Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Moral Economy of "Liking": Notes from the Philly Style Bloggers Fall Kickoff, Triumph Brewing Company

Mel Edmond of Fashion Goes There 
The battle between art and commerce is older even than fashion itself. But it's always played a particularly pivotal role in fashion. Couturiers have to balance the desires of their clients with their own creative visions. Photographers seek to sneak their artsy sensibilities beneath the radar of their editors. So it's no surprise that the relationship between fashion bloggers and their commercial sponsors was a significant subject at last night's Philly Style Bloggers Fall Kickoff, an event put on by the Philly Style Bloggers group at Triumph Brewing Company in Old City. The theme of the night was "Blogger Be Thy Name," a title meant to capture both the desire of a blogger to develop a consistent brand identity and the status of blogs as a form of self-expression.

Chaucee Stillman of Streets and Stripes
This was my second Philly Style Bloggers meeting. At the first one, I knew no one and sat awkwardly at the table, hoping Fajr, the former organizer, and blogger behind Stylish Thought, would refrain from calling on me. This time, I knew four of the attendees already, including Chaucee above and Jacqui below, both of whom I have featured in the Philly Style Bloggers Profile section of this site, along with Fajr herself. Other bloggers in attendance were Karima of Skinny Minority, the new organizer of the group, Philly PR Girl, Mel of Fashion Goes There (top photo), and "blogger of the month" Quentin from Avenue Swank. Most of our meeting was organized around a Q & A session with Quentin on topics ranging from which blogging platform to use (Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad, Tumblr, etc) to how to make Twitter and Instagram hashtags work for you (by researching what's trending, of course, and making sure "your content's going where the talking is going") and how to negotiate the best, and least exploitative, deal with potential sponsors (answer: make a "media kit" and get your prices locked down in advance).    
Jacqui Davis-Moranti of Burgundy Whispers
Throughout the conversation certain key words and themes stuck out for me: "being true to yourself," "expressing yourself," being "taken seriously," the importance of "writing well" and writing "what you know," "building relationships" with other bloggers and brands, taking the initiative instead of waiting for things to come to you, being "creative" and "expressive," and perhaps most saliently — and repetitiously — of all, sticking to topics, brands, and subjects that you yourself "like." In fact, I would argue that "liking" has become something of a litmus test for bloggers. It is the key form of criteria for determining whether a proposed sponsorship is acceptable and for differentiating that which is a genuine form of self-expression — and hence a reflection of "who one really is" as a blogger — from that which is done out of some sort of cynical motivation, e.g, chasing profit or fame. There's nothing wrong with making a profit or making oneself famous, of course, from a blogger perspective at least, but these can never be the only objectives of one's blog. For a blog to maintain its integrity in the eyes of other bloggers they can't be the primary objectives either. 

Instead, blogs operate in a moral economy of "liking." To like something is to feature it without compunction, ambivalence, or regret. It is to strip oneself of cynical intention and to depict with honesty, immediacy, and integrity. To like is to express from one's heart, to represent one's personal truth. I was struck by how many times this logic was expressed last night. It is utterly pervasive in the blogging world, making or breaking a blogger's status in the eyes of others. When one begins to promote brands one doesn't believe in, when one starts showcasing things one doesn't even like, that's when one's integrity is called into question.

One of the discussions last night involved the "swag hag," the mythical persona of the cynical blogger who writes whatever it takes to get free stuff. Another discussion revolved around "black cat tactics," underhanded branding strategies employed by companies to get their products featured on a blog without any acknowledgment that such content was paid. Promoting a brand itself is not a problem. How could you possibly do fashion blogging without promoting brands? To report or depict is already a form of promotion. The problem comes in when representing a brand in a positive light that one does not oneself "believe in." Promotion of stuff one likes, on the other hand, is an act of sincerity and self-expression. To like is to lend an object a moral weight. It is to invest it with an intrinsic value, a value divorced (to use Marxist terminology) from both its "exchange value" (i.e, how much you can get for it) and its "use value" (i.e, what you can do with it). Liking, in other words, is some crazy metaphysical shit.

1 comment:

  1. Love the photos, especially the top one! Glad you were there and shared your thoughts afterwards. Always good to talk!


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