Conversations across Mediums: LiveJournal, Cleolinda Jones, and Digital Transversions

EGrumer's picture

LiveJournal is a blogging website founded in March of 1999 by Brad Fitzpatrick, a student of computer science.  In 2005, it was purchased from Fitzpatrick by the American blogging software company Six Apart, and in 2007 the Russian company SUP purchased it from Six Apart.  Although academic research on LiveJournal is limited, a December of 2008 study ranked it as the sixth most popular website, among American college students.  LiveJournal offers uses personal blogs (or weblogs, online journals) and the option of creating LiveJournal “communities,” which link multiple bloggers together.  One LiveJournal blogger of note is Cleolinda Jones, whose blog is called Occupation: Girl.  Jones began her LiveJournal in 2003, at the age of twenty-four, and is still blogging on it currently.  In her first entry, Jones said, "I swore, when I was in high school, that I was going to grow up but I was never going to grow old, popular culture was always going to be my culture, I was going to be hip way into my 40s and 50s. (Pop quiz: How can you tell that this was a quest doomed from the start? The word “hip,” that’s how.)"

This blend of humor, self-deprecation, and a love of pop culture exemplify Occupation: Girl.  While Jones began blogging as a graduate student, she later dropped out for reasons undisclosed.  She continues to blog, however, using her grad school toolkit to deconstruct and analyze literature and films.  Of the way she presents herself on her blog, Jones says she does not utilize a “constructed persona…Granted, in a text-based format, I have time to think before I speak... But I've always had the most success writing about things that appealed to me, and in my own voice — no matter how silly or embarrassing those things might be."  Jones blogs in earnest, as herself; her entries frequently mention personal issues, like her struggles with mental illness.  However, she is notable not just for being an honest blogger, or a humorous pop culture blogger, but for her transcendence of the digital/non-digital lines.

Jones is known, in particular, for her parodies Movies in Fifteen Minutes and for her recaps of the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer.  Movies in Fifteen Minutes, or m15m, was originally begun on Occupation: Girl, but moved by Jones to its own community, m15m, when she ran out of space for fans to become “friends” of the blog; the community format allows a much larger number of members.  Movies in Fifteen Minutes, Jones uses a script-style format to recap popular films in a gently satiric fashion.  The first movie parodied, in May 2004 (moved to m15m the next month), was Van Helsing.  Meanwhile, Jones began recapping books in September 2005, with the Victorian Venus in Boston.  She has also done other books, like Varney the Vampire, another Victorian work.  Her recaps of the Twilight series, begun in May of 2008 are, however, by far her most popular.

In 2005, Jones made the transition from blogger to published author.  An editor from Orion Publishing, a British publishing house, read the m15m parodies still hosted at Occupation: Girl in May of 2004 and asked Jones if she would be willing to write a book of such movie parodies.  This book, Movies In Fifteen Minutes: The Ten Biggest Movies Ever For People Who Can't Be Botheredwas published in the United Kingdom in October of 2005; despite positive reviews, it has yet to be published in the United States.  Jones thus took a purely digital project, which was deeply rooted in internet-based forms of humor, and transformed it into a published book, using parodies not previously (or, indeed, since then) published online.  She also continues to write new parodies for the online m15m, meaning that her work proceeds in the digital sphere even after publication in print form.

Just as Jones’ first book was published because a literary editor read m15m, Jones would later be asked for her opinion on the Twilight series thanks to her blog posts deconstructing the books.  Jones is “the person of record [whom] that many journalists call when they need an anyman (or any woman) quote about young adult literature. Particularly Harry Potter or Twilight.”  She has been mentioned in pieces on or interviewed about Twilight on multiple occasions.  In one 2010 article, Jones argued that Bella, the protagonist of the Twilight series, functions as a stand-in for both author and reader, allowing them to experience the stories as a wish-fulfillment fantasy.  That article referred to Jones as a “31-year-old Twilight fan."  (While Jones herself was rather surprised to be seen as a Twilight fan, she was not displeased.)

Jones’ work on Twilight is entirely LiveJournal-based, on both Occupation: Girl and m15m.  Though she has become well-known enough to be interviewed by reputable news agencies on the subject, she has become known on the subject not due to traditionally published works, but due to blogging.  In 2008, a writer for New York Magazine said that the “hugely entertaining live blogs of Breaking Dawn by LiveJournal blogger Cleolinda Jones…[are] well worth a read even if you don't know the books."  Just as her LiveJournal blogging helped Jones to get published, it is also the reason she has been asked for her literary opinions.

