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Category Archives: History and Context

This Blog is Ending… But Social Media is Just Heating Up!

It is only after thoroughly analyzing the part that any conclusions about Jezebel can be drawn. It is clear that Nick Denton’s vision for Gawker media run’s through Jezebel’s core.  It is a magazine that knows its audience, and knows how to attract them. It does this through selective content, which parallels and aggregates other popular forms. It is part celebrity blog, part fashion blog, part feminist blog, and draws upon the appealing and crucial elements of all of them.  It also draws upon a rich history of women’s media, which blossomed creatively in an era of oppression. Jezebel is a new form of women’s media; in a new media for a savvier, and more well educated audience then some other forms of women’s media. This helps account for its differences, but acknowledges its similarities.  Jezebel defines itself by its critical voice, an inheritance from its older brother, Gawker.com. Even though Jezebel is “for women,” it has many similarities to Gawker. Throughout the blog, examples from Gawker that made pieces of Jezebel more salient, such as the idea of timeliness and Gawker’s transparency about its use of videos to draw attention.  Jezebel is framed by the taboo-ness of its name, which projects the type of image they want to craft.

While the issue of Jezebel’s feminism is inconclusive, it is undeniable the feminist strains it has. This is especially evident in its coverage of both personal stories and political/social narratives. However, it draws a closer comparison to other forms of digital media with its fashion and celebrity coverage. The cute videos are an Internet staple, and as the science shows, are guaranteed to draw interest.

Jezebel is the snarky girl in the friend group who eggs others on from the back corner.  She knows when to calm down enough to be liked, and occasionally causes a stir. After all Jezebel has been the part of national news and critiques, such as with the Redbook corner. But for the most part she just cleverly spars, talking over the television so that her commentary becomes a part of what the reader/watcher sees.

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Armchair Analysts: Jezebel and Inaction

After breaking down the pieces of Jezebel, it is still hard to draw full conclusions about how it is a women’s blog.  One of the unclear pieces is if Jezebel fits inside the category of a feminist blog.   There are many undeniable parallels in goals and content. However, where Jezebel falls short is it full commitment to political activism. In her piece analyzing Feministing, Moswel discusses the activism built into the site. (2008) However, in Jezebel, the topics are too varied to really stir activism, but err more on the side of social critique. Jezebel writers are the armchair anthropologists of the digital age, sitting on chairs and jotting down notes on what they observe and hypothesize.  To truly be feminist, Jezebel would need to push beyond just observance to ask readers how they are going to take action against what has been elucidated by the writers of Jezebel.  In a similar way, Jezebel tries so hard to critique the magazine industry in their manifesto. Yet, with Nick Denton’s goals of creating the pixilated Conde Nast, they cannot help but fall into many of the same patterns.  The rhetoric penned by inaugural editor Anna North has cooled. In an interview with Madame Nior, popular current (and newer) writer Dodai Stewart reacts strangely, and almost in a coached fashion to this very question about magazine disapproval.

“Jezebel is not anti-magazine, we are anti-cover lies, anti-unrealistic Photoshop and anti-exclusionary content — whether it be targeting only white people, only thin people or only rich people. Personally, I love print…. But many mainstream ladymags are disappointing.”

But for as much of a fight that Jezebel puts against mainstream magazines, its content falls into many of the same patterns. There is the celebrity gossip, the analysis of who wore what, splashed with human-interest pieces. What sets Jezebel apart is its acidic tongue, but even that seems to fall short of really piercing celebrity culture.  Of course, Jezebel has made it clear that they do not deal in cruelty, Holmes pointing out in interviews that they never mention weight. (Johnson 2007) Really, in these areas they are treading into worn territory. Perhaps this is because their manifesto and begging was so focused on the fashion piece, that they forgot to really establish their goals for the rest, and fell fumbling into patterns of puppies and dresses.

However, this so far may be selling Jezebel short. One area they excel in is their attention to women’s issue. They have exhaustive coverage of LGBT issues, sexual health, reproductive rights and more. However, none of this coverage comes with the real impetuous towards change, only the passive resignation.

