Back in those excitable days of the mid-’00s, video blogging—sometimes referred to as “vlogging,” an unsightly word and seemingly the name of a Norwegian pop diva—was in its nascence, and Amanda Congdon had what it took to rise as its first celebrity. While it’s axiomatic that every new medium requires a new breed of personality, what the vlog Rocketboom —a daily three-minute fake-ish newscast—required of Congdon was strikingly similar to what any number of old-media outlets asked of the buxom and obnoxious Jenny McCarthy. Yes, there were moments during Congdon’s 20-month tenure as Rocketboom’s host that involved political satire, performance art, improv exercises, and free-floating whimsy, but her main mandate was to jiggle. Her ability to redefine the role of the bimbo in a way reflecting the spirit of the age led her to niche superstardom.
It was not always thus. An early installment of Rocketboom (Oct. 28, 2004) found Congdon sporting colorless hair, a drab shirt, poor posture, and a maddening blink count. Her lead story was the Boston Red Sox’s recent World Series victory, and her jokes were lame: “Now seriously, guys, superstition aside, time for a shave and a haircut! And can we please wash those uniforms and helmets? They’re lookin’ pretty disgusting! I mean, c’mon, there is a limit to superstition! Enjoy your victory.” There followed a snarky discussion of the latest election-eve spin from Iraq, which led to a middling riff on Bush-related Halloween costumes (“Oh, and here’s Jenna’s liver!”), which led to a John Kerry gag. Her delivery was merely perky.
Over time, Congdon became more confident, more polished, more thoughtful about how to deploy her chest. She eased into a persona that owed its goofiness to Coen brothers’ comedies, its guy’s-girl aggressive zaniness to McCarthy, and everything else to Saturday Night Live. When Congdon wasn’t borrowing from Tina Fey’s “Weekend Update” act—even, for a time, wearing eyeglasses of a Fey-esque hipness rating—she was referencing Wayne’s World with her every cable-access-ready gesture. With practice, she got to be OK. Meanwhile, Rocketboom added coverage of technology news, sundry Web curiosa, patent applications, and the like, while also dispatching a team of correspondents around the globe to offer earnest, half-decently sourced reports on, say, a tuberculosis crisis in Kenya. Rocketboom’s inability to merge its sincere and ironic ambitions sometimes created widespread viewer distress, as when, on June 1, Congdon segued from a wholehearted, short-shorted demonstration of a new technological innovation—the ropeless jump-rope—into a report on the remains of the World Trade Center.
Last week, Congdon released a statement on her personal blog to the effect that Rocketboom’s majority partner, one Andrew Baron, had fired her. Meanwhile, Baron—who also announced that her replacement would be the renowned European scenester Joanne Colan—maintained that Congdon was canning Rocketboom in favor of Hollywood. Upon hearing this last tidbit, the mind of many a vlogging wag drifted to the telegram the journalist-turned-screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz sent to Ben Hecht’s New Yorker office shortly after his arrival in L.A.: “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.”