Bloggernacle Performance Art

Andrew Sart, Bloggernacle, Culture, Mormon 15 Comments

As an outsider and newcomer, I must admit that there are just some things about the Bloggernacle that I cannot even begin to grasp. One of the things that I totally missed out on (but which I am [very] slowly scratching the surface about) is the (dark) period of Bloggernacle history regarding the Banner of Heaven.

I can’t even begin to comprehend it all, but I am fortunate for the glimpse and expose that Scott B is providing for it.

One thing I can’t help but think about is the sheer artistic nature of this undertaking. It is literary, first and foremost…and from the beginning, the project objectives bore innovative literary significance. As was described in the project objectives (hidden away from the general public for so long):

…our number one aim—beyond just having fun—with this project is to explore the potential of blogging as a story-telling form.  More specifically, we want to explore blogging as a way of telling Mormon stories, and more specifically than that we want to tell stories that reflect back on the bloggernacle itself.

Of course, in the process, the project needed to be much more. Blogs aren’t static, but interactive. And with that, the Banner of Heaven project became more performative, social, experimental, and experiential.

I cannot even begin to understand the charged feelings and responses to the blog, because I wasn’t “there” for it. Yet, in seeing all the discussion about BoH after the fact, I always see a kind of damage control relating to the subject.

One idea that comes out frequently is that of deception. Was it deception? Was that the intent? Was that an unfortunate consequence? A known, yet calculated risk? What does that say about the participating bloggers (the actors)? I think the latest entry on the subject, which features a podcast interview of one of the participating bloggers, touches a few intriguing points. As one commenter to the thread sums up:

The one telling thing on this podcast is Rosalynde’s unwillingness to act deceptively. She was the only one who with the foresight to recognize how people were going to react to being tricked. They all knew she had misgivings about it, and forged on regardless with their grand enterprise. From this podcast it doesnt sound like her withdrawl resulted in any internal soul-searching or discussion with the rest of them.

People’s perceptions of whats funny sure is different.

I guess that psychological aspect running through it all is the most intriguing. Within this comment, I sense an undertone…a lingering disgust that carries with it a sort of judgment of the participating writers.

Yet, the fascinating part is I bet that many would still assert that there wasn’t any intent to deceive and, even now, the project wasn’t really as bad as some people would like to believe.

I certainly feel, even from a distance, that good, bad, or indifferent, this project made a big splash on the story of Mormonism (and the story of Mormon blogging). In fact, it is precisely because of the good and the bad and the indifferent that this makes such a great Mormon story.

I regret that the limitations of analogies for this project are unfortunately fatal. At best, it can tell us about a community built around a knowing untruth, but how far can that tell either a story about the real bloggernacle or Mormonism itself without making or taking taboo and unpalatable assumptions about either the former or the latter?

Comments 15

  1. Whoa, Andrew, I wouldn’t touch this with a 10-foot pole, but what a fascinating way to look at BoH!!!! I never could understand why people got so upset about it, but I think I’m starting to get an inkling. I really hope people comment on this and rest assured I will be lurking around to see what they say!

  2. The lingering aspect that your speaking of is because TBM get a bit touchy when ever anyone,( by that I mean people inside church/outside the church try to present a different point of view. People get pretty sensitive and they won’t even try to entertain the thought that there’s a possibility that you can be right. There up set because that’s not whats’ they have been taught to believe and they can’t handle it and give you names, like Anti- mormon in an effort to shut you up. Its happened to me on the web site.

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    re 1:

    BiV, yeah, I think it’s a good thing that it was beyond my time, since I think I would have been extremely upset if I had been involved as an ‘outsider’ to this project. But then again, I do take much more of an “Internets: srs bsns” approach to these things. I just have to say that the planning and work that went into this is rather incredible.

    re 2:

    Definitely an interesting interpretation there.

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    A thought from one of the participating writers:

    John, I can’t speak for everyone, but I think the fact people consistently, and from very early on, suspected a hoax or a fraud wasn’t perceived as a failure. Nor did it stand in the way of telling stories.

    It’s not crystal clear from the founding document, but I always felt that if we could just get people to pay attention or care long enough to be entertained then whether it was fictitious or not would become secondary to whether it was compelling.

    To a certain degree whenever someone said it was fake, I felt relief. Each suspicious comment was like a disclaimer, a warning sign, saying enter at your own risk. In this way, the suspicions made me feel less ethical responsibility, and as if it the blog was more of an open secret than a lie.

