Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mrs. O Blog is a Sham: Black Culture Theft for White Profit 2009 Style

Ok, I am pissed off but should I be? Nichelle Gainer first posted a link on Twitter a few days ago to alert her followers about the New York Times article featuring the Mrs. O blog.  It's a creation by ad agency Bartel Bogle & Hagerty not a personal blog created by Michelle Obama supporters. Since it's a business venture it should be listed as a .com NOT a .org! I read Clutch, Pop Sugar, Glam, Daily Candy and other blogs providing Michelle Obama coverage that are part of a media or publishing group. They weren't trying to pretend to be a small individual blog though. 

Mrs. O was able to quickly saturate itself across the blogosphere when it was published following DNC week and the interest for all things Obama ran 24/7. It immediately stood out as there are few outlets of simple reporting on Michelle Obama and her style choices in a respectful manner (no talk of her body or her hair or her trails and tribulations). It seemed like a nice addition to Michelle Obama Watch and Black Snob as well as 55 Secret Street and others, but it did come long after these other blogs had started and after Barack Obama won the nomination. 

Those blogs are the creative endeavors of Black female professionals and their coverage of Michelle specifically was to ensure a counterbalance to the initial media attacks by the white-controlled media at the beginning of the primary. The 'official' Black press had also been slow to respond and many of us felt personally protective of Michelle due to the historical attacks on the image of all Black women. Even Iceberg Slim's political blog, This Week With Barack Obama took up the cause. We had to when the "liberal" media and so-called progressives with their never-ending satires (that only reused the same racist imagery they claimed to be opposed to) compelled us to respond.  If not for the efforts of these bloggers, the Mrs. O blog would not be as successful as it's been.
Zag got into the fashion blogging business in September, after Mary Tomer, a 27-year-old account planner at Bartle Bogle in New York, hatched the idea for the blog. She noticed Mrs. Obama’s style during the Democratic convention, yet could not find information on what she wore.

She decided to create a Web site, which she described as “a central resource for tracking her style and providing as much designer information and commentary as possible.”
It's not about the blog per se. It's about the support and traffic they've received from us while not clarifying themselves. Surely Ms. Tomer read Danielle Belton's site, Black Snob which had been doing this for months. Way before the President-Elect had won the nomination. Must it ALWAYS be about MONETIZING and MONOPOLIZING REVENUE? It's a slap in the face of all the bloggers who've been doing similar work at cost (if that) in addition to their other career endeavors.

A few advertising dollars does not equal a full-blown career with benefits. They have a deal with Sugar Inc., will be selling merchandise and have a book deal as well! They have the Black female blogs listed on their blog roll - and vice versa! Surely no one is going to dispute it was Black women championing Michelle Obama long before it became 'safe' and 'popular' for everybody else to do so!  B B & H doesn't want to be part of the pack it wants to lead the pack. 
The site’s creators will have to tread lightly as they try to make money on the site, because audiences want blogs and social networks to be conversation tools, not marketing vessels. “Particularly with the Obama mystique, anything that smacks of commercialism will blow up,” 
There was a definite intention by the agency to make it appear like a small individual effort and not part of a larger media entity. Had they just been clear about that in the first place I wouldn't be writing about this. I think this is a larger issue that deserves discussion here. A company that capitalizes on the uniqueness of having our first Black First Family for their profit should be examined. Especially when independent bloggers made it amenable for them to do so.

This has historical connotations. If anyone has read the Cadillac Records film script it mentions but glosses over how the owners of the real-life Chess Records owners bilked money from their artists. How the Beach Boys stole Chuck Berry's music and had to be sued to give proper credit and funds. It's the continuation of cultural misappropriation by outsiders for their own profit. Like with music and everything else we do that's great but either stolen, maligned or ignored. 

Is this just business as usual, where the person with the most contacts wins? Are we supposed to be okay with the obvious advantages a large ad agency has and the subterfuge involved? The historic head start those that continue to benefit from systematic racism have? 

Are people just slow on the uptake and failed to build adequate relationships and strategies? I am certain any number of the bloggers I listed above would take the time to write a Michelle Obama fashion book with a deal in place. Was it the responsibility of individuals to go after one and some people are just a day late and a dollar short? That's assuming they even wanted to. It's not as if there can't be numerous books, but I also can't help but wonder how many submissions would've been dismissed. It feels as if the rug's been pulled out from underneath.

Perhaps I'm taking this personally, but as a Black woman how can I not? Many of us use the blogosphere to reach out to each other and build networks and relationships. It was a way to bypass gatekeepers who aren't interested in equality and diversity. Look at your nightly news shows, your Sunday morning political shows and who do you see in front of the camera? A quick search who are in the towers, holding the keys will reveal people who don't always have our best interests in mind. 

Barack got my support early on due to his stance against the Iraq war but my vote was largely based on his choice of wife. We were there defending Michelle in public at times when he lapsed big time! Although we still have to see what Michelle does to benefit the lives of Black women and children in tangible ways, symbolically she has done wonders to elevate the status of many of us. Now the continuation of that is up to us, but it was a huge and welcome boost all the same. 

This website was a johnny come lately to the efforts of many of us who created or contributed to blogs and in the media throughout the entire campaign on our own. The content is not that impressive - in fact I've noticed a decrease in quality and the tone is somewhat detached and clinical in its precision. That's where the purpose reveals itself and its limitations are exposed. It's the difference between writing a story you love and writing a story based on an agency pitch for market share. It's not a labor of love or excellent but a cheap approximation. 

There are some of us more than ready to create avenues for ourselves and build partnerships given access to the right situations. The good thing is now that this has been revealed those of us who have ideas had better bust a move, get an agent, submit that 1st draft and toot our horns because that ship has pulled anchor. 

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Get Togetha said...

Acts of Faith.

You make some great points! Didn't know that Mrs. O wadn't indiviudually run. You learn something new everyday.

I feel your passion; but I suspect that many blogger simply feel that nothing can be stolen since we all walk the thin line of stealing/flat out theft/appropriation/inspiration.

Excellence is the battle that all can surely win.


Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Thanks for stopping by. I can't speak for anyone else - these are just my observations. I also realize the Obama are public figures as well. I also know bloggers walk a fine line at times. What doesn't sit well with me is how the "system" is set up so that certain people can just walk in, snap their fingers and have things work out a certain way for them when it's convenient for them. Which is why I also wondered if any Black female writers had pitched a style book on Michelle Obama months ago and if so was the idea accepted or rejected? I also think it's going to require everyone to be excellent and thinking ahead of the curve with a certain "ruthlessness" for lack of a better word because time and time again too many of "us" will be left behind. The irony is of course that the Black elites don't necessarily think of the Obamas as being so spectacular and wouldn't consider Michelle a style icon - she isn't there - yet. But I'm smirking about the nearly half a milli china Mrs. Bush ordered. I'd better not hear a peep out of anyone complaining about what the Obamas spend or eat during their time in the White House.