Exhibitionism, Performance, and More Clowns

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Title: Exhibitionism, Performance, and More Clowns
Creator: Cesperanza
Date(s): March 6, 2003
Medium: journal post
External Links: Exhibitionism, Performance, and More Clowns; archive link for main post
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Exhibitionism, Performance, and More Clowns is a 2003 essay by Cesperanza.

Some Topics Discussed

  • writing and audience
  • fan reaction
  • LiveJournal and communication
  • public and private


One of the most interesting was a back and forth I had with several people who claimed to be working on what I'll now call an "exhibitionist" model. I'll let iroshi speak for them, since she was inspired by something I said to thete1 and seems to have been been thinking deeply about this. She says: "Knowing that I have an audience isn't the same thing as having *asked* these people to come read my journal...." and she then elaborates on this position in her own lj post on the subject: "I'm not indifferent to the world around me. I want REACTION. . . whether they like me, hate me, are amused by me, shocked by me...I *don't* care, to a certain extent, *what* they think about me - but I like that they do. Think about me. "

I'm talking about this because it strikes me as a fairly common attitude around fandom in general and livejournal in particular, and it's finally gotten named and clarified for me as "exhibitionism." This is not my model. Me, I don't want "reaction," broadly speaking--I want only certain kinds of reaction. So I think I'm working on what I want to call a "performance" model. In performance, the audience is crucial: you wouldn't perform without an audience, the play doesn't go on if nobody shows up. Furthermore, each individual audience is different, and it affects the performance; you work with the audience in what is ultimately a collaborative enterprise, and the audience shapes your work in positive, negative, or just individually different ways. This is why actors, flushed and thrilled, come backstage all juiced up about the "good audience" out there--the audience has changed the experience for them, made it different from last night's show in some interesting way.

But, in a performance model, you don't want just "any" reaction. Rather, you're trying to elicit highly particular reactions--and if people don't laugh at your jokes or do laugh at your death scene, you've got a serious ass problem and you close the show and go eat a burger or something in shame. This is why you do rehearsals, dress rehearsals and previews--it's why I get twelve betas for everything I write--because by time it hits the public, I know where the funny lines are, where the good bits are; I'm not hitting the boards cold, as it were. It's very controlled; this is why so many directors are control-freaks.

Anyway, all this to say that exhibitionism is fine, and go ahead if it makes you happy or turns you on, feel free to wangle your dangly bits in public, but here's a bit of entirely free and possibly worthless advice: if you're looking to get "any" reaction, then be don't be surprised (I was going to say, don't complain, but that's ludicrous; of course you can complain; to complain is human) when you do get "any" reaction, any one of a number of unpredictable reactions. If you don't care about your audience's reaction, then don't expect them to care about your reaction, or make the decision that you don't care that they don't care.

Though I have to say, all this not-caring is getting me down. I guess when push comes to shove, I think people should care.

Fan Comments


I see where you're coming from on the performance model ... to a point. That's the way I look at my public journal entries, after all. I proofread them, I even edit them later if I find that I've ended up saying something that didn't quite express what I meant. My friends-only entries, on the other hand, are almost a different journal. They're more about me than about my ideas. (And that's the main reason I don't "friend" everyone who "friends" me -- who knows whether these strangers would even find me interesting beyond my ideas? God knows I don't want to feel like I'm pushing my thoughts on people.)

I'm wondering if a system like that might not work for you. If you wanted to communicate something to your friends, but it didn't quite measure up according to your subjective criteria of what would be interesting enough to make public, you might want to consider making it friends-only rather than not making it at all. Just a thought.

I'm wondering if a system like that might not work for you. If you wanted to communicate something to your friends, but it didn't quite measure up according to your subjective criteria of what would be interesting enough to make public, you might want to consider making it friends-only rather than not making it at all. Just a thought.