The LiveJournal format, like that of other blogging platforms, allows an unprecedented interplay between writer and reader.  Anyone with a LiveJournal account can join the m15m community.  Jones has said that she reads every comment left for her and, just as Jones’ blog entries are public and readable by anyone with internet access, so are those comments.  This ability to virtually “create and sustain ‘community’ through audience response"  has been noted as an important highlight of the blog format.  Readers can leave comments on blogs for the bloggers to read and respond to, engendering entire conversations.  On LiveJournal specifically, users can band together to join LiveJournal communities about subjects they find mutually interesting.  As Cleolinda Jones also exemplifies, there exists the potential for a talented blogger to be discovered by professional publishing houses of the non-digital sphere, and for blog posts authoritative on a specific subject to garner a blogger respect from the traditional news media as an expert.  As Jones has said of her blogging style, "when I'm writing a blog post like this, I'm going to try to write mostly the way I speak, for a conversational tone--since you can comment at the end, it is dialogue, it's a dialogue betwen you and me."  Blogs like LiveJournal are not insular, like a paper journal.  They are a conversation between writer and reader.  As such, they are a newly evolving form, a digital transformation of an older presentation.

Works Cited

"Blogging Increasing in Popularity Among Generation Y." Anderson Analytics. Anderson Analytics, LLC, 1 Dec. 208. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://www.andersonanalytics.com/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0>.

Conrad, Peter. "Tiny Things, Tiny Minds." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 12 Nov. 2005. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/nov/13/features.shopping>.

"Did 'Breaking Dawn' Ruin the Twilight Series?" New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC, 5 Aug. 2008. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2008/08/did_breaking_dawn_ruin_the_twi.html>.
 
"Frequently Asked Question #4." LiveJournal. LiveJournal, Inc., 23 Nov. 2010. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://www.livejournal.com/support/faqbrowse.bml?faqid=4>.
 
"Frequently Asked Question #56." LiveJournal. LiveJournal, Inc., 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://www.livejournal.com/support/faqbrowse.bml?faqid=56>.
 
"Frequently Asked Question #77." LiveJournal. LiveJournal, Inc., 17 Apr. 2011. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://www.livejournal.com/support/faqbrowse.bml?faqid=77>.
 
Jones, Cleolinda. Movies in Fifteen Minutes. LiveJournal. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://m15m.livejournal.com/>.
Jones, Cleolinda. Occupation: Girl. LiveJournal. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://cleolinda.livejournal.com/>.
 
Lindemann, Kurt. "Live(s) Online: Narrative Performance, Presence, and Community in LiveJournal.com." Text and Performance Quarterly. Taylor and Francis Online, 19 Aug. 2006. Web. 3 Feb. 2012. <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10462930500362494>.
 
Lucianovic, Stephanie V.W. "Why Doesn’t ‘Twilight’ Have a Team Bella?" Today. MSNBC, 27 June 2010. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/37545960/ns/today-entertainment/t/why-doesnt-twilight-have-team-bella/>.
 
Morris, Tracy S. "Author Spotlight: Cleolinda Jones." Tracy S. Morris. 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://tracysmorris.com/2011/01/04/author-spotlight-cleolinda-jones-part-1-of-2/>.
 
"Movies In Fifteen Minutes: The Ten Biggest Movies Ever For People Who Can't Be Bothered." Amazon.co.uk. Amazon.com, Inc. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://www.amazon.co.uk/Movies-Fifteen-Minutes-Biggest-Bothered/dp/0575076879/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1>.
 
Weiner, Robert G., Shelley E. Barba, Kevin Murphy, Mary Jo Pehl, and Robert Moses Peaslee. "In the Peanut Gallery with Mystery Science Theater 3000: Essays on Film." Google Books. Google, 19 Mar. 2011. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?id=GY_AgrQXEM4C>.
 
White, Dave. "A Beginner’s Guide to ‘Twilight’." Today. MSNBC, 18 Nov. 2008. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/27788655>.
 
Williams, Jennifer. "Interview With Author Cleolinda Jones." Blogcritics. Technorati, 10 Nov. 2009. Web. 03 Feb. 2012. <http://blogcritics.org/books/article/interview-with-author-cleolinda-jones/>.

Comments

Ayla's picture

On format...

