Give a Blogger Enough Velvet Rope And She Will Hang Herself: (Very) Extensive Notes on BlogHer 2009, Social Niceties, Social Media, and Branding The New Web Order

by anna on July 26, 2009

Photo by psykedelyc-klutz at DeviantArt

Photo by psykedelyc-klutz at DeviantArt

Are there cliques within the parenting community at BlogHer conferences? Is there an “in” crowd of mommy bloggers, or does blogging really allow us to finally break free from the social, geographical, political, racial, ethnic, and class boundaries that still alienate us in our daily, “in real” lives?

Based upon my experience the past few days, the short answer to this common question about social politics at the annual BlogHer conference is a resounding no. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of people I encountered at BlogHer View definition in a new window 2009 were exceptionally friendly and welcoming, even to an admittedly difficult and socially awkward newcomer like myself, and even during those moments in which we silently acknowledged the improbability of our friendships, marveling at the fact that, under other circumstances, we were unlikely ever to have become friends, if our paths had ever crossed in the first place.

But.

A more accurate response to this admittedly complicated and multilayered question about the community created by blogging is that yes, there is a “cool group” within the parenting blogging community, and within the community that annually attends the BlogHer View definition in a new window conference, and that the odds are that no, this “cool group” probably doesn’t like or even care much about you, who you are, or what you have to say except insofar as it concerns them directly. If you approach them, they will become unconfortable, and if you follow them on Twitter, they will probably not follow you back. And if you try to go to their parties, you had better well adhere to their admission requirements and forms of compliance or else expect rejection. And even if you do adhere to these forms, you might get rejected anyway.

The good news is, though, is that this “cool” group is comprised at least in part–though not exclusively–by shallow, self-important, immature, and extremely insecure fucksticks to whom you shouldn’t give the time of day anyway.

Nowhere was this more apparent to me than at Friday night’s Sparklecorn Extravaganza party thrown by MamaPop, a smart, slick website on popular culture that I happen to frequent myself, which boasts among its (unpaid) writing staff some of the best writers I’ve found in the tiny corner of the internet that I like to call home. I have a lot of stuff to say about this event View definition in a new window but before things get very clouded by my structural analysis of social media branding and sponsorship, let me just summarize what happened to me when I tried to get into this party on Friday night. I will start by acknowledging that, as usual, I didn’t follow the rules: I did not RSVP for this party, a practice which was stated clearly as a requirement for admission to the Sparklecorn View definition in a new window Extravaganza, due to constraints of space and resources. And I cannot plead ignorance on this front, either, because I am a reasonably frequent reader of MamaPop View definition in a new window, so it’s not like I didn’t know about the RSVP requirement

I just didn’t do it.

I expected to sweet-talk my way into this party because, let’s face it, it was being thrown by a bunch of bloggers and, honestly, how fucking hard could it possibly be to get in? I have successfully sweet-talked my way into plenty of trendy LA and New York bars and clubs, and I quite frankly could not imagine the door policy at a BlogHer View definition in a new window 2009 party presenting a challenge more formidable than that of Jones in 2003, Sway in 2001, or the tasting menu night at Geisha House in late 2004.

This refusal to follow protocol, to jump through hoops (even if they are reasonable), is a product of my own arrogance, and I fully acknowledge and accept responsibility for this. But I am not everybody. What about the other thirty or so conference attendees lined up outside the door of the not even one-quarter filled ballroom holding the Sparklecorn View definition in a new window Extravaganza? Many of these (mostly) women were hand-wringing and hair-tearing about getting into this party, having not known about the RSVP policy in the first place, not being regular MamaPop View definition in a new window readers, not being deemed cool or important enough to have received a private, unsolicited personal invite from a party organizer (I know this happened in at least one case), and ultimately, being surprised by a strict door policy that was not used by any other party at the conference, with the exception of the official BlogHer View definition in a new window policy of checking BlogHer View definition in a new window 2009 conference badges View definition in a new window for admission to conference panels.

You're once, twice, three hundred thousand times a liar about losing RSVPs.

You're once, twice, three hundred thousand times a liar about losing RSVPs.

But what about the people who DID jump through hoops, who DID RSVP, and were still turned away because their RSVPs were “lost”? Personally, I know of two people to whom this happened, and since I only know a grand total of about four people all together, that’s a (counting on fingers) 50% failure rate right there. A quick search of Twitter yields two other cases of “lost” RSVPs (examples here and here), and a public mocking of somebody’s method of trying to finagle a way into the party. (Incidentally, these are just the people talking about it publicly–if we could search DMs and email who knows what kind of debauchery we might find?) Coincidence? Poor planning? Selective email recall? Mac-versus-PC related screw up? A zero where there should have been a one? A glitch in the Matrix? You tell me, ladies.

But are there hurt feelings? Oh definitely, that we can confirm.

