retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Content Guy’s Note: Kate’s BlogBeat is a new ingredient in the MorningNewsBeat stew – a regular look at what people are talking about on the Internet, and how it impacts the conduct of business by retailers and manufacturers.


The old adage “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen” could easily be updated to “If you can’t take the heat, don’t write a blog.”

The heat-and-kitchen metaphor is especially appropriate this week, which is turning out to be “Julie & Julia Week” here on MorningNewsBeat. First, MNB’s Kevin Coupe kicked off the week with an insightful review of the new movie, starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell, an accidental blogger who wrote “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.” And then Michael Sansolo chimed in with his related perspective on how consumer attitudes toward cooking might change as the economy recovers.

Now it’s my turn…because the blogosphere is fairly simmering with discussion and debate about the movie, the real-world Julia Child and Julie Powell, and about the roles of food and art and commerce in our online and offline lives. The main lesson seems to be that if you want to exist in the blogosphere, you'd better be able to take the heat – and the prime example is the aforementioned Julie Powell.

Powell was stuck in a stultifying job and emotional rut when she “chanced” into writing her Julie and Julia project back in 2002, when blogs were relatively new. (There are now some 133 million blogs on the web, give or take a few million).

The blog led to a New York Times article, a book deal, and now the movie, which raked in $20 million in its opening weekend at the box office. It should be considered a triumph, yes?

Yet suddenly, online and in the media, “Julie & Julia” has become Julie vs. Julia. And the larger-than-life Child is trouncing Powell in the eyes of the movie critics, the food bloggers and the Monday morning book sales (with Child’s “My Life in France” at No. 1 on Amazon.com and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” topping the Barnes & Noble.com bestseller list).

In a pivotal scene in the movie, Julie has to bone a duck for the final recipe, Pate de Canard en Croute. Some critics and food bloggers unsheathed their boning knives with the same Julia-like gusto, accusing Powell of being disrespectful of the iconic Child, littering her copy with foul language, scolding her for cheating on her husband (revealed in an upcoming book), tossing back too many gimlets, and being a fraud and (heaven forbid) a terrible cook. Oh yes, and a narcissist, which is rather ironic, since the same could be said for several million bloggers who write, that’s right, about themselves.

But the power of the internet gives public discourse a new immediacy, as evidenced by this exchange on Powell’s own blog:

Elle wrote: “I just finished your book. It was self-indulgent and whiny. This inspired idea was wasted on you. You are a self-absorbed brat.”

Julie Powell responded: “I find it fascinating about the internet that people who dislike you feel free to, in no uncertain terms, attack you personally in a way they no doubt would never in a million years find acceptable and civil in face-to-face conversation.”

Countering the critiques were Powell’s ardent fans – “To those food bloggers that despise you ... they hate themselves for not having the heart and soul to TRY!” There was even a Newsweek.com headline that stated, “Stop Hating Julie Powell, Please.”

Take it from Julie Powell: Whether you write a blog or venture into social networking with your retail product or service, you gotta be able to take the heat.

(BTW: I am compiling a list of outstanding food blogs. If you have a favorite, please shoot me an email at kate@morningnewsbeat.com).
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