What’s the appeal of the loner liveblog?

As I noted in my last post, throughout my web research on liveblogging I’ve been surprised at the small number of true live blogs provided as open threads on which fan communities can post. Instead of another practice common to television fan forums, as I had previously thought, liveblogging is dominantly practiced by single bloggers or groups of bloggers, whether they be contributors to television recap web sites, contributers to larger entertainment sites (like the Gawker Media sites or EW), or just solo bloggers interested in television. While many of these offer threads below for fans to comment, they are usually not too popular. It’s interesting to me why we would live to read someone else’s moment-by-moment musings about a television show. Why would we want to read this kind of feed while we’re watching a program, after we’ve watched it, or if we haven’t even watched it at all? It’s unclear to me how many people read these feeds (if they are indeed posted as they are being written), or how many just see them as an entertaining way to catch up on what they’ve missed. I should admit that I have personal experience in this area: when working a particularly boring job in New York, I often read the (extraordinarily long) recaps of American Idol and America’s Next Top Model on Television Without Pity, sometimes when I had already watched the show myself. I even went so far as to read old recaps of long-canceled but beloved shows (like PBS’s American High).

I’d like to take a look at two different types of these Blogger-led blogs: one of Television Without Pity’s popular “recaps” of American Idol, written in “real time” but not posted until the next day (they also do not allow fan comments), and a liveblog of the 2009 Oscars from Gawker.com, posted in real time and with a thread for fans to comment in below. I’d like to analyze the differences between these two uses of liveblogging and consider the appeal of each.

I’ll start with Gawker, a website that grew into an internet media phenomenon with numerous spin-off

Gawker Media logo

Gawker Media logo

sites (Jezebel and Defamer being two). Gawker, which gained popularity in 2005 and 2006, has been charged with popularizing “snark” (short for “snide remark”) in the blogosphere. The site spends most of its time mocking celebrities, journalists, and the wealthy, and commenters as well as the site’s main bloggers specialize in mercilessness. On his “Geekcentric” blog, journalist Michael Duff wrote a post entitled “Is Snark Killing the Web?” in which he writes, “A snarky writer is the ultimate outsider. He’s outside of everything, poking fun at the elites, tearing down institutions with insults and dry humor.” Noting that Gawker is the pioneer of this trend, Duff warns against its dominance: “Spending too much time immersed in blog culture can ruin you for real communication. Every straight line starts to look like a big, fat softball cruising across the plate, waiting to be hit out of the park with a clever insult or a snarky turn of phrase.” In her article “Everybody Sucks: Gawker and the Rage of the Creative Underclass,” New York writer Vanessa Grigoriadis writes, “Of all the ways in which Gawker is antithetical to journalistic ethics—it’s self-referential, judgmental, ad hominem, and resolutely against effecting change in the world—it pushes its writers to be honest in a way that’s not always found in print publications.” I mention snark here because it figures very heavily into most liveblogs: many shows being commented on are guilty pleasures for viewers, who revel in every cheesy moment or easy target. On Television without Pity’s “FAQ” page, the editors write, “Our mandate is, more or less, to give people a place to revel in their guilty televisual pleasures. In most cases, we have a complex love/hate relationship with the show, and this site is a way for us to work through those feelings. If we plain hated a show, we wouldn’t pay it any attention at all.”

The snark comes through loud and clear in Gawker’s Oscars liveblog, by Seth (reads backwards, as earliest posts comes first):

5:27 An old-timey newsreel explains exactly what production designer David Rockwell was trying to do with the set, just in case the sight of a full band on the stage sends you into fits of confused convulsions, leading you to throw a small child or glass ashtray into your flatscreen TV.

5:21 Jack Black’s wife seemed utterly enchanted by the stranger with the microphone, didn’t she? Cagle then asks Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, and Judd Apatow who they’d save if there was a massive earthquake that killed everyone during the broadcast. That’s a festive stumper! The fun’s already started.

5:13 Viola Davis just fulfilled her Whole Foods Stress Tabs shout-out duties. Unfortunately, she was supposed to mention Airborne. No million bucks for you! (But free salad bar for life.)

5:11 Wow, Jess—way to shit the bed on the Robert Downey Jr. interview. Yes, that’s his date. Otherwise known as his wife, Deborah Falconer Susan Levin. Don’t you run a magazine with Entertainment in the name or something? (Don’t look at us, we don’t work anywhere.)

5:10 Mickey Rourke had a tuxedo made for Loki. That is just about the saddest thing we’ve heard all day. (Okay, second-saddest.) Wait—wasn’t Loki a girl? Enh, Celine got away with it. Wait—no she didn’t.

5:09 Surprise Alert! In place of Oscar statuettes, all winners in acting categories will be given an adorable, poop-dipped Slumdog Millionaire orphan.

What’s interesting is that in the comments section, rather than responding to Seth’s posts, commenters simply seem to be making their own snarky comments and observations of the ceremony, and commenting on each other’s. So this begs the question: what purpose does Seth’s liveblog serve? It could be seen as a sort of demonstration, a way of setting the tone for the other Gawer bloggers to follow. I would also guess that many (like me) looked at Seth’s blog after the Oscars, as a sort of TV Without Pity-style recap. In this way, solo/group liveblogs written by (professional) bloggers more or less serve as stream-of-consciousness reviews, those that give us the feeling of participating even when we’re not. While fan-thread liveblogs are more a simulation of being in a roomful of people watching a TV show together, blogs like Seth’s are more like asking a particularly funny and astute friend his or her reactions to a show. Bloggers, in this way, act as experts, even celebrities. Grigoriadis writes, “Bloggers get to experience the fantastic feeling of looking at everything in the world and then having everyone look at them through their blog, of being both subject and object, voyeur and voyeurant.” Though this may be the goal of every commenting fan, bloggers like Seth set the example for what we should strive for, ensuring that a site like Gawker retains its snarky tone.

Because this post is getting a little long, I’ll postpone the discussion of TV Without Pity until next week, and continue discussion of fan-thread communities.

Also, I’ll try to take up liveblogging myself the next chance I get!

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