Sponsorship and Branding Implications of the Velvet Rope View definition in a new window

The Sparklecorn View definition in a new window Extravaganza had several sponsors, including Federated Media, (the advertising network of both MamaPop View definition in a new window and several of its proprietors), Six Apart Media (an advertising network used by some sites run by or affiliated with MamaPop’s owners and/or contributors, and an affiliate of TypePad, the blogging platform used by several MamaPop View definition in a new window contributors and on which MamaPop View definition in a new window itself is run, and a BlogHer View definition in a new window sponsor that has been criticized in the past for scheduling exclusive private parties to conflict with the BlogHer community keynote); Dove (a cosmetics company that has received acclaim in recent years for featuring campaigns encouraging women to accept and love their bodies as they are, and which at present runs a public service campaign to encourage body image acceptance among young girls); bTrendie (a commercial website targeting the parenting blogging community that offers special deals and admission to special discount sales of baby and children’s gear and the sponsor of several other events at BlogHer View definition in a new window 2009) and Yahoo! (an internet mainstay named after the Houynhnms’ perjorative term for a hairy, stinky and uncivilized version of humans that so disgusts his horse superiors in the third book of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels).

Disclaimer: I’m not familiar with the terms of sponsorship for the Sparklecorn View definition in a new window Extravaganza, and I do not know, for example, if the terms of sponsorship included clear instructions for how the branding should be handled by party organizers. I have to assume that there were some ground rules, though, since many of the sponsoring companies are multi-billion dollar enterprises with fairly standard practices for brand management. Here’s another problem with social media and branding, though: if MamaPop View definition in a new window is first and foremost a business, a money-making endeavor that can procure sponsors for its events, then surely it owes those sponsors some consideration in how it handles the social niceties that fair or unfair will reflect on its sponsors.

What I do know is that the signs posted outside of the event View definition in a new window associated those brands with what was happening at the door of this event View definition in a new window. And I also know that the sponsor’s logos that appeared on signs posted several places, inside the event View definition in a new window on the step and shoot (a promotional tool which is traditionally placed outside of an event View definition in a new window for maximum exposure of the brand to the largest audience possible–marketing tip is free of charge,). Inside, sponsors set up booths or stations, as is their practice at the BlogHer View definition in a new window convention, and gave away promotional products in some cases to party guests, which is also standard practice for these kinds of events.

The most positive thing I can say about the branding done at the Sparklecorn View definition in a new window Extravaganza is that I was able to procure for myself a free tube of Dove Cinical Protection antiperspirant/deodorant, a product that I had used regularly and loved before going to the Sparklecorn View definition in a new window Extravaganza, and which I will continue to do now that the Sparklecorn View definition in a new window Extravaganza is over. But I’m not sure that this is wholly good news for Dove, since now I will use their product whilst remembering that I got it at that fuckstick party thrown by MamaPop View definition in a new window at BlogHer View definition in a new window 2009.

Blogging Implications of the Velvet Rope View definition in a new window

A lot of the problem with what happened the other night, for me personally, is operating at a symbolic level with oodles of plausible deniability, naturally, and for which many people (if they’ve even read this far) will dismiss as once again “reading too much into things.” I get accused of this a lot, as you might imagine. That’s OK. I do know what a degradation ritual View definition in a new window is: I spent 11 years in academia. I had to walk into oral examinations knowing at the outset that I knew the material like the back of my hand, that they knew that they were going to pass me ultimately, but not before they stuck it to me, just a little bit. Not until they made me feel—in spite of all the empirical evidence to the contrary—just a little bit stupid and not good enough. They would let me in—would have to let me in–but not until I agreed to do it their way, acknowledged that they—still—were the ones in power.

The way that you get people to participate in a degradation ritual View definition in a new window is that you pretend, while adopting a voice of authority, that what you are doing is legitimate. You get people to allow you—nay! to implore you to jump them into your bullshit gang by making believe, making yourself believe, that what you are doing is necessitated by some other, higher outside force beyond your control. That you will run out of alcohol at a party, even when the person wanting to gain admission is a sober alcoholic who certainly won’t be taxing the spirit resources of your party, or by claiming that the hotel has strict limits on space and occupancy, even when a room is not even a quarter full of bodies, and the sponsorship tables are still full of deodorant samples and free promotional thumb drives.

But most of all, you get somebody to participate in their own degradation ritual View definition in a new window by holding out a promise to them—a promise that, if you play by the rules that you’ve set up for everyone based on ephemeral, (if any) authority, maybe they’ll one day get to be the one to do the jumping-in. If you do it our way, maybe one day you’ll get an assistant professorialship for $38,000 a year. If you do it our way, maybe one day you’ll get a contract with Federated Media and get to write for somebody else’s website for nothing or worse. Keep dreaming that impossible dream, comrades!

Being told that you cannot enter a party that is even not halfway full due to space constraints is not a humiliating experience on that scale by a long shot. Not for me, and probably not for most people, but it still sucks donkey dicks. Mostly that is all I felt like saying, believe it or not. But as I thought about it more and more, I started to think about other people and what they might have thought when being faced by the same situation.

