The New ‘American Blogger’ Movie: What Lessons Are In It For Bloggers?

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A few days ago, a trailer for a brand new documentary appeared on Vimeo. Titled American Blogger, filmmaker Chris Wiegand described his debut movie as “a visual snapshot of this time in history when all these instagrammers/bloggers are able to put something out there into the world and really shape culture (in a positive way).” Inspired by his wife's blog (The Wiegands), Chris Wiegand decided to restore a vintage Airstream and crisscross the the United States to interview 50 different bloggers.

I admit…I was intrigued by the movie's premise. I am a blogger, after all. And I do live in The United States of America. I thought it was a great idea to have a documentary dedicated to something I love that's been such a valuable part of my life. Love it or hate it, blogs and bloggers have made ripples in traditional media at every level. The barrier to entry is low and the potential to reach a sizeable audience is high, and so I clicked on the trailer full of expectation, hoping for a film dedicated to the many facets of blogging: from niches to popular figures to the future of the medium (or lack of a future as some people would say). Like any other cultural phenomenon, this is a subject that's ripe for a documentary. Less than a minute in, however, I found myself feeling underwhelmed. By the time I'd finished the trailer, I was letdown and disappointed. How could anyone presume to name a film “American Blogger” and only show one kind of blogger?

I'm no film critic, so the bombastic voiceover where Wiegand calls his own movie, “breathtakingly filmed and artistically crafted” is perhaps better discussed elsewhere, but I am a blogger and I have been for half a decade. I'm also a woman of color who's passionate about diversity and contributing to the multiplicity of voices and perspectives in the blogosphere.  And American Blogger completely misses the mark.

In Wiegand's world, the only people who count as “American Bloggers” are young, white, women. They all blog in the fashion and lifestyle vertical, and they all sit in Pinterest-perfect homes. With 1 or 2 exceptions (out of 50), there are no people of color. Nor are there any older people, men, or people who blog about topics other than fashion and lifestyle. What a tremendous disservice to the very concept of blogging. And of course, the equation of “American Blogger” with young, white, and female isn't the only thing going on here. Are all “American Bloggers” heterosexual? Able-bodied? Affluent? Attractive? In Chris Wiegand's America, everyone's the same. It's an artificially homogenous depiction of an incredibly diverse world.

When asked to clarify why everyone in his documentary was so startlingly similar, Wiegand told IndieWire, “This film is not supposed to be, nor is it, representing bloggers or America as a whole by any means. These are the women that said yes to my request, they knew my wife and trusted that I would tell this story in a positive way.” Over at The Daily Dot, he responded to criticism with, “I'm an artist, so I'm gonna make it the way I feel like, the way I want to make it and not because I want to appeal to anybody…” He then turned off video comments, I suppose to avoid further criticism on the same page as the trailer. The point remains though, that if this movie is just a film about people his wife knows, then it's not a “documentary.” It's a vanity project about their circle of friends.

Despite the issues with this movie though, there are important lessons here too. Not about how to make documentaries (sorry, can't help there), but about other things…like individuality and intent. Let's focus in on fashion blogging for a moment since this is IFB. The fashion blogosphere has been rightfully criticized for sometimes lapsing into what Nicolette Mason calls the “values of traditional media – a world where thinness, whiteness, and an appearance of wealth are continually prized and rewarded.” In that world, Mason says, “the most successful bloggers, have become successful because of their thin, pretty privileges which provide an alternative to traditional models.” The truth – the brutal honest truth that no one wants to talk about – is that there's a certain look which is most successful in the blogging world. A look that Wieland reinforces and rewards (unintentionally or otherwise) through 90% of his movie. A look that's reinforced and rewarded in brand partnerships as well.

It's tempting to become just a copycat of who's already popular. After all, they're a success, so why bother forging your own path? And the aspirational nature of fashion (and fashion blogging) makes that temptation all the easier. Standing out from the crowd, daring to be unique…it takes time and energy and there's no guarantee of success. But while it may be frustrating and while you may not look like a model, the fashion blogging world needs people who break the rules. Your perspective is valuable and important and worth listening to…even if it's apart from the mainstream. The outcry and response to American Blogger shows that much is true. Individuality matters. So what about intent?

Well, intent isn’t the only thing matters when you’re running a blog. The way people receive what you do is important as well. Chris Wieland probably never intended to make a movie that was only about white, female, lifestyle bloggers. He may not have given the issue any thought at all. But that doesn't change the way his movie has been interpreted. His intent (or lack thereof) is an entirely separate issue from his effect. When you're blogging, good intentions are fine, but the way people respond to you matters as well. Are people accusing you of insensitivity or rudeness? What about homophobia or racism? You may not intend those things, but they could be happening anyway. It's always worthwhile to move beyond just your intentions and examine what you're doing and how it sounds from the other side.

