One last question: does Ezarik consider herself a feminist? “I try to keep everything very clean so other women don’t feel like they have to use sex to sell,” she replies, and then goes on in that vein. Apparently, the conversation about Judith Butler and gender as performance will have to wait for another day.
Still, when we hang up so that Ezarik can start chipping away at her in-box, I think about how well she answered my question about attention. Attention’s a touchy subject right now. As we trust cultural arbiters less and less to tell us who deserves attention, calling those who seek it–especially women–attention whores has become a dismissive, silencing insult. But here’s the thing: understanding that your blog is less a shrine to your awesomeness and more a location where a like-minded community can form–and genuinely being okay with that–is actually pretty rare, even among Internet personalities. iJustine’s willingness to let her fans share her spotlight, even as she mugs for the camera, might be what’s really helping her rack up all those page views.
So maybe I should be taking Justine Ezarik more seriously, or at least not dismissing her for being blonde and photogenic, and knowing it and using it to her advantage. Certainly, I find the persona she’s crafted cloying; but then, I’m not the intended audience. For the Twittering 16-year-old who lives for gadgets, though … well, it’s easy to see why he’d quake in her presence.
“I am the Internet” is the tag line of iJustine’s YouTube channel, and when I first saw it, I was offended on the Internet’s behalf. It didn’t seem fair that this girl was getting so much attention for providing her fans with a steady stream of Twittered fake intimacies–“Eating chocolate-covered pretzels”; “I don’t like time zones!!”–and cutesy videos. The idea that she was somehow representative of all of us online was galling.
The great thing about the Internet, though, is that it isn’t about to run out of bandwidth. iJustine is the Internet, sure, but so are you, if you want. There’s no reason–centuries of cultural conditioning aside–why you couldn’t do things differently.
Emily Gould was an editor at Gawker.com from November 2006 to January 2008. She wrote about Walter Benjamin in The September/October Issue of Technology Review.