And I started thinking about the woman who left her kids for the first time to attend this conference in Chicago, from a small town in a flyover state somewhere south of Nowhere You’d Ever Go, who scraped together just enough money to attend this conference and meet some people that she reads and idolizes on the internet? Who weighs a little more than she likes? Feels like her clothes maybe aren’t quite as nice as they could be? Feels already a little bit insecure but is hoping that this time–maybe this time she ‘s found a place where she can be a part of it all? How do you think your policy “necessitated by space and requirements of the hotel” makes her feel? Do you think she’ll notice that nobody else used a similar policy during the entire conference? Do you think that she’ll overhear someone say that the majority of the party’s budget (provided by its five corporate sponsors) was used to buy a giant cake shaped like a unicorn? Do you think that when not even the person working the door can commit to the “necessary” policy of exclusion enough to enforce it without hedging with “It’s not my policy, it’s Tracey’s,” or “Tracey paid for my ticket, I have to do what she says,” do you think she’ll have read Hannah Arendt on the banality of evil, or will she just think, wow, who is this Tracey person and why doesn’t she like me?

Do you suppose she’ll be buying any Dove products any time soon? And if she does, do you think she’ll write about it on her blog?

Before you object, no, you are not obligated to be friends with anyone and everyone who reads you: this is neither desirable nor even plausible. But if you are first and foremost a business, then you do have an obligation to your sponsors. Or, alternatively, if you are first and foremost a community that craves the respect of its readership, then you have an obligation to treat them fairly and with consideration. And I think you are smart enough to know what that means without the hair-splitting and deflection.

{ 49 comments }

Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] July 26, 2009 at 7:17 pm

1st – I bow to thee as a writer. *not worthy*

2nd – It totally blows horse nut chunks that people weren’t allowed in for whatever reason. After the Nikon party I attended (which is a whole other drama story for some – not me – bygones), my whole group of 10+ walked in the door to Sparklecorn. I don’t know what time the party actually opened its doors, but around 10:30/11, the door was WIDE open.

Texan Mama July 26, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Wow, I really loved all that you wrote. I did not attend BlogHer, partly for all the reasons you mentioned (fear of being excluded, of being a nobody, despite hopes of meeting some of my “idols”) and also partly because I had to make a realistic choice to recognize the blogging world exactly what it is: another form of high school, where there is certainly a “cool kids clique” and breaking into that clique would either require a shitload of money or a shitload of talent or a shitload of luck. None of which I have.

Either that or I’m just jealous. Whatever. At least I’m not $600 poorer AND have lower self esteem too.

Marinka July 26, 2009 at 7:57 pm

I, too, RSVPd but wasn’t on the list because I probably used my porn name or something. But I showed some leg and they let me in. And it was fun. But ultimately, I wanted to be with my friends (you know, the people who didn’t run screaming when I approached them) and it seemed easier to do that without a list.

In all seriousness, I am in awe of all these people who organize these parties, because I am on the verge of nervous collapse organizing my kids’ birthday parties and no matter how many velvet ropes I put up, those kids still slither in.

badassdadblog July 26, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Hm. Clearly there is a lot wrapped up in this experience for you, and it’s hard for me to know how to feel about what happened to you and others who were turned away (some real and some, I suppose, hypothetical?). I’ll share what thoughts I do have, and I hope we can still be friendly next time we see each other for coffee or whatever.

If a party requires RSVPs and you go assuming you’ll be able to talk your way in without having RSVP’d, you don’t deserve to get in. If they decide to let you in anyway, that’s their choice, but I think they’re well within their rights to turn you away. This may not win them nice-guy points, but it’s their prerogative. If they’re the only party associated with an event that has this policy, that’s a little strange and perhaps questionable, but still completely their choice to do. In other words, I don’t think you have any cause to be upset that you were turned away.

For those who legitimately did RSVP and were refused entry, that sucks. I would hope if a person could plausibly describe how and where they RSVP’d, something could be worked out even if they weren’t on the list. This of course opens the door for others to lie about having RSVP’d, so I can see why the organizers might take a hard line, but still, it sucks if it’s true.

While I don’t want to pick a fight with you, Anna, I think you went to this party with a chip on your shoulder. I think you had existing issues with some of the folks associated with MamaPop, and you showed up without RSVPing because you didn’t want to have to sign up to be in their stupid ass club because how dare they expect you to do that? And when you couldn’t get in this confirmed what you already believed about this gang of elitist fucksticks. And for all I know you might be right about them, but from reading this it sounds as if you needed to be right no matter what went down.

Here ends my armchair psychoanalysis. Take it as you will.

abdpbt July 26, 2009 at 8:09 pm

@badassdadblog, you make a good point: insofar as anyone can be said to “deserve” to get in or not to get into a party, I did not deserve to get into this party. I tried to address that by calling myself arrogant and acknowledging that I did not follow the rules, despite knowing what they were. If I had gone to the party and encountered a full room of people, and then had been told I couldn’t go in I would have never written about this because in my mind that’s totally legitimate.