No, it's a good thought; I've heard, too, that you can actually have different groups of "friends" set up for different purposes. Because face it, the friends thing is weird--there are people who are my friends whose journals I don't want to read every day, because they're into something I'm not into or whatever, and there are people who are my "friends" who aren't actually my friends but I'm interested in what they have to say.

But clearly, some way of addressing particular comments to particular kinds of audiences is warrented. Frankly, just the cut away tag is a relief to me; it means that someone has *some* moment of choice about whether they want to read what's behind it or not.
ratcreature: I get the "not friending everybody back" thing, because it doesn't make much sense to friend someone whose entries you don't want to read and whom you don't want to enable to read special entries either, but really the "friends" feature (awkwardly named as it is) is very versatile in both directions (reading and disclosing posts). I mean, just say someone, for whatever reason, really wanted to friend every 200 people who friended her, but has no interest in either reading their journals nor in disclosing her entries to them, also she doesn't want her fannish friends read the family posts nor her family reading the TMI sexual kink posts. All she needs to do is set up custom friends groups, like say one for "family", one for "close fandom friends" and one for "friends whose journals I read". Then she uses the "friends whose journals I read" filter for reading, posts the TMI posts friends-locked and disclosed only to the "close fandom friends", posts the family newsletter friends-locked only to the "family" group etc. Just that someone is added to a friends lists doesn't mean all friends-locked posts are disclosed to them, and that someone is added doesn't have to mean that their journals are part of the "regular reading" filter either. And since only you see your filters (unlike the public friends list) there's less social awkwardness too.

This exhibitionism vs. performance thing is fascinating. I buy your definitions and your dichotomy: I can see that split happening around livejournal.

What I'm not sure of is where to put myself. (Because, you know, it's all about me. ;-) I'm not exactly an exhibitionist; certainly not with my writing, which goes through a bevy of betas because, as you say, I want to know what audience reaction is likely to be before I put it out there. And I want to know that it's good. I don't just want a reaction; generally I want a positive reaction. (Although I do tend to think that there are times when negative reactions are better than no reactions. And sometimes I write things to be deliberately provoking. But that's another story.)

My livejournal, though -- feels like a kind of cross between performance art and communal correspondence. Some days it's my substitute for chat: I post little updates on my life and my day, and look for similar little updates from the other folks who are online all afternoon. Some days I write essays, or entries with a point or an arc from one idea to another, and post those. Some days it's like a chronicle of my life -- work, writing, conversations with my mother, whatever. Some days it's a place to muse on fannish stuff.

For the most part it's not exactly performance, per se -- I don't feel like I'm declaiming to an audience (although I do read and re-read things obsessively before I post them, even when I'm just doing a brain-dump). I really like that it's not exactly performance: I like that I can regard my lj as a relatively casual place where I can natter, rather than having to be on-stage per se.

But I'd be lying if I tried to claim that I don't consider the fact of my readership. Especially since livejournal's "friends" feature creates a kind of streaming thing whereby I know my entries are popping up on at least sixty or so friends' pages as I post them, and lord only knows how many other people stop in and read now and then. It would be inconsiderate of me to just spew all over the screen; spewing is generally not audience-friendly.

So it's not exactly exhibitionism either, at least not as I'm understanding it. It's more like...self-focused, but audience-friendly, ramblings.

I do take some comfort from iroshi's point that an lj post isn't exactly like a list post, inasmuch as people have to seek me out (at least a little) in order to read this stuff. So I can feel secure in the knowledge that I'm probably not shoving my personal life down anyone's throat. At the same time, though -- if all I wanted were a private journal, I'd be keeping one of those. Part of what I like about lj is knowing that people read what I write here; it's the back-and-forth aspect, the communication. So even though nobody's forcing anyone to read my lj posts, I do want people to want to come back and read more. It's a weird combination of defensiveness ("hey, I didn't make you come here and click on that cut-tag") and welcoming ("yo, come in, click on that cut-tag").