Sources:

Johnson, Steve. “Jezebel: A Few words with the editor [Chicago Edition].” The Chicago Tribune.25 July 2007: Web. <22 Mar. 2012 < http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-07-25/features/0707230542_1_jezebel-gawker-media-celebrity&gt;

Stodghill, Alexis. “Black Beauty With Buzz- Dodai Stewart, Editor at Jezebel.com.” Madame Noire. Moguldom Media Group, 18 Oct. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://madamenoire.com/78847/black-beauty-with-buzz-dodai-stewart-editor-at-jezebel-com/&gt;.

OMG!!!! DID YOU HEAR ABOUT LINDSAY/BRITNEY/MILEY/ANGELINA?

Popular wisdom and Yahoo Ask! User theone78 maintain that gossip is inherent to women, something inherent.  Curious user honeybee posted on Yahoo’s general forum for knowledge asking “ Why do women love to talk & gossip? I’m one of them so no judging here.”   The answer she received from theone78, whose self-stated source is an “Associate Degree—In Social Behavior Science” was not an unheard of.

“ It’s the way you girls are made…more social and emotional!! …. It has more to do with out genetic structure/makeup of survival. Gossiping however is not being to control your tongue which BTW takes discipline.” (theone78) This prominent perception (whether or not the somewhat dubious science checks out) has lead for the industry of celebrity gossip to become immensely popular.

Gossip has been a widely researched subject, and “ the sheer bulk of five centuries commentary on gossip suggests a phenomenon worth taking seriously (Spacks 1985: 26) Most of this discussion of gossip has been decidedly negative, with potentially positive elements being acknowledged rarely.  (Spacks 1985: 26)  There are ethical questions inherent in gossip relating to its position on the “borderline” between public and private (Spacks 1985: 262; Podneicks 2008: 56). It is clear that sites like Jezebel push this line, forcing private information of celebrities and even self selecting contributors into a more public forum.  Like the snarky attitude of Jezebel, gossip draws heavily upon humor. (Podniecks 2008:57)  Gossiping is a performance, meant to create a reaction, whether of amusement or disgust, from the audience.  (Podneicks 2008: 57). When it is “framed by humor gossip ‘rises above its pettiness and viciousness’ and is redemptive” (Podneicks 2008: 57).

While gossip was in previous era was limited to the exchange of information about personal acquaintances, celebrity gossip has supplanted that. (Feasy 2008:693)  This is a relatively new phenomenon, and has been shaped by and defined a new definition of celebrity.  From Louella Parsons, the first gossip columnist to todays gossip blogs, the discipline has changed (Fairclough 2008) The growth of celebrity has given a consequence free way to share information about others, a process which gains the sharer social capital (Feasy 2008: 690). Since it does not involve personal acquaintances, gossip is not as problematic (Feasy 2008: 690). Initially, the idea of nationally knows stars came to fruition with the era of the powerful movie studios (Fairclough 2008). Monolithic, the studios were able to control the images of stars with a heavy hand (Fairclough 2008).  However, the invention of the zoom lens changed that (Fairclough 2008). Salacious pictures of Elizabeth Taylor’s extramarital affair caught from a distance breeched a new form of celebrity information(Podnieks 2009: 56). Now, any aspect of a celebrity’s life, especially their faults and private shames, were fair game (Podnieks 2009: 56). Having a taste of something more,  people were not longer satiated by the static stupid images (Podniek 2009: 56).

Feasy’s 2008 study group of readers of heat, a British gossip magazine, revealed that the consumption of celebrity gossip is not the sole voyeurism traditionally associated with it. In fact, women like to read the information for the main purpose of sharing it with others (Feasy 2008: 693). Knowing this information gives people a desirable expertise.   It allows them to share it with others to create a sense of community. There is also a desirability to be the first to obtain this information, expressed by Feasy’s study participants (Feasy 2008:691). While this is not reflected on Jezebel itself, this desire for primacy is the meaning of Gawker.com’s tagline “Tomorrows News. Today.”  There is a certain appeal to be the first of a social group to know something, to even, as Gawker suggests, be a whole day ahead.