I don't know if I'll watch American Blogger when it comes out. At this time, I'm not inclined to spend any money on it. But in spite of its criticisms, there are some important takeaways for all bloggers. Have you seen the American Blogger trailer? What did you think of it? Will you watch this movie?

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21 Responses

  1. R

    “You may not intend those things, but they could be happening anyway. It’s always worthwhile to move beyond just your intentions and examine what you’re doing and how it sounds from the other side.”

    Well said. The above stands as an excellent reminder to us all.

    Reply
  2. grechen

    excellent analysis…i’ve stayed as far away from this “discussion” as I can because i find it incredibly frustrating. nicolette’s absolutely right though, all of the “top” fashion/lifestyle bloggers seem to adhere to a certain look, and come from a place of some privilege (not all, of course, but many).

    they’re popular BECAUSE they are “traditionally” beautiful, and the other brutal truth is that we as women STILL value that to a certain extent, whether we admit it or not. if we didn’t, they wouldn’t be so popular. we STILL strive for martha-stewart-type perfection and can’t get enough of looking at it (why pinterest is so popular in my opinion).

    it’s sort of an amazing phenomenon actually, that we’ve embraced blogging and bloggers because we want more reality, and we want to be able to identify with women who are like us, but still, the cream of the crop, the “most successful” bloggers, the ones who are doing all the campaigns, working with brands, etc., absolutely fit a certain type of mold, and are similar to only a small percentage of the “American” population. as it appears that the women in this movie do.

    i think this movie was the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of bloggers, myself included. i’ve been doing this for 10 years, and every time i think that things are changing, that older, more established or diverse bloggers will start to get just a little more recognition, something like this movie comes out…

    all we can do i think is just continue to put ourselves out there – be different – express our voices – don’t be afraid – achieve our own success…

    Reply
  3. Mai

    When I saw the trailer, I was also really put off by the lack of diversity. I’m not sure if “American Blogger” is an appropriate title since it doesn’t showcase all of American bloggers, but just one type. I mean, isn’t America known as the melting pot?

    I probably won’t be watching this because, as you nicely put it, it’s a “vanity project about their circle of friends.”

    Reply
  4. Reva

    last time i saw the trailer, I’m pretty sure there was a black woman shown being interviewed. Just because she didn’t have a large presence in the trailer, doesn’t mean that she’s not in the movie. Maybe wait and do a real review on the whole film, not just the short trailer. And, give the guy a break. Maybe the bloggers he knew, or Casey knew, happened to be white women. If you can be just one little person and manage to find a large enough and varied enough demographic to pull from, and then be able to contact all those people, and have them agree to be part of the film, then maybe there could have been more diversity. Or maybe, he just pulled from what he had seen, and what resources he had. People really need to get over this equality issue. Just because more white bloggers happen to be represented in the trailer by no means is saying that other kind of bloggers don’t exist. We’re smart enough, i think, to realize that they do. But maybe we just haven’t come across them yet.

    Reply
    • Maggie A

      I saw the lady (I think) you were referring to. She appeared to be biracial and there was a 3 second clip of her I don’t even remember what she was talking about. (In my opinion) this article is not only referring to lack of racial diversity but also lack of diversity in the types of bloggers interviewed. I agree that as bloggers we are smart enough to know and realize how diverse our community is, however if someone is making a documentary titling it American Bloggers, that is quite a giant category to shovel a whole cultural phenomenon into.

      There are bloggers and vloggers like Meghan Rienks on Youtube, Michelle Phan (Asian), Dulce Candy (Mexican) Karen from Where Did You Get That, Christina Caradona of Troupe Rouge and The Sartorialist. There are young bloggers like Bethany Motta (so young but she has attained more success than many people my age) and that is only in just beauty and fashion. There are political bloggers, Photography blogs, Food bloggers, Career bloggers .. I mean the list is endless. So I think based on the trailer only, it appears that it isn’t going to do any justice to the diversity of the blogging community.

      I think you are right in saying that it is based loosely around bloggers similar to his wife because that is exactly what it is. But to brand it as American Bloggers will definitely rub people the wrong way.

      …Its more than just race.

