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Why Success Can Be A Trap & How To Escape It

Why Success Can Be A Trap & How To Escape It

vintage dooce

A few weeks ago we were talking about Heather Armstrong and how her blog has changed over time.

Some changes happen over the course of a career, particularly as over the course of a career of a blogger, because people change as they age and the way they see the world changes. Also, when you write every day, your writing changes. It’s inevitable.

But usually those kinds of things are positive changes and are not likely to have a negative effect on your readership. What we were discussing a few weeks back was how to retain your readership in the face of major life changes that might land you in totally different circumstances from the ones in which you found yourself when you originally charmed your readership. And if your readers can no longer relate to you, how are you going to keep them?

Success for Heather Armstrong is kind of a trap in this way. Her fans say they want her to succeed but in a way they don’t, because the more that she does, the less they can relate to her. The more that she shows them the trappings of her success, the more they begin to resent her and the less they feel she can relate to her. But the thing is, why shouldn’t she share with them how she has been able to turn her blogging into a successful venture? And also, if her business is to make her life into a blog, then how is she going to possibly continue without showing what her life looks like now, new houses, Twitter parties, HGTV sponsored events and all?

I suggested a few weeks ago that what I thought she needed to do was to start posting the things that she didn’t think she should put on the internet on the internet. Like she did in the old days, before she was famous. Maybe those things don’t have to do with postpartum depression anymore, or maybe she cannot say them about her family anymore, but maybe there are still some things that she can say or do that are vintage Dooce that still have that vintage Dooce flavor, that remind us why she became who she is. And I wanted to post this today, because she’s done just that a few times lately and it’s really made me feel like there is a way out, or to transform, even once you reach that level. That even if you feel like you’ve painted yourself into a corner, if you are still willing to take chances, you can still do things that are new, if you want, and I think that Dooce is thinking about doing just that, based on a few things she’s done lately, and that I’m hoping she’ll expand into her blog as well. For example, this tweet, which infuriated several of her followers, but was also retweeted by 67 people:

vintage dooce

Why am I applauding this? Particularly when it led to an inevitable unfollow threat and subsequent pile-on by Dooce fans of the unfollow-threatener? Because 1) it’s funny, and 2) it’s vintage Dooce. It’s not safe funny. It’s not all-caps, hyperbole funny. And it’s not a crazy threat against a corporation or throwing Twitter weight around. It’s just Dooce making a politically incorrect joke. It’s a side of her she has not let us see for a while, and I think it would be nice for us to get reacquainted.

Another example, from the recent flare up of the sparklecorn controversy, Dooce made an appearance on behalf of Mike Monteiro (from his Flickr Photostream:

This is Dooce having fun and being funny. Not worrying about corporations, or being Dooce the brand. Just being funny.

I like it. And I think it’s good for her brand, too.

What do you guys think?

Glossary terms: unfollow threat

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Comments (33)

  1. Jul 28, 2010

    I admit, my eyebrows went up when I saw that tweet. Mostly because I think hillbilly jokes are kind of retro, but still.

    I think if you can keep your business face on all the time when you’re in public and you’re a business (like Pioneer Woman), that’s the safest bet. But some people just know they are going to be incapable of doing that, and in that case, it’s probably wise to channel your need to be snarky into jokes like this, that are going to offend the fewest number of people. She probably doesn’t have many cousin-marriers in her audience…but if you change the target of the joke by changing the ending slightly, you have a problem. It’s all in knowing what’s going to create a big problem versus a little one. It’s like those backfires they set to prevent the big wildfire from sweeping the canyon.

  2. Jul 28, 2010

    I guess what I liked about it was that it wasn’t a reliance on the old safe bets for her laughs. I mean, sure, hillbilly jokes are low hanging fruit, but the thing is, she DOES have people who are going to be annoyed in her audience by those things. And if you are going to grow you have to do that stuff. Because she’s a business but she is also a creative business, like Kathy Griffin, who is kind of the other extreme. She does stuff all the time that I’m like, “OK, that’s not even funny,” but the thing that she does well is always push herself to see where she can grow into new areas of comedy.

  3. Jul 28, 2010

    I laughed. But I live in AL, I know she grew up in TN, and that’s the kind of shit we joke about all the time. It’s probably one of the reasons people hate Southerners. One of many reasons.

    I’ve seen a lot of people express disappointment in Dooce’s writing lately, almost like they feel they’ve lost a longtime friend, so I think people will be glad to see some of this come back. More than others will be upset with her being inappropriate.

  4. Michele
    Jul 28, 2010

    I didn’t really find it that funny, low lying fruit and all. I didn’t know if she was speaking of herself actually because of her accent and all.