When I approached this project I thought we were writing analytically about certain breaks in writing.  Here as EGrummer has done, I expected my peers to find a certain person, blog, or website that was different from traditional writing styles, and describe how they fit the description of 'breaks' in writing.  After reading K's essay, I thought, 'Oh no, I misunderstood the assignment and did it completely wrong!'  But that's the essence of the assignment, I suppose.  Both EGrummer and K's responses to the "prompt" are appropriate, although K fled away from the traditional essay format much more than EGrummer did.  So the process of breaking me continues?  When white men were domesticating wild horses in the west, they always had to break them before the horses were able to be used for work.  A common method of breaking a horse was tying it to a stake. 3 days - no food or water.  The same for us stubborn students?

Anne Dalke's picture

Benevolent Dictatorship?

EGrumer--
Years ago, Laura Blankenship (in)famously said something that crystalized my distaste for blogs as a form of academic --or any other sort of!--discourse. In contrast to a "a discussion board or forum," which "is more like a democracy," she characterized a blog as "a benevolent dictatorship. Because a blog usually has a single author…the author's voice is more of the defining factor."

I see an unresolved tension between those two possibilities @ play in your essay here. You do a very nice job of using Cleolinda Jones' publishing career to demonstrate the porosity of boundaries between digital and print media. Your description of Jones' meteoric rise to fame certainly exemplifies "the potential for a talented blogger to be discovered by professional publishing houses," for "blog posts authoritative on a specific subject to garner a blogger respect as an expert."

But this is really blog used as bully pulpit, not as site for community-building, for dialogue, or give-and-take.  
Yes, "readers can leave comments on blogs for the bloggers to read and respond to, engendering entire conversations," but it's not such conversations that your essay highlights. You claim that an important aspect of the blog format is the ability to "create and sustain 'community' through audience response" (and I'm interested to see your source for that observation, to realize that over five years ago, Text and Performance Quarterly found blogs worthy of academic interest and analysis).

But I don't think that you give the data to back up that claim. Where are the examples of "a dialogue between you and me," of a "conversation," much less "an unprecedented interplay between writer and reader"? Where might you show me Jones altering what she thinks, for example, in response to what a reader has said to her?

Those are the sorts of examples I need to see, in order to recognize blogging as what you claim it to be, "a newly evolving form," rather than a repetition of the old one in which an academic lecturer holds an audience spellbound --or puts them to sleep!--in either case, when there is only a single voice reverberating in what might be a space for rich conversation.

EGrumer's picture

Conversational abilities?

Thank you for your comments!  I don't think that I explored the conversational, community nature of blogs as well as I should have.

I think that this post, which I liked to in my paper, demonstrates several conversational aspects.  (Another example, from m15m, would be Jones' corrections to her parody of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)  Amongst other things, in that post, Jones quotes from Twitter conversations, in the blog post itself, and she edited the post with things that she was told by readers of said post.  For example, adding in something said in one of the comments.  The comment section, indeed, becomes a conversation between many, with Jones and commenters reading and replying to comments made by others.

I will admit that Occupation: Girl (and most blogs) are not an even conversation.  One personality is dominant.  But other voices are heard.  For the most part, that is up to the discretion of the blogger.  Jones allows comments -- reads them, replies them, and even edits things from comments and emails into her posts.  She doesn't have to do this; not all bloggers do.  But she can.  I think that this is the most important part.  The blog, unlike the essay or the book, has a conversational ability.

This ability can certainly be disregarded.  A blog that did such a thing would, so to speak, be a dictatorship.  But blogs (at least the LiveJournal format, though I have yet to see a format that does not) inherently contain the capacity for conversation.  The blogger can, or can not, converse.  That this is in the blogger's power does show the power dynamic of the blog.  But conversations are possible, even if this possibility can be ignored.

And that, to me, is revolutionary and unique.  Non-digital essays and books just don't have the option of being conversations.  They must needs be a single voice.  A blog can contain the voices of many.

Anne Dalke's picture

One hand clapping?

Thanks for these additional examples and links; I like seeing the possibilities....

though I'm not quite ready to jump on the bandwagon yet!

I think of the term "fake Socratic dialogue," which many profs use in the classroom: it has the appearance of a conversation, but actually what's happening is that the students are being invited to make the points that have already been laid it. It's not really exploratory or open to where a true exchange might lead. Your description of a blog as a potential conversation, but "not an even conversation.  One personality is dominant"... isn't my ideal of collaboration: too one-sided, too much the sound of one hand clapping.

Anne Dalke's picture

On the difference between forums and blogs

I'm coming by again to note that "members can no longer post 'forums' on hastac.org"  --because of "a few users starting forums when what they were really writing were blog posts. Today's change will help make the difference between blogs and forums clearer (there is actually no technical difference between them)...."

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