      (This could also be a media ploy for more attention for when the movie comes out?)

      xo
      Maggie A
      LOVEMAVIN/YOUTUBE || LOVEMAVIN/BLOG

      Reply
  5. Sharon

    Beautifully written. I have watched the trailer and at this point in time I have no intention on watching the “documentary.” Well, that may not be true. If it comes on Netflix and I am extremely bored one night then, maybe.
    I think what caused the controversy was the title, “American Blogger.” If he would have called in “Our Blogging Friends”, I doubt there would have been any backlash. When you use the title “American Blogger”, then, there should be a wide representation of bloggers. All races, genders, sexual orientations, and ages.
    Now, this film definitely shows the lack of diversity not only because the top bloggers are young, thin, and most likely white but, because he proves that among bloggers there is a divide. His wives blogging friends, which are most likely the blogs she follows look like her. She probably doesn’t read the blogs of other lifestyle/fashion bloggers because they don’t look like her. No matter that a shoe is a shoe no matter who is wearing it. I always find it interesting that bloggers say we want diversity but, they don’t incorporate it into their lives. I follow blogs and bloggers from many different niches and diverse backgrounds. Do I always relate to every part of their lives or blogs? No. However, I am open to learning about and supporting others. If we all would expand our blog world just a little, I think we would see more recognition for all bloggers.

    Reply
  6. Maggie A

    I had not heard of this till I read this article but it seems as though the documentary should have been named “Bloggers I Know” or something. Maybe he didn’t quite research throughly the various types of bloggers there are. I really believe the purpose behind this was to acquire fame for his wife’s friends maybe?

    I also looked up what other bloggers thought of it and everyone is giving the about the same review; lack of diversity in people and the topics of blogging.
    “http://www.babble.com/entertainment/american-blogger-documentary-debuts-trailer-and-everyone-gets-upset/”

    ..I think changing the world is a far stretch with this documentary but maybe infuriate a few people with 15 minutes of fame might be right on track. This trailer does not do justice to what the blogging community is at all.

    xo
    Maggie A
    LOVEMAVIN/YOUTUBE || LOVEMAVIN/BLOG

    Reply
  7. pam

    Here via the hashtag. Thanks for articulating so well what I have been feeling about this thing.

    I blog about travel, but that topic suffers many of the same ills that affect fashion and lifestyle. It had been a Bad Week for the Internet in my corner, one tacky self-promotional or self-aggrandizing thing after the next, so by the time the trailer hit, I was ready to head for the virtual town square with torches and pitchforks.

    You bring up something really interesting — the concept of intent. I think lazy bloggers (and film makers) fall back on intent as an excuse for shoddy work, or they say things like “I’m just an independent blogger. I’m writing about things that are interesting to me, not everyone has to like them.”

    But they fail to take into account the responsibility that a publish button gives you. Mr. and Mrs. Weigand both offer terribly throw away responses to their critics along the lines of “Chris didn’t mean to silence anyone’s voice” or “We just thought it would be fun!” All fine and well, and probably %100 true, but also, irrelevant when you release your work into the wild.

    I’m not saying we should self-censor, we *should* do work that’s meaningful to us. But if we don’t account for our audience — in this case, all American bloggers everywhere — we’re making a big mistake.

    I ramble. This over 40 dressed in thrift store clothes sitting in a messy house bed head blogger thanks you for your thoughtfulness.

    Reply
  8. Mallory Brown

    I definitely want to see this movie! I think that the reason all of these homes are “Pinterest Perfect” is because he’s interviewing experienced, established bloggers who have put forth the effort to make their name in the industry. I’m really interested to see how these bloggers got where they are and how it’s changed their lives on a personal level.

    chromobeauty.blogspot.com

    Reply
  9. Hey Mishka

    Time for an IFB collaboration — our own documentary — or even just a Tumblr called “Real American Bloggers” with a diverse palette of people sharing their stories via videos, perhaps? A huge scrolling waterfall of awesome that represents our community!

    xx
    Mishka
    http://heymishka.com

    Reply
  10. Journey

    This is a great article. I think the title is a bit misleading. “Real” American bloggers are all unique and different and that’s what I love about blogging! It’s too bad this movie couldn’t quite capture that- at least from what I saw in the trailer. With that being said, I fully agree with Hey Mishka and am SO READY for an IFB Real American Bloggers film!

    xo, Journey
    http://yourstylejourney.com

    Reply
  11. Pamela Assogba

    The trailer was pretty underwhelming… It seemed more like a documentary about his road-trip rather than a movie about bloggers and their stories. I don’t want to completely shut it down since I haven’t seen the full movie, BUT representation is a powerful thing and he clearly didn’t do a good job in his trailer.
    America is a diverse place, so making a movie called “American Bloggers” should reflect that aspect, even in the trailer. I may have missed something, but it seems that he is only focusing on beauty blogs… Nothing wrong with that except that again, there’s no real diversity.
    I’m not going to bother watching the movie. I would just feel a bit discouraged as an African blogging about fashion and coding -two things that rarely go hand in hand-.

    Very well written article, though!

    Pam

    Reply
  12. Fashion and Beauty

    Maybe wait and do a real review on the fashion blogs and whole film, not just the short trailer.

    People really need to get over this equality issue. Just because more white bloggers happen to be represented in the trailer by no means is saying that other kind of bloggers don’t exist. We’re smart enough, i think, to realize that they do.