    The crazy threats against a corporation, hasn’t ended and was done by her husband about the same time this was bad joke was tweeted. If I were to grab my tablet and draw up a cartoon it would be Jon hiding behind heather and saying, “you better be nice to us, or I’ll sick my wife on you.”

  5. Michele
    Jul 28, 2010

    eeek I know better it’s “SIC”, not sick. And the link for his tweet is this,

  6. snarkoleptic
    Jul 28, 2010

    She crossed the line from questionably funny to mean girl when she retweeted the dissenting tweet. (And her husband’s “threat” to Home Depot was in poor taste).

  7. Kathryn
    Jul 28, 2010

    Michele – how is Jon’s tweet a “crazy threat”? I read it more like he was poking fun at himself and the Maytag situaiton

    and Snarkoleptic, how was her retweeting something crossing a line – a few tweets later she actually joked that she was intentionally losing follower

    the poor woman can’t seem to win for losing with you people!

  8. Jul 28, 2010

    Occassional reader, first time commenting to say I completely agree. (Not to say I wouldn’t comment if I disagreed.) As for the joke itself, I thought it was mildly funny and not at all offensive. I mean, really? I don’t understand why people look at a comment like that and can’t take it for what it is: a joke.

    I think you’re also spot-on in thinking she’s become unrelatable to her much of her original readership. Well, duh. She’s at a different place in her life now (married, family, dogs, mortgage, etc) so it’s only natural that her audience will change with her. I started reading Heather a few years ago, right around the time I wanted to get pregant but was terrified to go off my meds. I did go off my meds, I did get pregnant, and I subsequently went bat shit crazy.

    Reading Heather (and ultimately going back on meds) saved my life, so for me, seeing her succeed is like seeing a friend succeed. I met her at her signing in Portland, and she was so lovely. So generous & gracious with her time, despite being very pregnant. She got to meet my daughter, and I got to give her a hug, and it’s truly something that I’ll never forget. (just please don’t call me a dooceling, because ewwww. oh, and I have my opinions & don’t jump to defend someone who doesn’t need defending)

    That being said, I’m clearly not the norm because I keep seeing comments or blog posts here & there where people are saying she’s bragging about her success. And just as you said, I fail to understand how someone who’s profession is to blog about their life, is blogging about their life is considered to be bragging? I get a feel from her writing that she’s completely grateful for what has happened in her life. And rightly so. The woman has worked her ass of to get to where she is.

    Anyway…sorry about the crazy long comment!

  9. Jul 28, 2010

    and ps, I loved that she’s not conforming to an “HGTV” image, and still writes what she wants. Yes, there are lines that ought not be crossed, but that’s just a given in life. We’re adults and there are rules of decency.

  10. Jul 29, 2010

    I swear I thought that Mike used Photoshop to modify an image of Dooce holding something else, not his message. So that really was Dooce? Very funny. That same flickr stream showed the image again with the message erased so that’s what gave me the idea it was just Mike and his friends messing around.

  11. Jul 29, 2010

    I didn’t see the tweet and don’t find it funny. However, I probably would have read it and moved on. I don’t find it funny, because it is old and tired regarding southerners. That could be because I worked in New Orleans’ hotels for a few years and every Yankee that checked in made some joke about me sleeping with my brother or cousin. And um, sorry, but that is disgusting no matter where you are from. Of course, I had to be polite to them, but they didn’t always get fast service. PSA: Be nice to the front desk staff they have the power to give you free stuff.

    I don’t threaten to unfollow people I just do it. There is no need to draw attention to it. Most people notice when someone isn’t following them, because their number goes down. Maybe Dooce doesn’t care, but whatever.

    What I don’t like is the pile on that happens when anyone speaks ill of Dooce or her husband. It is a bit too drink the Kool-Aid for me. Sure you like these people, but do you really have to pounce on someone who thinks differently? That I don’t get.

    And I am not for the “Well I’m (fill in whatever group you are about to offend) so it is okay that I joke about it”.