And you are right, I did go with a chip on my shoulder, and for pretty good reason, in my own opinion. And its interesting that you say “how dare they” is my attitude because that particular wording has been used against me, and yes, it does create a little bit of a resentment, because when did I get put in a position of submission to people I’ve never met?

I do think that a group has the right to do whatever they want with a party, and I think I made that clear. But they also can be called fucksticks for doing it. So, you know, Love-Love.

The Stiletto Mom July 26, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Well done. I was in the first group to respond but was missing from RSVP list. Not sure what happened and to be honest, was having too much fun to care. Got in eventually but still…sad for those whose feelings were hurt.

Tim G July 26, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Wow. I may not have business commenting here, but I can’t resist.
My wife has had the experience you described toward the end of your rant. She went to a weekend event for women and was snubbed more than welcomed. Your own situation aside, I appreciate your recognition of others who may have been intimidated in this situation.
I think I’m just glad that my employer, who makes feminine hygiene and baby products, wasn’t a sponsor (or at least not one that you called out).

Deb July 26, 2009 at 9:55 pm

I want to think a lot about this perspective, because I threw a rsvp party and want to make sure I don’t reject people when I run similar projects. I also really appreciate the explanation of degradation ALS, because as a member of outsider classes (lesbian with working class upbringing) I often sense the things you describe without often naming them. I wasn’t at the Mamapop party though intended to. My own private party lasted past cocktail hour. I do know some sad turnaways from the MP party came to ours and I heard more bad buzz the next day. Having a PR and political background, I am really interested in the messages. Im paying attentionGiven that in-crowd criticism has plagued some bloggers, creating as Busy Dad says some chips on shoulders, it’s ashame the same messages were triggered again. Not sure if that’s what the sponsors would have wanted or not. I know that Typepad received bad buzz in 08 for hosting a private event competing with the Community Keynote. BTrendie also sponsored the Peoples Party, which excels at the opposite of exclusionary velvet rope, welcoming all.(commenting via iPhone and can’t seem to fix typos. Sorry.)

Deb July 26, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Meant badass dad not busy dad, dammit.

Jozet at Halushki July 26, 2009 at 10:29 pm

I was the door person. I wasn’t going to comment, but then read characterization of my actions, and needed to offer and explanation (thought not an excuse.)

I was able to come to BlogHer (via MamaPop) by agreeing to act as the door person; I had just put my BlogHer ticket online to sell – due to financial reasons – and was very unhappy that I wouldn’t be able to get away on my own for a weekend without children for the first time, get away from my small town, come meet and mingle with women I respected and admired, as well as learn a bit more about blogging and about becoming a more valued voice in the online writing community. When Tracey/Sweetney offered me the chance to be the door person, I was so honestly and sincerely touched by her generosity; no matter what anyone assumes or perceives regarding which “cliques” I may or may not revolve in online or off, I am, in my own head and heart, a backward outsider, always and sincerely astounded when anyone – *anyone* – takes notice of me because, essentially, of my words (instead of being valued for some socially or financially expedient reason, of which I have none to offer.) I feel, truly, blessed by my readers and the great gift of their support of my writing. That goes for big names; that goes for “nobodies”. That anyone extended such, I took it, compassion for my situation and because they admire me as a writer – not because I’m a “popular” girl or an elite blogger or could offer connections or “cool factor” – was, I thought, a sincere extension of that same support.

But perhaps, after all, this is also my own vanity speaking.

I will admit, I looked forward to being door person as my own personal speed-dating experience. Then an online friend joked about being “the bouncer”, and I’m enough of a actress and goofball that I ran with it thinking I could play with the absurd stereotype and others would get the joke and be entertained. I did not – as I don’t believe anyone did – anticipate the RSVP problems. I did not honestly think there would be an occasion to turn anyone away (as per my understanding of the reasons for the list), to really block anyone even as I joked about it.

I’m not going to speak for the MamaPop women. I’ve never, ever in my life run an event like this. I don’t know what goes into it. I find that as soon as I make assumptions about “how these things work” – in this case, event planning – I get a schooling on how it really works. That night, if I did say, “It’s not my policy, it’s Tracey’s”, it’s most likely because within ten minutes of the door opening, within the time that I was becoming disoriented trying to figure out what to do when I was now actually having to tell people they couldn’t come in – people who I had looked forward to meeting in a friendly, fun-spirited way – and now I was being called a “bitch” one woman, while another BlogHer sponsor got on her cell phone and abused me to her friends for the next twenty minutes within my earshot, and another large, drunk-ish man started yelling at me about fire codes, etc.….well, yes, when things gets heated or when I get anxious, I turn to humor to steady myself (and what I think I said, trying for levity to ease the tension, was “Tracey flew me here; if I don’t follow her rules, I have to walk home”) or just trying to defuse the immediate situation by deflecting for the moment, by seeming cold when I was trying to just remain calm, although I’m sure it did come across as hedging.

