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Celebrity gossip and pop culture musings served up with a healthy dose of irreverent humor -- come meet Dawn Olsen!

Blogcritic of the Month, October 2006: Dawn Olsen

The purpose of this monthly series is to highlight an outstanding contributor to the site as chosen by the editorial staff. This designation is meant to recognize and celebrate the best of the best, those writers who not only shine by virtue of their talent, but whose ongoing participation gives all of us a reason to tune in each and every day. As new readers are continually discovering Blogcritics, we also hope to introduce these fine writers to a new audience.

Please join me in a virtual round of applause for this month’s honoree, Dawn Olsen!

Our honored guest this month has been well-known around these parts since the day Blogcritics went live, and that’s not too surprising, since Dawn Olsen is the wife of BC’s founder and publisher, Eric Olsen. A long-time blogger, Dawn has graced BC’s pages with a combination of off-the-cuff political commentary, music reviews, and her own down-to-earth take on pop culture. Her irreverence and trademark humor long ago caught the eye of Blogcritic Mark Saleski:

Tell me, how can a guy resist a blog called "Up Yours And Other Helpful Hints?" I certainly couldn't.

One of the first blogs I ever read, Dawn Olsen's writing was full of erudite musings on culture, music, sex, and other stuff. I loved every snarky bit of it. Dawn's unique and oftentimes potty-mouthed take on things puts a permanent smile on my face. The same can be said for her fine work on Blogcritics.

Who else would notice that the iPod Nano doesn't make her butt look smaller? Who else could make adult chicken pox sound funny? Who else would use The Smiths' Meat Is Murder as an effective weapon against annoying teens?

Face it, Dawn. We all love you, so stop with the self-deprecating hooey. We're not buying it.

Oh, and if you look at her in just the right light… she looks exactly like Jennifer Aniston.

Lately, you might have noticed that Dawn has become BC’s diva of celebrity gossip. Her funny and earthy take on such weighty topics as Britney’s parenting abilities and Paris Hilton’s, um… nether regions delights readers and often enrages commenters. Either way, it’s entertainment and humor always combined with a little food for thought, as Dawn's commentary never fails to be seasoned with a grain of truth.

Dawn is also a frequent guest on the BC Radio Podcast, and BC Radio producer and host DJ Radiohead had this to offer:

Dawn is my favorite BC Radio Podcast guest. She is funny, witty, and quick on her feet — all of which keeps a host on his feet. I don't think we have ever recorded a segment where I didn't laugh at something she said and I always feel a sense of pride when I keep pace with her.

I love her celebrity pieces, but some of my favorite examples of Dawn's writing have nothing to with Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan. The first article I remember reading by her had to do with a police chase in St. Louis. I felt an instant camaraderie with her take-no-prisoners, politically incorrect irreverance. A lot of comments on her stories miss the point. She is standing up and, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, calling for a little accountability.

There is also humanity and realness in her writing. I think that is why I connect with it. She will go for a laugh at someone else's expense, but is also willing and eager to laugh at herself. She shares her joys and her insecurities in a way that reveals a decency and goodness that is charming, engaging, and rare.

It is the personal touch and great wit that exemplifies why blogs, blogging, and Blogcritics have become so popular.

So read on to get some idea of what makes Dawn tick, and to learn a little BC history from someone with a unique perspective. First, a little bit of background on Dawn, in her own words:

A good place to begin my bio is after I met Eric. All years prior are pretty sketchy and best left to the PIs to dig up when I run for office someday – but I will add that I had a very cool-sounding name before I became an Olsen: Dawn Darling.

Mostly an Ohio native, I met Eric after I moved back to Cleveland from a ten-year stint on the east coast in the Washington, D.C. area. Eric had an amazing Sunday radio show called “Cool Tunes.” He played lots of great new wave, punk, and alterna-rock songs from the ‘80s and ‘90s – and anything earlier if he thought it fit. Besides being totally cool and laid back, he was the first DJ I had ever heard call himself a “dumbass” on the air – and if that’s not love calling out to a person like me, then what is?

I began calling his show and treating him to my own special brand of insults and flattery, and we hit it off. We talked intensely about music and writing, and eventually he invited me to be his slave/unpaid intern on the Encyclopedia of Record Producers, a book he had been hired to edit and write. Honestly, the full story is pretty fascinating, but probably only to our children. Maybe someday Nick Hornby will ghostwrite it for us.

