Do You Worship at the Altar of Dooce?

While cruising around the internet the other day, I came upon a story I had been completely oblivious to…. And it raises some interesting issues about personal boundaries on blogs, worship of bloggers in general, and worship of one blogger in particular.

The dust-up apparently started on July 15, when a well-known Mommy Blogger who calls herself The Bloggess posted an article about another even more well-known Mommy Blogger (who strictly denies being a Mommy Blogger even though most of her writings are about sex, alcohol, or her family) who calls herself Dooce.

You see, Dooce has a level of popularity on the internet that has really reached mythical proportions. She (Heather Armstrong) started blogging in early 2001, writing about things that happened at work, which got her fired about a year later. She was an unemployed drunk (her words) for a while, but eventually turned her blog into something that supported her family by late 2005. Her husband Jon quit his job and they were officially full-time bloggers.

ABC News reports that Dooce makes $40,000 a month off advertising on her site, and gets something like 1 million readers a month. The advertising company she works with says the site gets over 4 million page views a month.

That’s a pretty good gig, if you can get it. And Armstrong apparently understands a lot about this whole blogging thing. I think it is cool that she could turn a one-person blog into something so lucrative, and she’s been able to also get a great book deal out of it.

So it’s no suprise that Bloggess wrote about the mythical proportions of the popularity of Dooce. So many people read the site and know all about Heather’s family. Bloggess referred to her as a mythical creature akin to a “hobbitt,” and it’s clear to me that this entire post was meant as a compliment to Heather.

But Heather is a primadonna, and this did not go over well. Apparently Bloggess ended up apologizing for offending her, but that wasn’t the end of it. At the BlogHer conference (huge event for women bloggers) which occurred several days later, Armstrong gave the closing keynote. And in it, she made a snide reference to hobbits.

The Bloggess was in the room, and defended herself for everyone to hear. She explained that she had already apologized to Heather, and was apologizing again.

How classless of Heather, particularly since this woman had already apologized in private. What? She just wanted to publicly embarrass her? Totally unnecessary and not cool at all. It just seemed like Dooce had some power as the speaker and wanted to flaunt it.

Sure, Armstrong is very popular, but so what? Does that mean she should go around being annoying and diva-ish to everyone? NO.

But that seems to be what’s happening. Sad to say, this blogger breaks down the situation well. (Warning, it’s a harsh piece.) Being a popular blogger doesn’t mean everyone has to bow down to you. Armstrong often uses the role of victim to boost the support by readers. Her husband is known to offer frequent smack-downs to anyone who doesn’t recognize her greatness.

Why do I even care about this?

I admit that I read Dooce fairly regularly, but not really because I like the blogger or the site all that much. It’s more because it’s like the bloody car wreck that you can’t look away from. Heather Armstrong displays her many neuroses for all to see, and it’s actually a bit frightening.

No topic seems off-limits to Armstrong, even though she claims she has limits. You’d never guess it from her posts that regularly include information on:

  • Her mental illness
  • Her religion (really lack thereof)
  • Her promiscuity and other escapades during college
  • Her sex life with her husband
  • Drinking alcohol (which is quite frequent)
  • Her problems with her family and their religious and political beliefs
  • Her 4-year-old daughter Leta’s neuroses (inability to become potty trained, age-inappropriate finger-sucking, abnormal aversions to so many ordinary things, etc.),
  • The problems of her dogs (totally untrained, pooping everywhere, eating their poop, etc.).

The list is far longer than this, but you get a flavor for what goes on at Dooce.

On the one hand, Armstrong is praised for being so open with her readers and for sharing her troubles without appearing ashamed. People with problems can relate to her and likely feel a strong bond with her and are thankful that she shares these parts of her life.

On the other hand, the blog is so frequently crude (both the language and the topics) and so often makes me pity her and her family. She seems to have no boundaries and doesn’t even make an attempt to respect the privacy of her young daughter, who has no choice in this blogging thing.