I tried to get out of quite a few volatile and mildly-aggressive situations the best way I could while clumsily thinking on my feet. By way of explanation for those who need explanation, I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of hotel fire codes for particular areas of the hotel (number of exits? floor level make a difference? I don’t know.) I didn’t know whether there would be a larger rush of people coming from other parties (and there later was) and then I’d have to turn away people who were on the list, who thought they had played by the rules, because the room was full, if it got full. Honestly, I started from a place of not thinking I’d have to do it at all, so I was blind-sided. (Later, everyone/anyone was welcomed in when it became obvious that many on the list weren’t showing and there would be no further waves of RSVP attendees.)

Perhaps I’m naïve, or a Pollyanna – or perhaps because it’s an easy out – I do believe in the best intentions of everyone involved. Larger social implications or commentary on (some types of) bloggers in general aside, I’ve been absolutely beside myself over this. I know I’ve told you this, but I just need to say it out loud and again. I don’t think anyone went into this thinking, “Let’s piss off as many women and potential readers as possible.” Then again, I suppose this is were Hannah Arendt comes in.

I think that there were mistakes made or maybe not just thought through well-enough, including putting an average-Josette at the door when maybe a hotel employee who was more aware of event attendance guidelines would have been the smarter move? But again, this was done, I think, with the intent of allowing one more woman to get to BlogHer – someone without sponsors or a money-making blog or a business write-off or a PR connection or a swag connection -someone for whom the entire weekend would have been otherwise out of financial reach. I just want people to know that; the intention was, I believe, good, ..although the actuality fell short. If that’s worthy of being compared to Eichmann, so be it. I’ve been heavy-handed in my own analogies to prove a point. I get it.

Ultimately, yes, no matter my reasoning/rationalizing, I was “the face” at the door and represented what was happening inside. I’m smart enough to know that, and I was wrong to try to pass off responsibility. I could have tried harder to help find a better solution, to act with more compassion, and I failed personally, essentially, by choice. I’m too intelligent for any other conclusion to be reached. It hurts me to my soul, I can assure you, that I’ve in any way caused any pain to anyone, that I didn’t try harder to find a solution.

I’ve had several people approach/reproach me personally after the fact and I’ve tried to explain and then apologize as best I could. I’ve tracked down as many people as I could to personally apologize. Whoever else was hurt by my actions, please, please do not hesitate to email me at my personal email jozet@earthlink.net

beth aka confusedhomemaker July 27, 2009 at 8:21 am

I’m currently ABD getting ready to defend the final product in the fall & can relate completely with what you described here about the degradation ritual. I have been thinking about this topic too with the whole discussion over BlogHer, MommyBlogging, and community. I didn’t attend BlogHer but have been really interested in what I’m seeing as a blogger versus a reader.

Perhaps the reason why it’s more upsetting to many is unlike academia there is the emphasis on a false understanding that community is the same as equality. What I mean is that you read so much about “being in it together” that it creates an appearance that everyone is equal in bloggyland particularly for those who are blogging about motherhood. Yet, in academia the lines are clear. When I attend an academic conference next month it will be clear what my status is & similarly when I defend. But in land of bloggers it’s less clear when everyone throws out the idea of community & sisterhood. It my opinion it’s almost worse not knowing & having the shock that there is still a hierarchy in place that is harder for many out there to process.

jenni July 27, 2009 at 9:05 am

how come it’s always the cool kids who think that there are no cool kids; they seem to think that everyone is treated equal? just wondering…

Jozet at Halushki July 27, 2009 at 8:32 am

Thank you. But, really, Perpetua is right. We all have to own up to our demons as well as our angels, and not count on our angels to counterbalance any scales which measure one against the other. The demons and angels often look like twins…maybe parasite twins…and aren’t easy to untangle one from the other in any situation. Frankly, the velvet rope might actually start a the point where some women don’t have access to the Internet at all, let alone the money to get to BlogHer. There is no way to be completely “good” in this. Only diminishing attempts at being less bad.

abdpbt July 27, 2009 at 6:42 am

@halushki, thanks for weighing in on this topic. As I told you on Twitter, I did not hold you personally responsible for what was happening at the door. I had a problem with the policy, rather than the method in which the policy was enforced. Have I been hyperbolic in my analysis? Absolutely. But I meant to compare you not to Eichmann but the proverbial “butcher, baker, candlestickmaker” without whom evil cannot operate as an institution. Still, touche. Point taken.

All bloggers feel less-than and marginalized, a lot of us our introverts and outsiders. That’s why I think people need to be extra careful about how they deal with the management of perception of cliques. And my comments on brand management, in my opinion, are not an attack but a reasonable, VALUABLE critique for any business that wants to remain profitable.

snarkyamber July 27, 2009 at 5:47 am

I am a MamaPop writer and very sporadic blogger for my own very insignificant personal blog. Having worked with the writers of MamaPop for over a year, I find the conjecture in this rant about the intentions of my colleagues (and myself, I suppose, since I am a MamaPop writer) completely incongruous with the intentions and characters of the men and women with whom I am so privileged to share a byline.