    I blog about fashion and beauty, but that topic suffers many of the same ills that affect lifestyle. You bring up something really interesting the concept of intent. I think lazy bloggers (and film makers) fall back on intent as an excuse for shoddy work, or they say things like “I’m just an independent blogger. I’m writing about things that are interesting to me, not everyone has to like them.”

    Reply
  13. Melanie

    It is disappointing. A harsh reality that talented writers and people who have struggled to create content rich blogs will be overshadowed by someone who has the means to produce a documentary and invite friends from their same social circle to represent bloggers across the nation.
    I am a paid and published copy writer with a blog. I blog because I enjoy it, the perks are very rewarding too and I have worked hard for them. This movie does not represent me or bloggers I know, so therefore, I will not be seeing it. It’s a decision that is just as easy to make as the film maker’s exclusion of me and my peers.

    Reply
  14. Andy Z

    I’m a MALE fashion blogger and it was really underwhelming to see that they are only portraying white, thin, lifestyle bloggers. They only thing that movie is gonna do is reinforce stereotypes and giving even more privileges to girls who fall into those categories. Blogging world is so vast and diverse.

    I’m starting to think this movie is an irresponsibility.

    http://www.fashiongiver.com

    Reply
  15. tasha roe

    “it’s not a “documentary.” It’s a vanity project about their circle of friends.”
    I’ve been searching for those words for weeks! PERFECTLY stated!

    Reply
  16. candace catherine

    Despite the fact that this film seems to poorly depict the diverse blogging community in America, honestly, I’d probably still watch it if there wasn’t a $10 price tag attached. I’ve got to admit that the traveling around in an Airstream is pretty rad, but to watch FIFTY interviews with the same type of (pretty) woman in a beautifully decorated home, getting all philosophical about their blogs. How boring!

    Reply
  17. Sridhar

    I just watched the film. Kind of dreadful. It has no structure, form, or clearly stated intent. As for the bloggers themselves, your article is pretty spot on. Not only a shocking lack of ethnic / gender diversity, but also that they’re all exclusively style / fashion blogs. The biggest problem therefore is the title, which espouses to give a full portrait of the blogosphere. Throughout the film I kept thinking that there’s a fringe conspiracy theorist sitting somewhere in Montana who is posting post after post of some of the weirdest stuff in America. Or a disabled woman whose goal is to compete in the Paraolympics. Or a 15-year old Latino girl who wants to share her love of geology.

    The only authentic moments come from the women who used their blog to address their adversity. Two women blogged about the loss of her child and miscarriage, another woman blogged about her experiences of raising a child with Downs, and these three women are the only truly meaningful insight into the power of sharing something publicly. The rest of the women (who occupy 90% of the film) are simply looking for feedback on the lifestyles that they are trying to curate, which after five minutes is incredibly boring and, truthfully, kind of infuriating.

    From a filmmaking standpoint it’s awful. Well shot (like the trailer so proudly declares) but as a director’s vision it completely falls flat. Has no idea what it wants to say. The voice over is directionless and doesn’t drive the narrative, likely because there isn’t one. The first twenty minutes is about the director rehabbing his Streamline trailer and has nothing to do with blogging. The film is filled with slow motion shots of the blogger’s children to the point of pandering nausea. There is inspirational piano music NONSTOP throughout the entire two hours of the film, which lends itself to the film trying to sound profound and life-changing, but it really isn’t.

    In total there’s eight to nine minutes of compelling material in a two hour film. But that’s not the biggest problem with the film, which is saying a lot.

    Reply
  18. Quaintrelle Georgiana

    From what I have seen in the trailer – it looks more like a campaign for the bloggers who participated, not like some indepth truth searching documentary. But I only saw the trailer, in which I find the voiceover hilarious (it´s speaking too highly about the documentary, but not actually about its purpose and yeah, a documentary about bloggers in the USA is definitely going to change the world…).

    Reply
  19. Becki Camp

    I love what you said. THIS:

    “It’s tempting to become just a copycat of who’s already popular. After all, they’re a success, so why bother forging your own path? And the aspirational nature of fashion (and fashion blogging) makes that temptation all the easier. Standing out from the crowd, daring to be unique…it takes time and energy and there’s no guarantee of success. But while it may be frustrating and while you may not look like a model, the fashion blogging world needs people who break the rules. Your perspective is valuable and important and worth listening to…even if it’s apart from the mainstream. The outcry and response to American Blogger shows that much is true. Individuality matters.”

    I am new to blogging. I so struggle with this! I want to build an audience…but I don’t want to sacrifice myself in the process. Thank you for your honesty and insight. It has encouraged me to to stay true to my own voice…not to try and bend to the pressure to “fit in”. Ugh…reminds me of high school. Been there, done that!

    Reply