I dunno. I'm not arguing with your binary system, here -- just saying that I think the indidivual lj experience is not necessarily so black-and-white.



cut tags are our friends!!!!

In fact, I suppose that one of the reasons I posted this was that many writers (broadly construed; people who write) seem to think there's great integrity in ignoring their audience--certainly (gasp!) you'd never change a word! for the sake of the audience! But as a theatre person that just doesn't compute--okay, again, I don't mean pander, you can't reach everyone, and nor should you try! There are, for instance, some artists whose work won't ever be crowd pleasing, who put on wonderful avant-garde stuff in church basements for other artists, but then THAT's your audience, and if even the other artists don't get you, you at some point you need to sit down and figure out what you're doing wrong. If you're using your LJ to reach your family, then your family is your audience and you need to make sure that their needs are being served. If other people don't get you, then fine, they're not your audience--but it does seem to me that some people want things every which way, i.e. they want to write only for their family and close friends, or they want to be exhibitionistic (which I have to read at least partly as hostile, because frankly, when people expose themselves in the street to me--and I live in NYC, so they DO--it's extremely upsetting and threatening, ) and yet they also want to be read and loved by huge and devoted audiences. I'm just saying that you're cruising for failure with that. It's not reasonable, goddammit!

But anyway, going back to the main point, I never meant to suggest that any of this was black and white. Also, I'm realizing that for me, there's not much of a distinction between fic writing and LJ writing. Writing is writing is writing.
zvi likes tv: Francesca's performance <-> exhibitionism line doesn't really make sense only with the line 'attempt to control audience reaction, more or less'. It also raises questions of publicness versus privateness, multiple audiences, goal of posting, and how one knows (or doesn't) one's audience.


I wonder why I'm doing, then. I don't know how many people have noticed that most of my posts these days don't allow comments - and it's not a coincidence that more of them are longer and more personal since I've started doing that, and that I've friends-locked many fewer things.

I know I *have* an audience, but a lot of the time I don't want a response - a lot of what I'm saying are things that I don't mind people knowing about me, but which I don't want to discuss, either.

Other times, the comments are left on because I actively want engagement from people: I'm asking a question, soliciting opinion, wanting to participate in a dialogue. It's a pretty safe bet that if I have them on, I'd like to chat about this topic, and if I don't, I don't, at least not publicly and with people who aren't actually close enough to me to know how to seek me out and say "hey, girl."

I could use friends filters, but...I don't like them much. I think it's that I don't like the lj model much, actually, but (a) I'm too lazy to split up what I'm doing, so I use my lj both for the socially-interactive aspects of what I want to do, and the random-comments aspect and (b) lj is where my RL and my fannish life intersect, and part of turning off the comments is me reinforcing boundaries in an online life that has collapsed worlds in some pretty serious and major ways in the past year or so. If someone emails me about a post I'm not comfortable discussing with them, I can say, privately, that I don't really want to discuss it. If they post publicly...all I can do is ignore them and only respond to people I want to talk to about it, and that seems terribly rude. It takes back some of my control.

I know I *have* an audience, but a lot of the time I don't want a response. . .Other times, the comments are left on because I actively want engagement from people.

I had to go look at your journal to see what you meant; no, I hadn't noticed. Having looked--yes, there is a difference between the posts where you invite comment and the ones where you don't. The no-comment ones are more personal and seem to be almost--near, at least--therapy, in the sense that they seem to be things that you want or need to say "aloud", but perhaps things that are too fragile for you to really bat around. In that way it's more like group therapy, where you share your piece and nobody else can critique you, than like, say, writing workshop--in which the WRITER is not allowed to speak while they're being critiqued. It's interesting to watch you move from personal commentary to orchestrating discussion a post later, and then to giving a recipe. You're changing tacks from post to post, you weirdo schitzoid you. (KIDDING--anyone listening, I'm KIDDING, she can use her journal any way she goddamned wants without disparagment. Yeesh.)
jacquez: I hadn't thought about them as therapy, although now that I do think about it, those posts do fulfill some of that function. They're also, in a way, just-for-me -- even though I'm sharing them and even though I know some of the people reading are interested in those things about me. They're journaling instead of livejournaling, as if I have this mental line in my head.