  12. Michele
    Jul 29, 2010

    I’ve got a $50 that says he meant it, as much as Heather’s threat to Sephora & Maytag was intended. Jon is well known for opening his mouth before he thinks. Like the time he called the bloggess a drunk and saying she meant actual harm to his wife all because she called Dooce a mythical hobbit!?! And let’s not forget the time he was a jerk to Anna and other’s.
    It would be endearing if how he stood up for his wife weren’t laced with pious, misogynist undertones about those “commoners” of the kingdom of mommy & female bloggers who should bow down to Heather because without her, you all would have nothing (and he has said as much on his blog.) So, that if you don’t behave in his approved manner, (which basically is to never EVER have a dissenting opinion about his wife or him & all things that are purchased must never fail), he’ll sic her twitter power on you. I guess if you have to say in your twitter bio that you’re basically “Mr.. Dooce & you were formally awesome” and that’s all you have going for yourself is your wife’s celebrity, that you aren’t feeling exactly all the great about yourself. Maybe it’s residual bitterness that comes out when he gets to be in power for a change on twitter when he attacks people and corporations, I don’t know. But he is not a very nice guy to women.
    If Heather wants to be viewed as a celebrity and not a temper tantrum throwing diva with the likes of Lindsey, Paris etc…, then behave like one. I don’t see Candace, David, or the likes retweeting dissenting tweets, or making crazy threats to corporations.
    I can give people breaks, I really can, but there was no break deserved here, and this wasn’t about her as much as Jon.

  13. Jul 29, 2010

    Well aren’t you just a little ray of sunshine!

    And for the record, I couldn’t care less if people don’t agree with Heather (or Jon, for that matter); it’s not like I agree with her 100%, all the time either. But what I don’t get, is why people such as yourself seem to go out of their way to spew their distaste for her all over the internet. Maybe I’m way off base?

    It’s just, WHY? Why waste your energy & why let her take up space in your head? Isn’t it exhausting?? I mean, if I fundamentally disagree with someone, I don’t continue to waste my time obsessing over them. What’s the point?

  14. Boomhauer
    Jul 29, 2010

    I tell you what, man. Dang ol’ Dooce and her tweets talkin bout subtitles an sex with your dang ol’ cousins. I saw that pop up on my puter man, wonderin man why is she so unrelatable now. Got bobcats and man servants. Dang ol’ UNFOLLOW, man.

  15. Jul 29, 2010

    That’s what I think I’m trying to get at. It’s not that this is the funniest joke in the world, it’s more that it’s a ballsy move. I almost don’t care if her jokes are actually funny, I just want her to make jokes and take risks again, piss people off for doing things that don’t involve corporations or people saying that she’s selling out. That’s what I’m trying to get at in this post. Not so much that I think the joke is fantastic.

  16. Jul 29, 2010

    Yeah, I saw Jon’s tweet and I thought it was lame, but my guess is that he was trying to be cute — this is me being generous. In any case, I’m not viewing him as the person who makes her brand. He’s the consort. I watch what she does to see where the brand is going.

  17. Jul 29, 2010

    I see what you’re saying with the retweet, though I do that all the time when somebody says something to me like that in an at reply, so context counts. I love that move. I love the passive aggressive retweet. Sometimes it’s the only thing you can do, really, when somebody sends you some absurdly stupid @ reply. Of course, I half like one one-thousandth the number of followers that she does, so maybe it’s not quite the same thing when I do it.

  18. Jul 29, 2010

    Anna? Is this going in the direction you intended?

  19. Jul 29, 2010

    Kathryn, I didn’t see Jon’s tweet as a threat, either. I think it was probably a joke, but it did kind of sound lame. But, you know, that’s the problem. Depending on the person reading it, and how they feel about you, they are going to read it with their own set of associations.

    But I do agree with what you’re saying, and this is the point of my post to a certain extent, part of success is that you get to a certain point where people will not let you have anything without criticizing it. It’s the price of it, you can’t go back to the kind of slack you get when you are just a small time blogger and people believe the best of you because they have no reason not to.

  20. Jul 29, 2010

    OK, Michelle, you know I’m not the biggest fan of Jon Armstrong but I don’t want this turning into some kind of bashing session. A lot of what he does is in the name of protecting his wife. I don’t approve of his methods. He has blocked me on Twitter for what I’ve said to him, so you know I’m not trying to suck up to him here, but I’m not going to let you just unload either, OK?

  21. Jul 29, 2010


    I found her very friendly in person as well. I also had to go off my meds to get pregnant and though I didn’t go crazy it was very difficult for me. I didn’t discover Dooce that way, but she was one of the first bloggers I read and I have always felt that she deserves her success and have never begrudged her any of it. I think that people who do may not be clear on exactly what is involved in being a professional blogger. People think it is something you can do for a few hours a day and just be done with it, and they see Dooce buying a new house and are jealous. But the truth is, it’s a demanding job with a demanding schedule, Dooce has been lucky to get the kind of exposure she’s had, that part is true, but there’s no question that she works hard for her success, at least not in my mind.

  22. oregoncoastgirl
    Jul 29, 2010

    You win this comment thread, Boomhauer. Thank you.

