Blogging Your Divorce

Heard of the Norovirus?  I had, sort of.  Didn’t pay much attention though as it seemed to be one of those things that raged through cruise ships and retirement homes, two places I don’t frequent.  Well, I should have paid attention because it is raging through me and has been since Tuesday evening.  

My apologies, then, for being totally MIA with the Wednesday Writers Workshop this week.  I offer instead the post I wrote before I got sick for about bloggers as celebrities.  

Bloggers as Celebrities: When the Personal Makes Headlines

January 26, 2012

Last week, Heather Armstrong of Dooce shared publicly about her trial separation from her husband, and the news spread well beyond the blogosphere. The mainstream media–The New York Times, ABC News,, the Salt Lake City Register–all thought the separation announcement of Heather and Jon Armstrong a newsworthy event. Noticing the trend, I recently Googled “Heather Armstrong Divorce” and got 229,000 hits spat back at me. Heather herself remarked on the oddity of her personal life being handled similarly to television and movie celebrities when she wrote,

“It is very strange to see my face on the local news as an anchor talks about my marital problems. And to read about it in the local paper. And to see news organizations in other countries speculating about what went wrong. Strange.”

In some ways, the response to the Armstrong separation can be seen as a function of the way in which blogs and blogging have now entered our experiences as media consumers and our collective consciousness, becoming part of how we “know” our world. Each of the mainstream media outlets named above featured a story on Armstrong and Dooce as a lead-in to the phenomenon of blogging in general and “mommy blogging” in particular. Thus, they were in some ways merely updating a story they had already told.

But what of the blogosphere’s response to the Armstrong separation–what are we to make of that? Why does the marital breakup of someone most of us don’t even know evoke such a strong response? There seem to be three common threads to the general response which, as The Perils of Divorced Pauline noted, is relatively mild considering the antipathy Heather has in the past provoked among some.

The first thread of the responses speak to the actual event: the separation of Heather and Jon Armstrong. To that, in general people are expressing shock, sadness, sympathy, whether it’s as they would do when they hear of a friend who is struggling, whether it’s the more distant thoughts of a celebrity’s life, or just in general about the issue of divorce.

After, for some, come judgments. Not so much about the separation itself, but about the sharing of it in public. Lisa Belkin on The Huffington Post, felt “that I shouldn’t be reading this. It is none of my business. It is too intimate, too personal, too raw, too…much.” Belkin noted that while blogs have redefined the meaning of the word intimate, perhaps there is a tendency to overshare. “How much is more than you want to know?” Belkin asked. “Is the blogosphere at its best when it serves as a group therapy session? Or at its worst?”

Dr. Anita Blanchard, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who studies virtual communities, was able to put her personal response in context and in so doing, name the third thread of the responses: the metaresponse. According to Dr. Blanchard,

“1) Dooce is stored in the “friend” section in the conceptual map of our social networks, even though we don’t know her. 2) When something unusual happens to her, at least some of us feel the need to sensemake about her experience with “real life” others.” Thus, we gather in our communities to talk about the event and the feelings it provokes in the same way that we would for a friend who lived across the street.

Sensemaking as a concept draws from philosophy, sociology and psychology. One commenter on the NY Times site thread about the Armstrong separation added political science to the mix. The Dudes’ Daddy wrote

“This story is really not about Dooce, her personal life, or how much one may or may not like her blog. It is about the place that blogging as a form of self publishing takes shape in our society. It’s the truest form of free market, where the fit succeed, the half fit survive, and the misfit get no readership and parish [sic]. The fact that she can announce her divorce on the blog w/o fear of being discontinued by The(sanctimonious) Man, is a reason for all of us bloggers to cheer. We can write whatever we want, no style, no taste, no problem, no fear. Power to the people.”

Bottom line then is that the intensely personal natural of blogging also happens within the context of consumed media, and reactions are intensely personal responses affected by all of the above. You can agree or disagree, think it right, wrong or not even care. If you are a blogger, however, you will likely have some response, because being a part of a community exposes you to information about people: some friends, some celebrities, some a mixture of both. That is the good–and the bad–of what we have created.



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