    As was pointed out on the other thread, when Sep felt like he might have been abducted many people felt the illusion was ruined. One commenter said, “Now Septimus is trying to pen his first work of lame fiction one blog entry at a time.” That stung because it was true basically. However, the truth is I could have been more subtle. The post was out there. On the other hand, being boring is always believable.

    When people say, as is often the case regarding BoH, “I knew right away,” I only feel like a failure if they say they stopped reading. A lot of people didn’t. In fact, and I know people might feel I am gloating, but I don’t care because I think there’s some insight into storytelling here, the blog and at least some of the readers fell into a sweet spot between knowing and not-knowing. The best things life has to offer us: religion, stories, pursuing love, and many other pleasures balance on this crux of knowing or not knowing the truth, or how it’s all going to turn out.

    This sweet spot between question and answer, fake and real, true or false is where some of the best modern storytelling is taking place. Lost is one great recent example. One of many. (Tom is right. I think those writers are geniuses. They were on a tightrope for six years.)

    Tomorrow’s storytellers will need to be virtuosos because the feedback loop between audience and creators is near instantaneous now. Blogging as a storytelling medium was thrilling to explore because once you post you know within 24 hours whether what you did worked or not and why. For this reason, although it was ethically suspect, it was a great crash course in writing

    Emphasis added

  5. Oh man, I feel so lost! BiV, or Andrew S could someone give a brief synopsis of what on earth we’re talking about here?

  6. jmb275,

    It’s an amazing story. Read about it here starting with the post “Origins” and progressing to the more recent posts. It’s too good to spoil.

    PS. (sorry if this isn’t the right place) jmb275 I need to contact you and can’t figure out how. Can you email me?

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    [Haha, Joseph Smidt beat me to it.]

    Since the Banner of Heaven project was actually before my time too, I think you could say I’m about as new to it as you are, jmb275. I have been picking it up through this five-year-anniversary series that has been digging back into it. If you have some time (there already quite a bit), then if you go through the links that I sprinkled throughout this post, you can see some of the things about the project.

    but I guess I will say SOME things, for anyone who doesn’t yet want to go through all the links.

    The basics are this. Five years ago, some of the major players in the Bloggernacle got together to try to create a new group blog project. The difference between this group blog and those like MM or BCC or T&S? This group blog would feature a cast of fictional writers…the idea was to see if these real-life bloggers could create and sustain a blogging community around fictional Mormons and fictional Mormon stories. As I quoted in the post, the goal was to explore blogging as a method of story-telling…to tell Mormon stories and a story about the Bloggernacle.

    Throughout the project, there was always SOME doubt that the entire thing was a hoax, but the thing was that until the end, there weren’t ever any smoking guns. However, in the end, there were a few mistakes (some ridiculous story arcs from some of the characters…some mishaps where people were able to match the IP addresses of the characters to the authors who wrote the characters, etc.,) but at that time, the project was “done” and so the authors revealed that it was fiction.

    There was massive backlash. People felt deceived. The people whose lives they thought they had been reading about were all fictitious, and many comments and discussions had been engineered by the people who were “in” on the endeavor (at the expense of those who weren’t.)

    The backlash was so strong that people kinda didn’t talk about it for a while. Even now, there is sour sentiment against the project. It was a taboo subject that dared not be spoken of. Until now.

    Again, I don’t really do justice to it. Scott B’s series at BCC and Bloggernacle Times is fascinating.

  8. Also, I think it’s hard for people who are newer to the Bloggernacle to realize what a scandal this was because the nature of Mormon blogging has changed so much. Back then, it was a much more insular community than it is today. There weren’t as many blogs, and many of the participants visited them all on a regular basis. I think that people came to really know each other and relate to their stories and their personal lives. When they discovered the people they’d come to know and care about on BoH weren’t real they felt betrayed. It really is an important part of the history of Mormon blogging, and it’s very interesting to look at this sociologically, as Andrew has done in the OP.

  9. Pingback: Bloggernacle Performance Art « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  10. Thanks for the recap. I started reading some of the links, but I just don’t have the time to devote to it right now (you should see the demands BiV is placing on us authors 😉 ).

  11. Andrew,
    Thanks for this write-up. There is a LOT more to come yet, so stay tuned–I just had a couple of hiccups with work and hosting services last week that put a delay on a few things.

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