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July 2, 2011 / missmarymax

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.

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6 Comments

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  1. ily / Jul 2 2011 10:47 pm

    Ahoy, a person in agreement! 🙂

    In my experience, I feel that blogs are not great places to have dialogues with many different points of view, since the POV of the blogger always dominates. Maybe we all have audiences by default, because I find that when I write with no particular people in mind, I’m writing for people very much like myself. Which isn’t so bad maybe, because people very much like myself probably feel isolated.

    I find branding very interesting from an intellectual perspective, but it’s sad that people feel pressured to brand themselves as individuals. That Marianne Kirby quote is really powerful. Even people like myself, who don’t like capitalism, are not exempt from all the crap it’s left us with.

    And…uh…you do know your blog is consistently excellent, right? 🙂

    • missmarymax / Jul 3 2011 3:07 pm

      Haha- thanks, Ily. I think you make a great point about the default audience, and I guess that’s one of the things I love about the fact that people still read and still comment: it proves to me that audiences are *also* complex and don’t mind being thrown a curve ball or not finding a coherent “theme” (beyond — say — Stuff What Mary Would Write). And yeah — I love that MK quote and her post as a whole. She’s actually writing about fat bodies, but it’s so brilliantly applicable to some many realms of how we live. Another great post on this, care of my sister who saw the shout-out and pointed me to a piece of hers I missed: http://sarahmaxfield.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/free-from-the-market/

      • ily / Jul 3 2011 6:02 pm

        I like that post, and agree with much of it. Although in the few instances that I’ve been able to work full-time (or close to it), I find I don’t have any energy left at the end of the day, let alone enough energy to do artistic projects. The workplace saps everything I have. 😦 I hope there’s some job out there that isn’t like that.

  2. missmarymax / Jul 4 2011 12:39 am

    Agree. I wish I had more energy at the end of the day, but I find — especially when my job is physically draining (e.g. on my feet all day, etc) it is really hard to accomplish anything of my own. It’s an interesting question, though, whether the solution to that is commoditizing art of simply reforming labor (not that it has to be an either/ or.) 😉

  3. Megan Stories / Jul 6 2011 1:43 pm

    “…as if all of these selves didn’t consistently inform and shape each other…”

    Love this! I feel like I’m constantly compartmentalizing myself and trying (at least recently) to move toward wholeness. On the blog I care about most, I write about the intersections of being kinky and being an abuse survivor; in my “professional” life I sit through lectures on building one’s “personal brand” that talk about sharing our personal lives publicly as if it could only ever be a liability. It’s so maddening and painful and short-sighted and sad. I could go on.

    Anyway, also, hi. I remember you from LiveJournal back in the day (I was musetoself and friends with a couple people who knew you much better than I did); it’s lovely to see you’re still writing and still sharing. And not “marketing” yourself, ugh.

    • missmarymax / Jul 6 2011 2:29 pm

      Oh, wow. It’s awesome to hear from you. I’ve been collecting quotes forever and a day, and — every so often –I still stumble across a few I ganked from your journal. The professional life part of this is so fascinating (and maddening and painful and…) There’s the built-in assumption that the less whole you are — the more you successfully appear to be job-robot instead of multi-faceted human — the more stable/ qualified/ etc you are. When in reality, I think the ability to “be appropriate for a situation” while maintaining an integrated, balanced identity is actually much more useful. If only we weren’t so outnumbered (or outvoiced) in this beleif. Er… Viva la résistance?

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