When I post to lj, I'm aware I have an audience out there. I tried, as an experiment, to create an entirely private lj where everything would be for my eyes only, and I had *one* entry, so I seem to need the audience. I have a multitude of filters set up, but I rarely friendslock. So, I believe that people read what I write.

This means that, for really long posts such as the crit one I just did, I'll prepare exactly as if I'm writing an essay, complete with outline (and nothing is more nerve wracking than *knowing* you've left an outline with the words "erotic content" in your handwriting lying around your desk. Fortunately, no one found it before I was able to get it shredded.) It also means that there are some subjects I will *not* discuss because they are intensely personal to me.

It also means I steer clear of other subjects because they're controversial in a way I don't want to deal with - some religious issues, many political issues, certainly the whole nasty intersection between the two - I don't like political arguments, and I do them badly, whether I'm the token liberal or the token conservative. And when I do post something of that nature, I shake and often delete and rewrite posts or leave them deleted, or I'll cut-tag.

It's like, I need the audience but I'm also afraid of them.
lexcorp hope:

I don't disagree with what you're saying, but I can't agree wholly just because there are so many facets to fandom-LJdom even within a single journal that it seems limiting to say that it's either X or Y. F'rinstance, my LJ is mainly a marketing tool: SV fandom seems to prefer to leave comments in an LJ rather than sending e-mail, and I will be the first one to admit that I write fan fiction in no small part to be read, to get a reaction (whatever that reaction may be.) So, my stories go on my archive, the centralized archives, the specialized archives, the mailing list, and in my LiveJournal- the goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible. While I reckon that could be categorized as exhibitionism, it borrows from your definition of performance: I want people to read and react- specific result. Then again, it doesn't matter to me if the reaction is positive or negative: I just want to know what people think if they took the time to read.

The rest of the time, my LJ is like a pub- someplace to meet and greet, see what other people thought of the episode, what art people are doing, what neat quizzes are running around out there, etc.. My life is fairly isolated at the moment- I live in a small town, all of my friends live out of state, and I'm a stay-at-home mom. Getting on LiveJournal and reading my friends list, and responding to it- many weeks, that's the whole of my social interaction with other adults besides my husband. My Wee is adorable, but at 11 months old, she just does not care about the parallels between "Hourglass" and the Biblical book of Revelations. Except for very rare instances, there is nothing in my LJ that isn't about a) Smallville b) More general fandom issues or c) Writing, because that's where I go to "hang out" with other fans and other writers. I guess that could be lumped under "performance," but I think there is a difference. I just want to visit, and since there is no physical space, I have to post something to find out who else is bellying up to the bar the same time I am.

I will be the first one to admit that I write fan fiction in no small part to be read, to get a reaction (whatever that reaction may be.)

Okay, but see--why the big disclaimer? "I will be the first one to admit"--I mean, if you're writing, formatting, and uploading onto the world wide web, you want to be read, surely? It's an awful lot of effort otherwise. I do understand the idea of writing as self-discovery (many people keep diaries in order to work out their thoughts on paper and thus learn about themselves), but usually people go to great lengths to insure that that kind of writing *doesn't* get read. Maybe I'm dim or something, but it certainly seems to me that at the very least you're flirting with the idea of being read, no? You uploaded onto the freakin' web, right? (Not you, Hope, this is the hypothetical "you" who, unlike you, doesn't admit that they write to be read. *g*)

Me, I'm with you you--if you're the first, I'll be the second one to admit that I write to be read.