Fast forward past the awkward tumultuous times of early love and you can boil it down to three things: the smell of vinyl, misguided ambition, and his Svengali-like influence. Out of these ingredients, both a book and a love were born. Plus, I learned to write and he got all kinds of free work out of the deal.
After 9/11, he became much more involved with the Internet and it was then that he started his first blog, Tres Producers. A couple of months later, after occasionally guest writing on Tres Producers and finding my way through the world of blogs, I decided to start my own, thus Up Yours and More Helpful Tips was born. To those who are still willing to admit that they remember my first blog, *cough Mark Saleski cough*, I was all over the place with subject matter – uninformed political invective, sappy parenting prose, creepy pictures in various states of undress, and a whole lot of weirdness.

I enjoyed the process of writing and especially interacting with readers. For me the instant feedback was gratifying, even though I seemed to attract an inordinate number of Dawn-haters. Unfortunately, having a one-person website with even a moderate readership is demanding of your time in ways that I as a working mom just couldn’t afford. I am proud of my efforts to blog and I managed to keep it up one way or another for almost three years, but after Alex was born, I really had to call it quits.

That’s why Blogcritics is such a wonderful concept. I can contribute as much as I wish, but its survival isn’t dependent on me like Up Yours/ was. The blog guilt was lost, but I still get the same outlet for writing and feedback that drew me to blogging in the first place.

So what does Eric have to say about the other half of Team Olsen? “Besides being lovely and hilarious, Dawn has an almost unerring nose for the zeitgeist, a great ear for the vernacular, and is simply a very talented writer who just keeps growing.”

I think Dawn’s readers would agree that sounds just about right.

Q & A: The Serious Stuff

I was able to find your old site archived in the Wayback Machine, and some of those were really fun to read! Were you writing before you started blogging? When did you first start blogging, and why? Do you miss not having your own blog any more?

I had dabbled in writing on and off before I met Eric, but I had no focus or outlet until we worked on the Encyclopedia of Record Producers. It was then that I realized there were rules and structure necessary for being a consistent and effective writer. Rules that I have as of yet to fully grasp!

I started my blog in April, 2002, shortly after Eric had started his. I had done a few guest posts on Eric’s site prior to starting my own, so I had a sense of what blogs were like, but I had no idea of the whole culture involved in blogging. Even now, I find myself somewhat out of the loop. Maybe it’s my age and real world responsibilities, but I am still pretty much a clueless person regarding the Internet.

I started blogging as an outlet for expressing my feelings and thought on current events, parenting, music, and life in general. I had found a few blogs that I liked and started to read regularly like and David Rees’ “Get Your War On.” Like most people who blogged at that time, I was drawn to it after 9/11.

While I started out with the intention of making political commentary, the atmosphere of “war blogs” was really unpleasant, plus my political acumen is very simplistic and the first rule of good writing is write what you know. Plus there was zero pressure and I didn’t have to conform to anyone’s idea of what constituted proper writing. And it shows. The only thing I miss about not having my “own” blog is not having a place to just express random thoughts and perspectives on whatever I want. For the most part, I consider Blogcritics my own blog.

People who frequent Blogcritics listen to BCRadio on a regular basis have heard Eric talk about the growth and development of the site, and I know there's another side to the story. You were present for the conception, labor, and delivery of Blogcritics. Can you talk a little bit about that process? What did you envision back then? Has it all unfolded according to your expectations?

It’s amazing to me how fast the site has grown; sure it’s been four years, but those four years have gone quickly and the last year has been phenomenal. BC was essentially born out of a few different people’s ideas. Group blogs were becoming popular at the time Eric launched BC, and I am sure it didn’t hurt that Eric had come from another group blog, albeit a small one. I have to admit, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this new site, but I knew Eric had tremendous enthusiasm and dedication to make this work, and that I could get behind it.

Initially the site was launched using the contacts, some very influential, Eric had cultivated since he had begun blogging. He talked to lots of people who had successful blogs and successful careers in writing; off the top of my head I remember Matt Welch and Ken Layne being involved in helping Eric set up the site by offering insight and providing logistical support. I know Phillip Winn [one of the site owners and Technical Director] was there from the beginning, and technical support was provided by Glenn Frazier. Interestingly, BC was a beta partner with a little fledgling company started by Henry Copeland, called Blogads, who we all know now is the industry standard for blog advertising. We were lucky to have some already popular writers agree to join right away like John Scalzi, Marty Dodge, NZ Bear, Michele Catalano, Mark Saleski, and, of course, Eric was the backbone. And lots of people from the beginning have taken breaks and come back, like Tom Johnson, Ed Driscoll, Bill Sherman, and the late, great Jim Carruthers. Eric absolutely loves the idea that people want to come back after real life calls them away.