Additionally, the presentation of celebrity flaws and personal news creates what  Feasy identifies as a double edged sword (Feasy 2008: 696) Women  feel validated for the own imperfections, comforted by the normalcy of celebrities. (Feasy 2008: 695) However, women also feel a sense of guilt for intruding and pointing out people’s weaker moments, even if they are in the public eye (Feasy 2008:696)  The popularity and social benefits of celebrity gossip have embedded it in popular culture. With the digital age, celebrity blogging has grown.  Check out the next post for more on that!

Sources:

Fairclough, Kirsty. “Fame is a Losing Game: Celebrity Gossip Blogging. Bitch Culture, and Post Feminism.” Genders. 48 (2008) Web. 18 April 2012. <http://www.genders.org/g48/g48_fairclough.html>

Feasy, Rebecca. “Reading heat: The Meanings and Pleasures of Star Fashions and Celebrity Gossip.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 22 5 (2010): 687-699

Honeybee, and Theone78. “Why Do Women Love to Talk & Gossip?” Yahoo! Ask. Yahoo!, 28 Apr. 2011. Web. 17 Apr. 2012. <http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110428163842AA9TcJ0>.

Podnieks, Elizabeth. “Celebrity Bio Blogs: Hagiography, Pathography and Perez Hilton.” a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 24 1 (2009): 53-73.

Spacks, Patrica. Gossip. New York: Knopf, 1985. Print

Behind the name Jezebel

The word “feminist” is not the only loaded word to be associated with the website. The site’s name itself is a word with an extensive history and meaning, which has been co-opted by the site to be used as a form of self-identification.  The negative meaning of the word “Jezebel” stems back to biblical times, to the story of  Queen Jezebel present in the New Testament, and “throughout the ages Jezebel’s very name has carried sexual connotations, become a term of serious become linked with prostitution and become a term of derision and abuse.” (Gaines 1999:xv) Jezebel has been characterized as both a maleficent and martyred character in the way that many strong female biblical characters have been (Gaines 1999 16-18).

According to Biblical stories, Jezebel was the beautiful young Phonecian wife of King Ahab, ruler of the Israelis (Gaines 1999 xiii). The Israelites did not approve of her polytheistic beliefs or luxurious lifestyle, and when the country was said to devolve into sin, Jezebel was used as a scapegoat and was killed and left to be eaten by wild dogs. (Gaines 1999 xiii) Jezebel clashed with societal standards, as “ feminine influence was equated with evil, for Jezebel’s wickedness undermined patriarchal authority to enforce societies’ rules.” (Gaines 1999 xv)This story has lead to the characterization of a Jezebel as an overly sexualized women: prurient and beautiful, drawing men astray.

Today “Jezebel is firmly ensconced in popular culture,” portrayed in various forms of media from the name of a deadly weapon developed in WWII to a style of push up bra, accompanied by salacious advertising. (Gaines 1999 xvi) It can be seen in plays, poems and stories from throughout the ages, and with an overwhelmingly negative context (Gaines 1999).  It has been a logical transition to extend the word to newer media platforms such as blogging.

However, by calling their website “Jezebel,” Gawker Media  is clearly doing something that has become culturally common in recent years: co-opting the use a word used to shame a community, controlling its social power. To reduce the social power of a damning insult, the community that it hurts the most will often adopt it and alter the use to a more positive form of social identity (Celious 2002 88). A word with similar connotation the Jezebel that is a common part of lexicon is bitch, a word which some view has been co-opted by females as a form of strength and power (Celious 2002 90). Many posts on Jezebel use the word bitch, in quotes from other women or even in the titles of stories. In her article, Celious argues that the use of “bitch”  in this fashion is empowering because

“one, the act of naming or defining oneself is empowering; secondly, access to these representations and what these women represent make them empowering; and third, the perceived group identity of the consumer and the [creator] makes it possible for the definition of “bitch” to be viewed as benign and even empowering when used by individuals perceived to be members of the “same group.”