  23. Jul 29, 2010

    That seemed pretty classic Dooce to me because she makes a lot of “UNFOLLOW” jokes. I saw that and thought it was also vintage Dooce.

  24. snarkoleptic
    Jul 29, 2010

    I see what both of you are saying, and it’s not that she shouldn’t be able to RT – it’s just that, well, she’s not stupid and she has to have known that doing that would result in her myriad minions rushing in to assault the poor woman who was annoyed by the original tweet. Because those minions are rabid. They’re like her own personal Cerberus guarding the gates of Twitterdom and the WWW. They can be cruel for her. It just rubs me the wrong way. Be funny, be irreverant. Just don’t piss on other people who aren’t particularly pissing on you.

  25. Jul 29, 2010

    No, as usual, it’s not. LOL. I’m going to moderate comments from here on out.

  26. Jul 29, 2010

    Yeah, it’s tough. Because she does know that I would guess, but the thing is, does the @ replier know that at this point, too? I certainly knew it when I sent her my Sephora tweet. And by the way, when Dooce sent me the rough day, hugs tweet? Nobody went after me! Not even one person! It was crazy. I was sitting there waiting for it, and nobody did it. I have to say, I was kind of disappointed in a very strange way.

  27. Jul 29, 2010

    I don’t know what is funnier, the fact that Boomhauer showed up in the comment section, or the fact that Boomhauer’s email address is “dontpunchmeanna@hotmail.com”

  28. Jul 29, 2010

    Yeah, I didn’t think about that. That’s very true, the minions are crazy.

  29. Michele
    Jul 29, 2010

    I get what you’re saying. I really was just trying to explain my POV. I’m done, I’m going to let Hugh Jackman fill up my little ole head now.

  30. Jul 29, 2010

    Oh, that is a much better use of brain space. YUM.

    And thank you for the civilized response. Unless that I was snark & I’m obtuse. But one never knows when these sorts of questions are asked where Heather is concerned. I used to let all kinds of crap fill my head, but the meds & therapy must be working b/c I find myself being able to see multiple points of view, & i’m just plain curious about the rest.

  31. Jul 30, 2010

    So if I’m reading all the speculation about Dooce correctly, she should still be the LA slacker doing drugs and sleeping around in LA who gets fired for blogging about the clowns at her job. Or is the Dooce everyone misses the medically-diagnosed loon who just gave birth to her first child and goes around saving women’s lives like a superhero, just because she says she took meds? I’m asking, because it sounds like everyone dislikes Dooce With Two Kids Living the Yuppy Lifestyle. But the funny thing about that is all of those Dooces are her.

    Sorry, but I wouldn’t have been able to relate to the Dooce in LA, despite being from LA. Nor would I have been able to relate to her when she had her first child, since I was years away from my first at the time. But watching her have a second one, since I already had two of my own by the time Marlo was born, has been fun. Why can’t the woman evolve from who she was into who she is? Being a big, dirty, successful capitalist is part of who she is now, redneck jokes and other inappropriate humor notwithstanding (which, by the way, she does write with some regularity, and people would probably notice if they weren’t so busy watching to see when she’s stuffing fifties into her wallet).

    If some portion of her audience can no longer relate, isn’t it possible there’s another batch of people who just discovered her and think she’s the hottest thing since the internet? No one knows her true audience numbers except her and Federated, so it’s quite possible that her audience really is evolving, despite the naysayers who used to love the old Dooce.

  32. Jul 31, 2010

    I don’t follow Heather or Jon on Twitter and so I have no idea of the context of this tweet. I have however watched five minutes of Jersey Shore in the last week and to me that’s what makes it funny. MTV subtitles those folks and they could be cousins for all I know and everyone seems to sleep with everyone. So that’s what that tweet, standing alone, makes me think of and giggle.

    I don’t relate to Heather’s life. I’ve never related to Heather’s life beyond having two kids roughly the same ages as hers. And yet I still subscribe to her blog. I certainly don’t mind seeing the trappings of her success. I DO mind seeing the trappings of Ree’s success enough to unsubscribe because of the “What little old me” tone.

  33. Laua
    Sep 10, 2010

    I’ve been reading Heather’s posts 5 days a week since early 2005, and as much as it pains me I have to admit that I’m done with her, at least for the time being. I’m disenchanted with what now feels like one big fat ad campaign, and I couldn’t care less about her assistant (or the fact that she has one), no matter how charming his ironic moniker is. What’s really at the core of my discontent is her posts themselves…the utterly hilarious, scathing, always-insightful, painfully honest Dooce I came to appreciate so much is more or less gone, blunted by careful P.C. and replaced by inane posts about squirrels. I am bummed—really bummed.

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