And we wouldn’t have had the growth we had without the behind-the-scenes support from Glenn Reynolds, who, at the time, was the most well-known blogger, inside and outside of the blogosphere. I am sure I have left lots of important people off, and to be honest, I wasn’t all that involved with the site at the time, as I was working a full-time job and was pregnant during BC’s first year. Suffice it to say, all the writers and readers have been the key to BC’s success. There would be no site without them.

If I had any expectations of Blogcritics they have been exceeded ten-fold at this point and for that I am grateful. Eric has finally found a place he can put all his years of experience, talent, and personality into, without the pressure of feeling like he’s all alone on the journey. I am sure he’s very gratified.

As I was looking through your BC writer's page, I noticed that your earlier posts wandered through pretty much everything in terms of subject matter. You've reviewed music, you've expounded on the events of the day, and you've ranted a bit about politics and lots of other things. But recently, you've showed this incredibly funny side of yourself as our resident celebrity gossip diva. Are those as much fun to write as they are to read? They tend to provoke amazingly heartfelt responses from fans – hell hath no fury like a Britney fan forced to read criticism, apparently – what do you make of that? Why do you think people feel so compelled to defend these strangers from the onslaught of the media and in such a personal way?

I am not ashamed (anymore) to admit that I enjoy tabloid fodder. To me, it is an anthropological study into human behavior. As a people watcher and an armchair psychologist, studying and commenting on celebrity behavior is much safer and more fun than doing so with family and friends. Celebrities don’t much care what I have to say – friends and family, not so much.

As for fans who lash out when their favorite celebrity is criticized, I learned long ago to enjoy comments of all kinds. You can’t take it personally, unlike their taking my insights personally, say, about Britney being a hillbilly baby-breeder.

People identify with celebrities, they see them and read about them so much that they come to believe that somehow they know this person and take it as a personal affront when someone says something negative. On one hand it’s sweet; on the other hand, it’s really pathetic. But to be honest, I have celebrities I like more than others, and we all know how it feels to lose someone we revere, or see them being attacked. It’s natural to want to defend your heroes.

A great example of this was the global outpouring of sadness for Steve Irwin, or Princess Diana. Cultural icons are often rallying points who can bring us together. Sometimes that means rallying around someone who has died who was loved by many, or someone who is so awful that they become universally hated, like Paris Hilton.

I find this reaction deeply fascinating. Plus, I am not easily star-struck, so I think that helps a lot in having a broader perspective on celebrity culture. Essentially, I understand that these are just people, some with more or less talent than the rest of us. I might feel differently about, say, meeting Jesus, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King. There’s fame, and then there’s other-worldliness; I am not sure I would be so jaded with the latter.

I know you're a very busy working mom with two young children – when you finally get a break from all that, do you envision writing more? Might you go back to the more casual kind of writing you started out doing, or do you think you'll head in a different direction?

I am always bogged down with family responsibilities, like most moms, but I do try to take a lot of the pressure off of Eric so he can do what he is doing and do it well. I really enjoy writing and have wanted to be a writer since I was young. It was the clearest choice for someone whose most obvious talent is being a blabber-mouth. Before I met Eric I wanted to be a music journalist – which I have come to realize isn’t exactly my forte. Critiquing music isn’t nearly as easy as listening to it and, after doing a lot of critical thinking about music for the Record Producers book, it occurred to me that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do.

I think what I would really enjoy is interviewing famous musicians and celebrities and exposing the “real” person behind the public persona. I used to do interviews for my old blog, and I like to think I was a pretty good interviewer. If I could combine that interest with the armchair psychology celebrity stuff, that would be quite a job. I suppose that’s why I like doing the celeb writing.

My dream job would be getting paid to be an on-staff reporter for Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair, where I could have access and authority to do in-depth interviews with the famous and infamous.

But at my age, I should be happy that I can even remember to change my underwear, which by the way, I do regularly. I guess I am kind of old to begin a career in the celebrity gossip field.

Ya never know, though!

Q & A: The Fun Stuff

What book/CD/DVD do you have more than one copy of, in case something happens to the original one?

I believe that I have more than one copy of any one of the Harry Potter books; we also have a second copy of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I don’t get to read very many books, but I could re-read any of these several times.

If you had to pick one sense to do without, which of your five senses would it be?

I would love to not have a sense of taste, as I think it would aid in my endless quest to drop the twenty pounds I picked up after having kids.