In a context like Jezebel, where the product is catered to a specific group. (For just how narrow, check out this post) the understanding could be positive, using Celious’s definition. Conversly, there are many who view the use of insulting words like Jezebel and Bitch, even by women, as further hurtful and a sign that the negative views have been internalized.  As Celious points out in her article, some believe that sex and power are so intertwined in society that in “ such a cultural setting, it is impossible to use the same tools, like one’s sexuality, which is used to oppress one’s self, to empower one’s self in a way that is not debilitating.” (Celious 2002 91) In Jezebel, editor Anna North also wrote a post about the same subject, entitled “Has The Word ‘Bitch’ Lost its Bite?”  In it, North discusses the different uses of the word bitch, not drawing any conclusions. (2009) She also recounts the first time that she was called a bitch.  Instead of being insulting, North found it empowering, implying that she was a women with conviction and intelligence. ( 2009)

It is important to unpack the meaning behind the title of Jezebel to fully understand the angel of the content. The use of co-opting a negative word pairs with the edginess of the content, and frames the information the blog shares.

Sources:

Celious, Aaron. “How ‘Bitch’ Became a Good Thing- or At Least Not that Bad” University of Michigan Perspectives 8.2 (2002): 90-96. Web. 11 April 2012 <http://www.rcgd.isr.umich.edu/prba/perspectives/fall2002/celious.pdf>

Gaines, Janet Howe. Music in the Old Bones: Jezebel through the Ages. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999. Print.

North, Anna. “Has The Word “Bitch€”Lost Its Bite?” Jezebel. Jezebel, 17 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://jezebel.com/5428773/has-the-word-bitch-lost-its-bite>.

Wait, so can you clarify what this is about?

Through every medium there are publications meant to appeal to women, from the thick flimsy Fabio covered paperback of the grocery store to the slick colorful pages of Ladies Home Journal.  With the expansion of the Internet, Jezebel.com has worked to establish itself as a “women’s blog.”    However, the newness of the Internet makes this distinction lack a great deal of clarity, as there is no precedent of standard to understand what that distinction means.  This entails analyzing its part in Gawker media, its structure and tone, and the different aspects of its tagline “ Celebrity, Sex and Fashion For Women. Without Airbrushing.”

In order to understand what the vague term “ a women’s blog” means, the different aspects of Jezebel.com must be pulled apart and analyzed, in order to create a more understandable whole.  Without understanding the components and context of the site, there is no way to understand the impact and meaning of the site itself.   An important part of the context of Jezebel is its part in Gawker media. Like Jezebel, each Gawker media blog has been successful by micro targeting its content to a specific segment of the population.  It is in alignment with this business model that Jezebel has come into play. It is important, especially given the distinctive tone of Gawker works to analyze how Jezebel fits within these works. It is also important to frame Jezebel within the history of female-targeted works in different media forms, and how it has taken on the mantel of this genre for the digital age.

Jezebel has also been called a feminist blog, in almost every description but their own. Since feminism is such a loaded word, this distinction is important. In order to determine if Jezebel is a feminist site, it is important to understand about feminism more broadly and specifically its expansion into the digital world.

The different elements of the tagline also indicate how Jezebel might break down how it is a “women’s blog.” Picking these topics could be no accident, and looking at each of them and their digital history could unlock what Jezebel means.  Celebrities, including gossip and gossip blogs are a flourishing element of the Internet and integral to Jezebel.com.  With any blog associated with Feminism comes a certain degree of sex, and for Jezebel, this is expanded to also include other aspects of sexuality. Contextualizing this and comparing it with feminist websites can clarify the importance of this part. While the fashion element of Jezebel is less obvious, further analysis can show why this was important enough to be included in the tagline.  Additionally, the tagline could be amended to include a fourth category, especially aimed at tugging women’s heartstrings. This is cute animal and baby videos, labeled “aww” and “squee” to replicate the reaction to watching these clips. How these different pieces all fit together is the answer to understanding Jezebel, and figuring out what it means for digital media