Oh sure, you could argue that with the income Armstrong is drawing from the blog, she’s creating a wonderful life for Leta. But frankly, should there really be a price for exploiting your child? Is it fair to make all her problems (which appear to be many) completely exposed to the public for the right price?

I think it’s wrong, but there are many who will disagree with me. There are plenty of bloggers out there like Dooce, who put their family business out there for the whole world to see. Disgusting, disgraceful, and disheartening details…. and the bloggers don’t respect boundaries or possess enough common sense to realize that certain things are meant to be private.

Heck, there’s even a blog called “Leta Speaks” which is apparently written by a Dooce reader who is pretending to be a teenage Leta… damaged from the choice of her mommy to expose everything that should have been private about their family. All for money.

Oh sure, if Armstrong wants to write about her stay in a mental hospital, more power to her. That’s her story to tell. And she shouldn’t be ashamed about her mental illness.

But her daughter’s story… Is that Armstrong’s story to tell? Or might she be better off erring on the side of caution with that?

Heather was recently on The Today Show, and Kathie Lee Gifford “dared” to bring up this very subject: Where to draw the line with pictures and stories about her daughter. And the blogging world was aghast that she’d dare suggest such a thing to the goddess of all blogs. Kathie Lee clearly didn’t know what she was talking about and should not have said such things!

I actually think that Kathie Lee brought up a wonderful point and that she knew exactly what she was talking about. She may not be blog-savvy, but from a perspective of a mom, she sure had her head on straight about boundaries and privacy for children.

So what does this all mean? Not much in the scheme of life. Armstrong will continue to write her blog and make scads of money being derogatory and irreverent, exposing all that should be private. But I’d like to think she could have an equally entertaining site that draws just as many readers if she was a bit less crude, a bit more careful, and a bit more discreet.

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Comments (26)

  • feefifoto

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    Have you seen yesterday’s post? It’s a photograph of her dog with six elastic hairbands wrapped around its snout.

    No more Dooce for me.

    Reply

  • Debora

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    I don’t quite understand how you justify visiting her blog regularly when you believe it is hurting her child.

    Reply

  • Tracy Coenen

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    I don’t have to justify it. I can do it, or not, and don’t have to justify either. My visiting or not visiting isn’t going to change the damage she’s doing to Leta.

    Reply

  • Debora

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    @Tracy

    I disagree. The damage comes from two things. Firstly the massive number of people knowning about this childs problems. Secondly that the mother is motivated to publish all of this, which I should think has something to do with the money she makes from the blog, which she wouldn’t if nobody read it. By reading the blog you are enabling the damage.
    Unless you go by “if I don’t do it someone else will, so I might as well”. But with that as an attitude one might as well start robbing people.

    Reply

  • Tracy Coenen

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    White Trash Mom wrote this great stuff about the Dooce/Bloggess situation:

    I’ve stayed out of the fray of the recent blog drama. Until yesterday. Yesterday, Jon Armstrong, husband of Heather Armstrong, wrote a post on his blog that compelled me to act. I wrote a comment on his blog, which is featured below. It was not approved by Jon for reasons only Jon knows. Here is my comment:

    1. I am a reader of Heather’s blog and have lurked around this blog.
    2. I hate “girl” squabbles more than anyone.
    3. Like your post, none of my words are intended to hurt anyone. No malice and my opinion is given with respect.

    The reason the “Blogher Drama was a big deal is due to “The Prom Queen Syndrome”. Stay with me, now.

    To use a high school analogy, Heather is the Senior Class Prom Queen of the blogger world. Jenny is wonderful but she is not the Prom Queen.

    I can’t imagine how your life must be, living in a fishbowl. I truly feel for your family, especially your wife. She’s become extremely successful for just being HER. It’s not like Heather decided to become famous—-it happened by a mixture of fate, talent and timing.

