I first learned about pop culture blogger Rich Juzwiak while listening to the Frenemies episode of This American Life in which he appeared. From there I started reading his Celebreality coverage on the VH1 blog, as well as his overall pop culture coverage at his own site, FourFour. I recently caught up with him via email to get his perspective on many aspects of pop culture. Juzwiak can also be found here on Twitter. My thanks to Juzwiak for his time and thoughts.
Tim O’Shea: What kind of fortitude do you have to do the in-depth analysis of reality TV like you do on a regular basis–what keeps it interesting for you?
Rich Juzwiak: I think as a culture, we’re all quite taken with ourselves as a culture — there’s a sort of cultural narcissism that goes on with our obsessive need to report about ourselves and then report on that reporting. Bottom line: human beings are fascinating, especially at their behavioral extremes, which reality TV invites.
O’Shea: How did you me up with the idea to do the All My Heroes page, do the clips have to meet a certain comedic or disturbing criteria?
Juzwiak: I really like your use of the word “disturbing,” because none of those things strike me as such! I have a high threshold. All My Heroes is basically an unofficial Tumblr within my blog just documenting the weird/stupid that tickles me but provokes mostly a visceral response. Things become “My Hero,” when I’m compelled to post them but don’t have much to say about them besides, “This is awesome, watch it.”
O’Shea: When things stink so bad, you get to go into full snark mode, does that make reviewing Heidi Montag a little more fun? Is it feasible she would view the line “She is egregiously irresponsible.” as a compliment?
Juzwiak: Bad reviews are notoriously easier to write than good ones, and fun is never too far from easy. But I don’t know, I also really love celebrating things that I appreciate. It’s all fun, really, as long as I’m articulating effectively. As for how Heidi would view that line, or anything for that matter: who knows if she even knows how to read?
O’Shea: Has your work with This American Life helped attract more readers to your blog work?
Juzwiak: I don’t think so. I haven’t seen too much lasting traffic as a result. The video’s views bumped up and people talked about it on Twitter, but it’s not like it was something that I could point my finger at and say, “That made me.” What was truly rewarding about that experience was the opportunity to dabble in a completely foreign medium (radio). And TAL’s prestige was never lost on me, either.
O’Shea: Of all the shows you cover for the VH1 blog, is there one that has become your favorite–or do you not want to play favorites?
Juzwiak: I would have written about Rock of Love for free on my own blog if I weren’t getting paid for it. That show speaks to me on a fundamental level. The first episode of the first season will probably always be my favorite thing that VH1 has ever run. It was Russ Meyer for the ’00s.
O’Shea: How often do you get to conduct the Celebreality interviews that are posted on the blog–or are those provided to you by the show’s producers?
Juzwiak: I conduct all of them (although we recently hired Jessica Suarez, so she’ll be handling some of the load here and there). Doing that is the best part of my job. Getting to experience that extreme human behavior that I crave and adore on a firsthand basis is invaluable.
O’Shea: After you see the story arcs on the VH1 rehab shows, do you find yourself not wishing to link to stories when these folks fall upon hard times again (as sometimes happen)–or do you not get emotionally invested with folks when you cover the shows?
Juzwiak: The only time I consciously steered clear of that was when Mary Carey did the porn parody of Celebrity Rehab. It’s hard to see someone that you care about make such a terrible decision. Otherwise, and not to get all Dr. Drew on you, but relapsing is part of the process of recovery. I think it’s only fair to report on it. As far as non-Rehab people go, I hate reporting on Danger‘s personal problems (like losing custody of her child and the arson thing). I hope she gets it together.
O’Shea: Do you think the ever-increasing presence of reality TV shows have only served to make the nature of celebrity more or less surreal?
Juzwiak: I would say more: celebrity is by nature the opposite of mundanity, yet as its definition is stretched it enters that territory. That’s fucked up!
O’Shea: How hard is it to juggle the demands of two blogs?
Juzwiak: It’s exhausting. Whenever I sit down to ingest any pop culture, I’m potentially working. I more or less always have to think critically. I used to complain about that all the time, but now I’m just used to it. Whatever, it’s how I’ve set up my life for myself. Any other way would not feel right.
O’Shea: When someone like Tila Tequila falls from grace [if she ever possessed grace]/popularity (which she seems to be doing, on some level) do you relish that you will not have to cover her anymore for your job [clarification, I got my MTV and VH1 programming confused when I noted this Tweet by Juzwiak--fortunately he quickly corrected me]?
Juzwiak: Well, she wasn’t on VH1, so I never really had to cover her for my job. Otherwise, I probably would have quit. She is silly, wasteful and what’s worse is that she doesn’t know how to translate those two qualities into something worth gawking at. That is plain stupidity. I can’t believe anyone ever thought it was a good idea to put her on TV, and I can’t believe that people still think it’s a good idea to pay attention to whatever lies she’s spewing at any given moment. She can’t go away fast enough.
O’Shea: Is there anything about your work that you’d like to discuss that I did not ask you about?
Juzwiak: I don’t think so. If my work is not speaking for itself, I’m not doing a good job.