March 22, 2010
just a thought – the power of personality
A major parallel trend I have noticed both in fashion and blogging is the trend towards the power of personality.
Any close examination of fashion history will reveal that its focus is constantly shifting and so is its center of power. As I described after reading Model, the various arms of the industry are constantly trying to seize the reigns of the entire industry, to attempt to steer it in their favour. At various points in the last century, we’ve seen models, magazine editors, designers and others wrest the spotlight away from each other in turn, or kowtow to whoever seems to control the current zeitgeist. Much as a fashion object like clogs wins and loses favour, so do the groups that form the greater entity that we call the fashion industry. Most recently we have seen the fashion industry become supplicant to the idea of celebrity – whether its celebrities on the covers of magazines, celebrity fashion lines and endorsements, or celebrity judges (of questionable authority) for fashion competitions, the past decade in fashion belonged to celebrity, much as past decades belonged to brands, or supermodels, or designers, or editors.
Blogging is a relatively new subsection to fashion, and yet its short history has already gone through some massive shifts in focus – from the early, romantic preoccupation with ideas (’05 to ’06) to the pragmatic obsession with speed (’07 to ’08), and now resolutely embracing (along with the rest of modern culture) the power of personality.
It was in 2008 when I started to really notice the growing influence a new breed of bloggers which I would describe as “personality bloggers”. These bloggers focus less on a particular niche or topic than they did on themselves – creating an artfully crafted online persona was their main mandate. How do you tell a personality blogger? Their URL is often their own name; their face is in the header – and in most if not all of their posts. Most of all, when a personality blogger is successful, they are very successful – even if the content isn’t particularly powerful. Its a genre that rewards photogenic faces and popularity begets more popularity. Scientifically, human brains are primarily responsive to human faces – I just heard that on Radiolab. Also, we are evolutionarily hardwired to devote attention towards those we perceive as being powerful. Its a survival mechanism if you’re living in a pack of apes when the leaders of the pack directly determine the quality of your own life. Whether its still a useful instinct is debatable. In any case, personality blogging has been an inexorable force to contend with as a fashion blogger, and the lines between fashion bloggers and personality bloggers have been becoming tremendously blurred.
As we are watching fashion begin the backlash against the celebrity trend (designers trying to distance themselves, denying celebrity attendance at fashion shows, etc), timing is perfect for the rise of the personality. The difference between celebrity and personality is a fuzzy one – but the essence of it is that personality is something which is more accessible, less godlike, and usually the individual addresses their audience in a very direct way. The trend towards “reality” within celebrity culture to me represents the process of downgrading stars into personalities, just as “cewebrity” mirrors the process by upgrading bloggers to the level of personalities. It just happens that the development of platforms like blogs and twitter is tremendously supportive of the development of personalities – because they are types of media which are easily controlled by a single individual.
I have noticed the effects of the power of personality even here on my own blog, and my own feelings towards these changes are ambivalent at best. I am a fashion illustrator who spends a lot of time and effort crafting drawings, paintings, and paper dolls, and as a blogger I like to explore history and ideas. Even so, current reactions to my art and my writing in no way compare to the response I get for my infrequent “outfit” posts. It is a somewhat unsatisfying form of validation to receive more acclaim for a snapshot of myself in a jacket I got at the thrift store than for a painting I spent days creating.
And yet, this is the reality of the situation. Bloggers who make a point of keeping their face and name off their blog are playing with a major handicap. Anonymity is anathema in the current atmosphere. Accolades go to those who can artfully package themselves using their own image and more often than not, their own URL. First person posts and opinions gather more momentum than carefully researched, more balanced writing. Unfortunately, the positive effect of being able to define oneself independently without depending on affiliations is counteracted by the overwhelming pressures of appearance over substance, and the inevitable economic necessity of cultivating hits rather than creating original work.
Who can name the people who write for GQ, or Glamour, and how many magazine websites are worth subscribing to? And yet we know all the top style bloggers on a first name basis. How many of you follow Lisa Tant on twitter but don’t buy Flare? Being able to parse a personal voice seems to be more important to consumers of modern media than the masthead, the delivery method, or even the content and subject.
Do you agree or disagree? How have you noticed the power of personality affecting your own role as a creator or consumer of media and fashion media in particular?