    The problem is that even if Heather did not set out to be powerful or famous, she’s the “prom queen of the blog world”. She has the power to influence people around her. Part of what comes with success and being a leader in any industry is that the things you do and say have a greater impact on others. Heather’s voice is louder and reaches farther than most of the other women who blog. Her circle of influence is huge—so engaging in a conflict with another blogger, is in my opinion, not a fair fight. Heather isn’t playing on a level playing field.

    It is because her voice is so strong and powerful that I have a really hard time with Heather’s earlier comment (she talked about Jenny being drunk). That is simply not a fact, not true. But the fact that Heather says it MAKES it true in the minds of many people.

    Heather might need to take more care when she has conflicts with other bloggers, in my humble opinion. I realize this is not fair to Heather or to your family. But as you know too well, there is no free lunch. The recognition, perks and financial rewards have a price.

    I guess what I am trying to say is you guys already drank the Kool-Aid and while it is extremely difficult living in your fishbowl, please know there are probably one million people that would like to trade with you. I take nothing away from your stress or your life—-you both carry the load with grace, more than most people.

    I don’t have an ax to grind. I’m just saying that your problems are problems, no question. But these problems are the kind many people would like to have.

    Reply

  • Freya

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    Debora, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’ve removed her from my bloglines and will not be visiting either her or Jon’s site anymore. Maybe she won’t miss one reader, and no doubt picked up another fifty the same day I dropped her, but I can’t help but hope that maybe I’m won’t be the only one, and that each one reader will slowly make enough of a dent that they’ll be forced to re-evaulate their choices.

    Reply

  • Tracy Coenen

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    Well now I’m feeling guilty… like I should stop reading too. It’s just so hard to look away…..

    Reply

  • Tracy Coenen

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    Okay, I did it. Off the favorites list. Out of Google reader. Not even one click from me to Dooce or her husband.

    :)

    Reply

  • Freya

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    Good for you! I went cold turkey, wasn’t even as hard as I thought.

    It’s not like there’s any reminder of them in the real world. No-one says, “So, have you seen what Heather and Jon are up to lately?” Out of sight, out of mind.

    Reply

  • Tracy Coenen

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    Well it is a LITTLE hard because some of the other blogs I read make references to them. “Did you see what she said to Leta in her post?” and things like that…

    Reply

  • FlirtyBits

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    It is a fine line to walk. I am new to Dooce, so I haven’t read anything too damaging as of yet. I suppose when you have been blogging about your family for so many years you don’t see the privacy line any longer. I find blogging is like therapy and you tell your therapist everything which is especially easy when your therapist has no face, but instead is a computer screen. It’s one sided therapy, like going to confession. You tell the Priest everything and you don’t have to see the look of disappointment on his face. It’s a seemingly safe way to vent and it seems to be working for her, so I’m sure she will keep writing as long as she has an audience, which I don’t see any shortage of. As the parent of a teenager, I foresee things changing when Leta is old enough to realize what her mom is writing about her and when the kids at school start relaying her inmost issues back to her. I’m sure the day it becomes a horrific experience for Leta is the Day Heather draws a deeper line in the sand. Well, I hope anyway…

    Reply

  • Mandy

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    I watched the segment from The Today Show and I found Kathie Lee’s point to not be wonderful, but entirely hypocritical. Back in the days of “Regis and Kathie Lee,” she constantly talked about her son Cody (I remember his name only because she talked about him, oh, CONSTANTLY). What’s that saying about glass houses and how annoying TV personalities shouldn’t throw stones?

    Reply

  • Katie Collins

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    Seriously? How is what Dooce is doing any different from what parents all over the country do? You meet a hot guy that you like and two months later your mom is telling him about the time you flooded your grandparents house by letting the bath tub run over. Dooce is not doing anything wrong. I think she’s building a lovely tribute to her daughter that she’ll be glad she has when Leta grows up.

    Reply

  • Tracy Coenen

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    A lovely tribute? By constantly insulting and belittling Leta? That doesn’t appear too lovely to me!