Perhaps I feel your impressions are so jarring because I know how very non-elitist Amy and Tracey are. When I was chosen to write for MamaPop, it was not because I was a high-profile mommyblogger, but because I was first noticed as an intelligent contributor to the comments and later recruited (ostensibly) because of the strength of my writing.

Perhaps it is because, after knowing her for over a year, I know Tracey to be a big-hearted, caring and sensitive woman whom many unfortunately perceive as stand-offish or icy, when in actuality she is introverted and shy around people she does not know. I can identify with this — I too am often mistaken for a mean or icy person when in reality I’m usually scared stiff and trying to fix my expression into one that will mask the anxiety and panic I experience in large social gatherings such as BlogHer.

Perhaps it is because I try very hard not to project my insecurities onto others. Thus, I would (I hope) never perceive the door policy at a party as anything but a desire to honor the policies of the hotel and to ensure that those who planned ahead and RSVPed (to a party, I feel it’s important to emphasize, which has an open RSVP that was publicly advertised not just on MamaPop.com but on BlogHer.com and several other sites) would not be turned away should the party fill up with people who did not RSVP. It would seem to me, as someone who was not directly responsible to the hotel and sponsors and attendees, that either way my hands would be tied in this situation. Let everyone in and piss off the people who RSVP’d and came late from another party, or violate the occupancy requirements of the room and have the party shut down. Try to enforce the guest list and risk comparison with high school cliques or accusations of using said RSVP list as a way to lord power over conference attendees. It’s all very much a damned if you do, damned if you don’t spot to inhabit. It is fallout like this that leaves me increasingly relieved to remain an insignificant and unrecognizable face in the blogosphere.

Perhaps mistakes were made in compiling the guest list or managing entry to the party — I would be surprised if there weren’t such mistakes with a list of over 500 RSVPs. This was also the first time anyone at MamaPop has ever executed an event of this magnitude, and I can attest that the organizers were doing the best they could under the circumstances. The truth is, the result of a party with no RSVPs or lax occupancy management is the kind of clusterfuck I witnessed at many of Thursday’s parties, where people elbowed babies in the face to get bags of swag and had no room to move let alone dance. If my colleagues erred, it was only to err on the side of caution and ensure our first party at BlogHer did not get prematurely shut down.

I’m very sorry you feel that the writers of MamaPop used a sponsored party to engage in degradation rituals. Is it at all possible, however, that your diatribe is merely projection on your part after what sounds like a traumatic academic experience from which you are still reeling?

abdpbt July 27, 2009 at 6:37 am

@snarkyamber

Thanks for weighing in on this. I think that we have different opinions about what might have happened with the occupancy levels and the policies of the hotel. I am basing my opinion on the occupancy I saw within the room used, which was the largest I saw used for any party the entire weekend (it was a ballroom), and it was not even one quarter full. Yes, you could potentially run out of space by letting in non-RSVPers, but having attended parties the night before I was very skeptical that this would happen. Also, an idea for next year might be to use the RSVP as a guage, but not a guarantee of admission–like if you get there and people are spilling out into the hall, well, then clearly you cannot get in.

As far as degradation rituals and projection, I of course acknowledge this as a possibility. This is why I acknowledge my own arrogance in not RSVPing. We are talking about things that operate on a symbolic level here, and whether it seems fair or not, people walked away from that party with a perception of MamaPop and/or its sponsors that was negative. That is the reality. It is my reality, it is the reality of other commenters here. It might not be fair, but it is true. I think the best way of dealing with it is thinking, “Hey, that’s not what we intended, how can we change this in the future?”

If it were my intention to make things better, to improve the perceptions of my brand at my next event, I would take this advice to heart. I would read this post (which I will invite you to observe contains several acknowledgments of how my own personal issues and history are projected onto this) as a call to action, rather than a blind attack.

Perpetua July 27, 2009 at 7:28 am

I just wanted to add that I’ve long thought you too cool for me despite our commonalities of academic suffering and child-rearing. I think it’s because you have beautiful teeth and access to fancy LA hair stylists (I say this with complete sincerity; your hair intimidates me, especially because mine is in the postpartum falling-out stage.).

So I guess my point is: it’s all relative? The BlogHer folks pull rank, you pull rank (intentionally or not) by name dropping clubs that the FlyOvers never heard of, I pull rank by citing my time in academia as if it’s some kind of guarantee of smart commentary.

I do hope you don’t catch too much shit for the Arendt reference, though, because while Sparkleponies or whatever the hell they are will never commit Eichmann acts, we’re all a little Nazi on the inside (sincere about this one, too).

Neil July 27, 2009 at 11:51 pm

I like this post because you acknowledge this as a personal experience, and not the ultimate word on this event. I was with you in line during this and I remember how upset you were over it. Later on, I did go to the party, and it was better than some of the other parties, mostly BECAUSE of the limited access. It wasn’t as crowded as some of the other events.