Actually, thinking about it--how many people who write "just for themselves" actually have some fantasy about their writing being discovered and read later, by some hypothetical and appreciative audience rather than, you know, "these philistines?" *g* Writing's a communicative tool, writing lets us project our voices across time and distance, no?

While I reckon that could be categorized as exhibitionism, it borrows from your definition of performance: I want people to read and react- specific result. Then again, it doesn't matter to me if the reaction is positive or negative: I just want to know what people think if they took the time to read.

See, and here we differ--whether or not the reaction is positive or negative matters very much to me indeed! If I am attempting to create an effect, and the effect doesn't come off, it's a problem. If it's funny and you don't laugh, I have a problem; if it's supposed to be suspenseful and you're bored, I have a problem. Are you skimming? Why are you skimming when I want you riveted? I always want to know what people think, positive or negative, but only so that I can correct myself to get more positive response in future (to be more gripping, funnier, sexier--the story, not me) because I want people to enjoy my work, you see?

I guess that could be lumped under "performance," but I think there is a difference. I just want to visit

A visit *is* a performance, as I defined it--you would, I hope, attempt to engage your visitor? The thing I was reacting in the "exhibitionist" model was the sense that the person was talking *at*, not *to* the audience--the exhibitionist says, "I don't care about your reaction, so long as you react!" I assume you would not treat a guest this way, n'est pas? Or you wouldn't have a very nice visit!

ooooh, well put!

Actually I didn't mean constraints of time only in relation to writing a single blog post and the time investment therein, though of course that is one aspect. I think online journal writing is different than many other works (whether written or artwork or anything else) in that the work, both the whole blog as well as each post on its own, has a "time dimension." Each entry you post stands in relation to the other posts in your blog as well as to posts and discussions in other blogs and only through these relations it becomes really a "blog" or a "LJ", a distinct form from keeping a web page with rants or essays for example.

In other kinds of writing or art there is no "harm" done to work itself when you decide that something isn't ready for sharing yet and you delay the publishing in favor fine tuning it some more, unless you work on a serial with a fixed time table (say one installment each day, week, month or such) or under other external factors like wanting to comment on something of relevance only for a limited time, it won't change the "final product" (or its effects on the audience) that you worked a week longer on it.

While for a blog the single entry has no "deadline" as such, for the whole enterprise of an online journal time matters very much, both the frequency of posts, and your "response time" when you react to entries in other blogs. It is a tough trade-off, and any choice will change your desired impact on readers, and it's not possible to be "optimal" in every aspect. For example last year I wrote a blog entry, and rewrote it and thought on it, by the time I posted it I still wasn't sure it was really the best entry, but the discussion which sparked my entry was almost three weeks ago already, so I felt it was better to post the entry then instead of waiting still longer. Had I worked on it longer, my post might have been better, but the discussion would have been even more forgotten than it was already. Many fannish entries work under such time constraints. Episode discussion for example is liveliest in the week after the episode aired in the US for the first time, and posting at some future date an episode analysis that is "more perfect" as an episode analysis may very well make it "less perfect" as a blog post in the context of the fandom audience.
cmshaw: i think you're hitting the nail on the head here with this question of training for handling public audiences and their unscripted reactions. (i was a student activist in the mid-90s, so that metaphor rings very true to me.) remember this: a lot of people are here are not extroverts. we don't have a lot of experience with performing in public -- because, really, that's what extroverts do, or that's how it looks from over here, a constant performance on a nearly reflexive level -- so when we hit lj, which is essentially one long public performance, sort of a "my life: an interpretive ascii dance with icons", we don't know what the fuck we're doing. we have to sort it out by trial and error. i think i was probably very lucky that i built up my friends list as slowly as i did: if i look back at, say, december 2001, i was posting exactly once a day, hardly commenting, hardly getting comments; fast-forward to december 2002, and i'm posting in clumps around the concepts that i've found make good shows, and i'm all about interacting with my audience. learning curve in action. (here's hoping i continue to improve!)