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Spreading the weird 

Blogs redefine ‘interest groups’

SOLITARY PURSUIT: Anna Musun-Miller.
  • SOLITARY PURSUIT: Anna Musun-Miller.
Anna Musun-Miller is a 17-year-old graduate of Central High School, now in her freshman year at Vanderbilt. She has been blogging on LiveJournal since 2003, partly to keep friends posted about “the craziness going on” in her life. That craziness includes 15 hours of classes, an active social life, involvement in several campus organizations, and a job in the theater’s costume shop, which she “loves very much.” When something “really exciting” happens in one of her classes or at work, she alerts her friends via her blog. Likewise, if she’s feeling stressed, she can “go on and vent,” then return to the focus required for study. By using a variety of filters, Musun-Miller can control who sees what she writes. Her most intimate postings are available only to a handful of friends. But she also participates in communities which she finds through links posted by friends or by “word-of-blog.” Communities form around almost anything. The ones that attract Musun-Miller resemble theaters or sophisticated playgrounds. Because she loves costumes, for instance, Musun-Miller participates in a community of corset designers, trading tips about the fine points of an arcane craft with people she’s likely never to meet. Musun-Miller is also a fan of anime, the hugely popular form of Japanese animation, which attracts a particularly strong following among bloggers. That may be, she speculates, because “the blogging community has a higher proportion of nerds, geeks — whatever — than the general populace.” Or because, “Unlike American cartoons, anime often deals with much more serious subjects. It’s violent and it’s pretty at the same time.” Fans of almost any genre can indulge their appreciation by adopting the persona of a character and interacting with other personae on blogs. It’s play that allows participants to extend a story almost infinitely, while exploring its nuances. Plots are constantly propelled forward, as characters interact on the blog via postings from home computers, laptops and cell phones. Some role-playing communities are so highly developed that they attract audiences. One of Musun-Miller’s friends from Central who’s now at Washington University moderates an anime role-playing community that has 69 active participants and is watched by more than 100 people. But popular as anime is on blogs, it is dwarfed by Harry Potter. Every day — and night — of the year, thousand of bloggers are writing about and discussing, as Musun-Miller puts it, “the worlds associated with Harry Potter and the possibilities.” She is one of those bloggers. “The fandom sucks you in,” she says. “You can’t be a dabbler.” Some blogging communities discuss the politics of J.K. Rowling’s books, often heatedly. Others have created entire ministries of magic. As Musun-Miller explains: “People have subinterests and subsets of subinterests. You find very specialized niches.” Her niche is a role-playing community focused on the female faculty at Hogwarts School. “We’re not interested in the lives of the students,” she sniffs. “We find them adolescent and whiny — grating on our nerves.” In her academic life, Musun-Miller is considering a major in English, or anthropology, or both. Hence, she also occasionally writes in more traditional veins on her blog, and reads other writers’ work, as well. She believes that blogs are “already changing the way literature is published and read.” “You can just go on and read these authors who would never have had a chance to publish in any other forum — because they’re not established, or not old enough, or whatever. And you can tell them whether you think they’re very good or not. I think it has the potential to either discourage young authors, because people don’t respond well, or encourage them to go out and get their work published.” Whatever the topic — college life, literature, anime, corset-making, or the women who teach at a fictional school — blogging offers people a way to connect that has never existed before. For Musun-Miller, and millions like her, that is a fabulous thing. “Here are all these people who think like you do, who are interested in your weird little interest,” she says. “You find out you’re not the only one with that interest. It makes you feel less weird. It’s liberating. It’s vindicating. You’re not by yourself in the world.”
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