This brings up several issues. How can you throw a relatively intimate event and still keep it open to everyone? Is it appropriate to have a doorman and a list at a blogging event, especially since we all want to keep blogging as a democratic medium, where any Joe can start a blog and express his ideas? Does a party like this promote hierarchy in the blogging community and is that bad for blogging? Was this a private function or was it sanctioned as an official party by BlogHer? Eventually, the organizers did allow everyone in, but the way the line snaked around like a New York club was intimidating and probably unnecessary. Why hurt anyone’s feelings?

I have no answers. Great party. But I’m not sure that — in the future — this is the direction we want to go with our blogging community.

Jozet at Halushki July 28, 2009 at 5:17 am

Neil,

First, I really hope that Anna is able to find my comment that I had posted earlier and was later lost. I think that, myself included, no one anticipated the lost RSVPs nor that more people would show up than fire code had allowed for the room. It was a difficult situation, and as much as it could have been more well thought-out, I’d hope that everyone realizes that intentions were good and the women at Mamapop had tried (and succeeded) to find a large and larger room so that the most people possible could attend.

Frankly, Neil, I believe that the “velvet rope” begins with the ability to even get to a computer in the first place, let alone find the money and time to get to BlogHer. That line, as mentioned in the Closing Keynote, still snakes fairly long with a whole lot of women waiting to just get on the Internet in the first place. Why hurt anyone’s feelings? Why hold this blogging event at all until everyone can attend? Isn’t BlogHer itself the ultimate party? I just personally feel like I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth if I attend when others can’t.

Again, I hope my comment is found. I felt very badly about being in that position and offered explanation that what was hedging was at the time my very clumsy attempts to use levity to defuse some very tense situations at the door – a certain blogger calling me a “bitch” to my face, a BlogHer sponsor abusing me to her friends, a rather large man (not even sure if he was a BlogHer attendee) trying to intimidate me into allowing him into the room – and to try to redirect the immediate situation I was in for the moment while trying to figure out a way to solve what became a very big problem.

Maybe the answer is the same as some are suggesting to solve the swag problems some saw at this BlogHer. Not everyone can get the best goodies, and that left a lot of people feeling not as important and left out as well. Should every sponsor bring swag enough for all 1400 attendees so that feelings aren’t hurt? Or should bloggers decline swag in protest of the unequal way it is handed out? Some bloggers will claim some importance, some right to have that swag because their blogs can promote it better…but is that ability to promote the result only of personal volition, or part of some blogger success a measure of starting at an unequal footing to begin with due to privileges easily conferred that other bloggers are working harder to attain due to life situation x? There are doormen and lists aplenty, just not all easily seen or recognized. There are all types of “currency” in the blogging community, and lots of hurt feelings to be had such as when some people see good great writing go ignored when mediocre blogs get recognition…and why is that?

The velvet rope situation sucked, to be sure. I apologize for my part in it. But as someone, ultimately privileged to be at BlogHer at all, I have a whole lot of other apologizing to do before the day is over.

vodkamom July 28, 2009 at 5:37 am

I love it when someone stirs the pot. There was a lot to digest, a lot to think about and a lot to experience.

I am very happy that we had a chance to meet and spend some time together.

and next time you go running – make SURE to drink plenty of water!!!!!

The Stiletto Mom July 26, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Well done. I was in the first group to respond but was missing from RSVP list. Not sure what happened and to be honest, was having too much fun to care. Got in eventually but still…sad for those whose feelings were hurt.

anna July 28, 2009 at 6:56 am

OK, everyone, I’ve tried to reconstruct the discussion as best I could based on my email archives. I think I lost a couple of my own responses, but we’ve heard enough out of me anyway at this point. Thanks to everyone with their patience over the past day!

abdpbt July 27, 2009 at 10:26 am

@perpetua, if we met I think that you wouldn’t believe me to be too cool for you. LOL. But your point stands, we do pull rank, and I did use reference to clubs and what I consider to be “legitimate” or “appropriate” forms of the red carpet/velvet rope scenario to pull rank here. The difference, in my mind, is that I’m not actually advocating the use of the velvet rope, nor am I trying to keep somebody out of somewhere (literally or metaphorically). I wanted to use this experience, which I know many people will dismiss as just sour grapes, or “what did you expect, without RSVPing?” as a kind of New Historical anecdote to open up the symbolic gatekeeping that I have long observed in certain sections of the blogosphere. I cannot say that, were the situations reversed, I wouldn’t be guilty of the same thing, either. But if I were, I would hope that I could accept criticism and change myself for the better, and thereby reveal myself as willing to grow or learn.

Criticism is hard to take. It’s very hard for me to take. But I do really try. I try to anticipate what people will have a problem with, and allow for it/acknowledge it. I try very hard to work beyond my own biases. I don’t always succeed. But I always try.