What do you wish they'd do a series about on TV?

We love the television series 24. The Jack Bauer character is both believable and far-fetched enough to make it exciting. I would love to see a series that showed real-life spy stories. I truly appreciate action heroes, especially those based on real-world individuals and events

If you could, would you swap sexes for a week?

I would be willing to swap sexes, if only to figure out why men can’t see things that are right in front their face, pick up their socks, and remember when I have PMS.

What do you think you'd learn if you could swap to the opposite sex?

Being a man would certainly give me a less emotional and more analytical perspective. I would love to be able to have the ability to do my everyday tasks without giving a crap what anyone else felt or thought about what I did. Yeah, that would be awesome.

What sports team will you love until the day you die?

I will always love the Cleveland Indians, no matter how much they suck and how often they break my heart.

What's one sign that you're a total nerd?

Total nerd is not a term that has ever been used to describe me, but I have been referred to as a complete knucklehead. One sign of that is my inability to follow instruction manuals. I have been known to put things together completely backwards. If you think this is easy, try it. I may even be an idiot savant.

What's the first book you recall reading?

The first “real” book I devoured in its entirety was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. There’s a theme here, I think.

What magazines do you subscribe to?

I get Real Simple, Better Homes and Gardens, Rolling Stone, and Family Circle. The only one I actually subscribe to is Rolling Stone, the rest my mother-in-law sends me. She might be trying to tell me something.

Who is your favorite writer?

I hate to admit that I am not as avid a book reader as I should be — small kids will do that to you — so my experience is limited and somewhat eclectic. I love science fiction, fantasy, and quality periodical non-fiction on music, politics, and culture. And, of course, CELEBRITY news! So while I don’t have a favorite writer, I like these writers: Tolkien, DeLillo, and Rowling.

Who is your least favorite writer?

I don’t have a least favorite writer, but I am not a fan of romance novels – they kind of suck.

Do you have a favorite Blogcritic?

I have several favorite Blogcritics, number one being Eric Olsen. I would feel that way even if I didn’t clean his dirty underwear.

Some who come to mind are The Duke, for being sexy and swearing a lot; Mark Saleski and DJ Radiohead have excellent musical insight; El Bicho writes a mean movie review; Dave Nalle’s post are often well-written political pieces, even though I frequently want to smack him; Joan Hunt always has something interesting to say on almost any topic; A.L. Harper has great stuff; Matt Sussman has the best comments; Richard Marcus, is both wordy and wise; Jet is bizarre and cool — gosh, I like everyone for the most part. I tend to read more by subject matter than writer, so it’s hard to pick a favorite, because there’s so much great material to choose from. I love them all (well, not all, but 99.9%).

What do you think is the best part of Blogcritics?

The best part about BC is that it is a community made up of so many different backgrounds, viewpoints, and ages. Nowhere can you go and get the kind of quality writing on every subject matter from so many interesting people like you can at BC. It’s a phenomenally conceived, well-executed, devoted cooperative magazine. It just rocks on every level. And no one told me to say that, I swear.

What song is stuck in your head right now?

Well, the last thing I listened to before answering this was the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, and so at this moment I am enjoying Keith Richard’s squelchy voice singing “Happy.” But that’s just the luck of the draw. It could very easily have been Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy,” The Equals' “Police on My Back” — we were discussing the original vs. The Clash’s version and Eric made me Google Eddy Grant — sad, but true.

What do you have set as the home page in your browser?

Google is my home page. I use Google for EVERYTHING, so it’s a good default. But Blogcritics is first in my favorites.

Who was your idol as you were growing up?

I wanted to be Wonder Woman as a little kid, sometimes Morrissey as a teenager, or MTV VJ Martha Quinn.

What are three items you would need to have on a desert island?

Assuming that my basic needs for food and water were met, I would think deodorant, toothpaste, and shampoo. I hate feeling dirty and skuzzy.

What's the best place to get a meal in your neck of the woods?

Ginza House for sushi, it’s across from the Indians stadium. Café Tandoor for Indian, and Mongolian BBQ, for, well, Mongolian barbecue. We don’t eat out very often, but those places are fun and have great food.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

If I could change one thing about the world I think it would be that, before judging anyone, we would have to spend a day in their shoes to have a better perspective. It wouldn’t make Paris Hilton less of a slut, but I would at least know what it’s like to feel like one.

Dawn Picks Dawn

We asked Dawn to pick some of her personal favorites from among her BC writings. Do check these out, and check out the rest of Dawn’s archive while you're at it.

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