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State of Play, and a Brief History of Bloggers in Movies and on TV

In addition to murder, intrigue, and thrilling scenes of investigative journalism, State of Play, which opened last weekend, offers something novel: a credulous, reverent portrait of a blogger (played by Rachel McAdams, opposite Russell Crowe). More often, television and cinema have shown these history-altering media mavericks as somehow lacking in discretion, valor, and/or comprehensive personal hygiene. But if you study our brief history of bloggers in movies and on TV, you’ll see that some credit has been given where it is due — until now, finally, they are properly played as gorgeous crusaders with plenty of time and income for questing after deeply buried truths.

Blogger as Power Broker: In one early episode of Entourage, Rainn Wilson played R.J. Spencer, the type of web nerd who can make or break a comic-book movie. (Rainn has said the character was based on infamous online reviewer Harry Knowles.) When Spencer plans to write a post saying how awful Vincent Chase would be as Aquaman, Vinny and the gang bribe him with porn stars. It works, too! Wilson plays him as petulant and nerdy, but essentially human.
Blogger as Hated Gossip: Why is Guiding Light being canceled in September, after 57 years on television (and 19 more on the radio)? Consider the desperation of the 2006 season, when the show introduced the Springfield Burns Blogger, a mysterious (and initially anonymous) character who kept splashing photos of major characters’ marital discretions on the web. It turned out the evildoer was someone named Blake, and as a response to her blogging, she was poisoned. And, naturally, ended up in a coma.
Blogger as Undeserving Lit Star: Mumblecore-movie kingpin Andrew Bujalski (Mutual Appreciation) plays the inexplicably successful blogger Paul who scores a book deal, just as his girl (Greta Gerwig) loses interest. It’s impossible to imagine that Bujalski’s muttering, obnoxious self-regard could possibly produce a great book – and that’s part of the joke.
Blogger as Teen Social Overlord: Voiced by Kristen Bell, Gossip Girl not only serves as the omniscient narrator on the hit CW show, but she also provides the framework by which the show operates. Chronicling the lives of popular high-school students, she can make or break relationships, careers, and even businesses. We never see her (and, mysteriously, no one ever tries to find out who she is), but her sexy voice suggests she’s an all-knowing, cruel vamp; school administrators and even parents turn to her blog for information. Gossip Girl isn’t especially loved, hated, or even questioned by her readers. She’s just a fact of life.
Blogger as Voice of a Generation: My So-Called Life creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick hoped that 25-year-old Bitsie Tulloch, who plays Dylan Krieger, would be a new generation’s Claire Danes – but she wasn’t. Zwick & Herskovitz modeled her confessional blog on Angela Chase’s diary entries – but nobody bought it. Spastic-quirky one moment, pretentiously literary the next, the first blogger-star of a show never built up much of an online audience and was yanked after one episode, having posted NBC’s worst ratings in seventeen years.
Blogger as Hero Journalist: The brilliant 2003 BBC mini-series State of Play – which got so much right about journalism – barely hinted at blogs, but Kevin MacDonald’s new Hollywood adaptation puts them, and the crisis in newspapers, front and center. Russell Crowe plays the ink-stained, blue-collar hero; Rachel McAdams plays the ambitious young upstart, Della Frye, who nails down the story online. The tone and substance of her blog is never quite clear, but when Crowe grumbles that she needs to get out into the real world, well, she does. Interrogating suspects and chasing crooks, she proves herself more ethical (if less talented) than the old-school journo, just in time for a throwback “stop-the-presses” montage.
State of Play, and a Brief History of Bloggers in Movies and on TV