who see things my way?
The truth? – Sometimes. Sometimes, I’m tired and frustrated and lonely, and it re-invigorates me to
preach to the choir. But generally speaking, I try not to set my compass by those moments of overwhelm. Like my sister, I still believe complex dialogue is a worthy investment. I believe it’s worth it to hear and offer perspectives outside our comfort zone. I believe it’s worth reconsidering the assumptions that come with our perspectives, if only to keep from growing blind to their existence. And I believe it’s vital that we not whittle ourselves down to slices of self, that we allow ourselves – even as representations, even as blogs — to remain complicated, multifaceted, dimensional.
As Marianne Kirby put it (in a fantastic post entirely unrelated to blogging):
Giving the people what they want is not the job of the individual. It’s the job of politicians and manufacturers. It’s interesting – and kind of terrifying – that this aspect of capitalism has swept so completely into our personal lives, that we regard our own bodies, consciously or unconsciously, as a product to be consumed by viewers. I am not a politician or a manufacturer. I’m not a business. I’m a person, my own person, without a marketing team or targeted demographic. As such, while I believe in being appropriate for given situations, I don’t believe in presenting myself for the pleasure of other people.
I am not to be CONSUMED.
We are not to be consumed. I am not a door-to-door salesman hawking myself. As a blogger, I can choose the approach that prioritizes marketability, but it’s not my only option. And blogging’s other possibilities are not less valuable because they’re less charted. I fear — in our quickness to execute the wisdom of the latest experts — we’re losing track of those other options. I fear we’re abdicating our right to create them.
A blog that’s consciously unmarketable carves out a space for considering what else blogs can be. We have a right to recognize we are more than products, more than the one interest, topic, or experience that solidifies our “niche” appeal.
We have the right to declare – proudly and firmly – that we are not for sale.