Juliet Grossman July 28, 2009 at 7:27 am

Lines, parties, door guards, velvet ropes — hey, next year you can meet me at Comic Con instead! Somehow being dissed by a steampunk in Terry Gilliam goggles is funnier than being dissed by a Midwestern blogger.

anna July 28, 2009 at 9:13 am

@Beth

I would have liked to comment to this yesterday, but I wanted to say that your point about academia is very good. We do know in that instance what is going on, that we are in a position of lesser power. And so the degradation ritual is annoying but it is also expected and ultimately not as offensive or dumbfounding. The similarities in the situation stem from the fact that, in both cases, the reason a person/entity in power is not always clear, nor is their suitability to the task. In academia, we depend upon time and professional reputation to enforce these things, but it is still kind of iffy in some cases why somebody has any authority in the first place. I felt this was the case here.

And you are right, either this is a community of equals or it is not. Either everyone has the same power or they do not. Personally, I do not think they do. Which is why I wouldn’t go around calling it a community or basing my own popularity on any kind of sense of common experience and community. I have common experience with my readers and friends, or the people who are in my Google Reader, but not everyone at the conference. That’s just the truth. I was friendly to everyone I met, and went out of my way to be kind and courteous to everyone, express interest in what they were doing. Because that is polite and socially responsible. But there were definitely many people whose blogs I was thinking there was no chance I’d enjoy, and who would hate this blog. It’s kind of the nature of the beast.

anna July 28, 2009 at 9:18 am

So the question is: how do we handle this at an event like this? How do we make it so everyone feels comfortable with each other, even whilst they may acknowledge different interests/audiences/priorities? I do not think that the answer is to sit in judgment of people who fight over swag bags, by the way. I wouldn’t bother with this myself, but then there are only so many packs of lipglosses and crocs I can fit in my suitcase. For some people, these events are almost magical, I think. To be treated like someone worthy of receiving free stuff–even if it is just yet another can of shaving cream or a bar of fabric softener, is like a dream come true. It is to be thought of as being special, or powerful, for the first (and possibly the only) time in their lives. Imagine what that would be like? Imagine how hard it would be not to want to flaunt your newfound power like that apocryphal woman who threatened to blog bad stuff about Crocs if the Crocs PR guy didn’t give her a free pair? Imagine how she will feel to find out that this PR guy already knew she must be a “nobody”?

I just feel like we have to try to put ourselves in these people’s shoes. Web 2.0 is supposed to be about democratizing media, yet we are trying at every step to control how anyone and everyone handles the new opportunities it presents. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Kind of like some of the food they were giving away.

harrytimes July 28, 2009 at 9:37 am

My RSVP was lost, and I was totally embarrassed because we were at the door the moment it was flung open for the first time, and I felt like a giant asshole standing there trying to get in.

Then I went to the bar downstairs for a giant bloody mary and felt much better.

Love your commentary on academia– I just completed my PhD in May and felt like a giant asshole while waiting outside my dissertation defense room for my committee to pass me.

Glad I found your blog!

anna July 28, 2009 at 9:52 am

That’s a lot of lost RSVPs. I’m just saying.

maggie, dammit July 28, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I am not smart enough for this conversation. Incredibly well written, Anna. Even if I don’t agree with a lot of what you said, I think you raised some fascinating points and this is why I dig you. I guess, spinning off the Eichmann reference, I’m with Anne Frank. I still believe people are inherently good.

Of course, I was one of the ones on the list – so what do I know?

anna July 28, 2009 at 1:27 pm

@Maggie, Dammit: yeah, get back to me on that after you’ve been hiding in the attic for six months or so. Or had your server hacked. :)

BLAS VILLANUEVA July 28, 2009 at 2:47 pm

What a great entry. There was a segment on NPR on the darkside of BLOGHER and endorsements that dovetails nicely with your observations. Is it business or blogging? Both. Thanks from a guy who loves your blog. B

cagey (Kelli Oliver George) July 28, 2009 at 4:14 pm

What a silly post.

I was at the party and yes, it started off slow because folks were at other places in the beginning. So yes – at one point the venue was fairly empty. However. How late were you there? I was there until midnight and it was PACKED.

Kudos to Mamapop for sticking to the RSVP list. Sure, there may have been mistakes made (ie. if someone RSVPd and were not on the list) but I suspect Sweetney would personally apologize if that ends up being the case.

Becca July 28, 2009 at 4:32 pm

I don’t know that it is a silly post. However, it does outline some of the reasons I would be worried about going to Blogher ’10. I was one of the band and drama geeks in high school, and I so would not want to be there again.

I loved the way you interspersed the world of academia. I may only have two full time readers, but I consider myself a blogger. And, isn’t that the point? I want there to be togetherness and happiness, and everyone get along, but is that really ever going to happen? We all have so many ideas of who we are and what we represent that someone could inevitably be disappointed or offended.

I so badly want to go next year, but I don’t want to be the kid in the corner all sad and confused. Thanks for a very enlightening post!

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