    Reply

  • Katie Collins

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    Tracy, please give an example of how Heather “belittles” Leta. I have read her blog from the beginning and have seen nothing like that. I think she does talk about sensitive topics that Leta wouldn’t want the world to hear about. But I think all parents do that. My parents tell stories I don’t want people to know all the time. It doesn’t mean they – or Heather – love their children any less. And I don’t think Heather is posting things that she believes are “insulting” to her daughter. Every child goes through these things. What’s so embarrassing about chronicling her daughter’s early life?

    Reply

  • Amanda

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    Wow … you are so judgmental! I hope you have a more open mind (and heart) when it comes to your own family.

    Reply

  • Renegade Moms

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    Dooce is a sick bitch and not in a good fun way but in a disturbing make you puke way. Her constant shaming of Leta is sickening and her douchebag husband is almost…not quite but almost worse than she is. Their recent family video shoot of them terrorizing that poor kid with a spider (that she is deathly afraid of) while they laugh at her confirmed for us that she is a name we wont say here on your site without your permission but we did say on ours.

    The blind sheep idol worshiping of her is proof that people really are THAT stupid.
    ~The Renegade Moms

    Reply

  • Amanda

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    I read her once and found it to be painful. I think I cried for her child and her husband that day… thinking of all that they have to endure having and ego-maniac for a wife/mother. (come to find out that hubby is no better, but oh well)

    I think that there are a lot more ‘dooce’s’ out there then not, but the thing that is scary is how many people read her and identify or just blindly follow her.

    And the fact that HGTV is trying to ride her popularity coattails is disturbing to me.

    At the end of the day, Heather is a deeply disturbed person who is making bad choices and hurting the people in her life. And we all know who she is accountable to for that.

    God bless-
    Amanda

    Reply

  • Susie

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    I was once a Dooce follower and fan, then I had a child. Now I can’t imagine sharing the most intimate details of my child with the world. I would do everything in my power to protect my child and I don’t think Heather has those same interests. Instead of protecting her children;I do think Heather is exploiting then. I don’t think she knows the long term repercussion of what she is doing them. That’s just a chance I wouldn’t take with my children.

    I don’t doubt that she loves her daughters, but obviously she has some boundary issues. Yes, the money she makes and the fame she has due to her blog must be an overpowering factor to continue to blog about her life including her children, but must we see photos and videos of them every single day? It is worse than a paparazzi hounding the celebs and it’s even worse when it’s from your their own mother. What are the chances of Leta and Marlo growing up to be healthy functioning adults…

    Reply

  • Five Fabulous Bloggers | Sarah Auerswald

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    [...] Bloggess is just one strange woman. But hilarious. I first heard about her when she and Dooce were having a blog fight back in 2008, and I was there in the room at BlogHer ’08 in San Francisco when she got up and commented on [...]

    Reply

  • Dinah

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    I used to read Dooce and thought she was really funny. I had a baby about 6 months after she had Marlo, and I had given birth naturally too, and thought there were some commonalities.

    Unfortunately, Dooce has alienated me. She used to be like listening to your best friend: open, honest, really messed up, and FUNNY. Someone you could relate to. I think her success is her downfall. Who can relate to her lifestyle now? She even runs marathons. Good for her, for being so successful, but I think what made her interesting to me initially has quickly faded. A lot of us can relate to hating your job, getting fired, getting married, having a baby, and the struggles of life. Having a sense of humor about all of those things is key, and that’s what’s attractive. To me, it’s hard to be funny about living a million dollar lifestyle and running marathons. It’s just too much for me. I agree that she has become a diva. She’s just not funny anymore. Sorry, Dooce!

    Reply

  • Fraud Files Blog

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    [...] have written before about Heather’s desire to have people “worship at the altar of Dooce.” It appears that in the more than 3 years since I wrote that article, nothing has [...]

    Reply

  • Melanie

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    I’m not sure it’s worse than a paparazzi hounding celebrities. Having your mother take pictures is not near as bad as being stalked and having vile things screamed at you on a regular basis just to get a reaction.

    Reply

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