A Conversation with Zoe Garden about Tumblr, College, and Creating Social Media

...some people are just awesome at being online, and Zoe Garden is one of them.

A Conversation with Zoe Garden about Tumblr, College, and Creating Social Media

Introducing Zoe Garden

I think this: some people are just awesome at being online, and Zoe Garden is one of them. I could say she’s good at talking about pop culture, but that’s like saying Einstein was a scientist. She brings this incredible energy to everything she creates, and she makes it look easy to use lots of different platforms and be heard.

Her “TikTok Has An Obsession With Straight White Male Comedians” shows a particular skill at making meaningful online conversation. Her essay doesn’t just tell the story of an online fandom dealing with a crisis. It weaves in other voices as they’re heard on Instagram and TikTok and engages them fully. That’s a major reason I thought she’d be great to interview. I’m still learning my craft—how can I talk about poetry, philosophy, and politics better?—and I would love to capture an issue as well as she does in her work.

I’m very grateful she agreed to an interview. Please do take a look at her blog, "Some Like It Pop." Below, our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview with Zoe Garden

AK: There is so much to ask you about! I feel like the right question is what part of pop culture you don't cover.

I feel like you and I approach Hollywood and pop culture differently? I'm too much into the trashier side of it, TMZ-type stuff. I guess I should start with this: What's the first issue that you can remember drew you in? Like the one where you were like "Imma flood them with Instagram comments for days.”

ZG: When I was young, I was always glued to the television, never mattered what was playing. To the point where my mom had to make sure when I was going on play dates or in day care, that they turned the TV off at some points so I would actually socialize. So, TV shows and movies were what first got me obsessed with media.

I don’t think it was until I was probably around 10 years old (2008), I became at least aware of celebrity culture. In 2009, the Disney Channel show, “Sonny With a Chance” went off the air mid-season due to the lead star, Demi Lovato being checked into rehab. Being that young and learning that one of your favorite stars is suffering from an adult problem is hard to grasp and learn about the dark side of fame.

AK: I loved TV if it was cartoons—I don't think I really cared for sitcoms at all. I got more into the radio: if it was talk radio or NPR, how expert the voices sounded, how professional. If it was music, I was jealous of the knowledge and variety whatever the station. I had a tape recorder (yes, I'm old) and I wanted to record myself sounding like I knew what I was talking about. Were there things you found yourself emulating because of the TV? Or movies?

ZG: Being the oldest kid, I felt like TV gave me an idea of how I was supposed to act (like social cues) or it showed me how my life should play out like in school or as an adult in a way. I wasn’t like naive or sheltered, I just had a harder time fitting in. I always acted to the beat of my own drum so to speak. In school, I was the kid who needed to do speech therapy classes and needed extra help because of my learning disability, which when you are younger it’s embarrassing to be singled out because of something you can’t control. I think that fed into me not understanding other kids w/ social cues and things like that — but I always tried to just be myself and not change who I was.

I didn’t necessarily emulate what I saw on screen, I more hyper fixated on things. Like in elementary school, I was obsessed with Archie Comics. I still have some of my collection. I always talked about (and still do) about all my latest obsessions so everyone is always aware about what I’m consuming —- which social media became a great outlet for me to find others who like the same media I did and wanted to obsess over it.

AK: Oh my goodness, we already have enough for another conversation. Next time, I'm asking about the show "Riverdale."

The natural question: When did you feel like this "social media" thing was clicking? That you were good at it?

Like, for me, it's a bit weird--I started around 2005 with a community that was really eager to make blogging work. So I actually had some posts do well and I got a loyal audience. Then that subsided. Then there was another site where I was the top user and I built an audience there. Then that went away. Now I'm feeling like this time will be the charm, because I've got the lessons from the previous successes and failures. Main thing I learned, for my content, is to give a certain quality and depth. Explain everything I give the audience, craft things they want to revisit. That's a specific approach, though, and there were a lot of times I strayed from my own strengths.

ZG: I still don’t feel good at it. But Tumblr was big for me — found it in 2012 and that’s where I figured out that fandom culture was a thing. At the time, I blogged a lot on there about emo bands, specifically Fall Out Boy was my favorite. I remember hitting 7,000 followers and feeling like I was so famous. Instagram, I had a million different fan accounts. I had one for Ariana Grande, Smosh, literally so many.

In Sept 2017 [freshman year of college], I started the Instagram account that would become @somelikeitpop which originally I mainly posted about 2000s pop culture (because that’s what I mainly grew up on). I started it because my best friend, Nicole Randone, started her account @misss2005 and I wanted to join the community. I never thought it would take off, I was just doing it for fun and to make friends. I interviewed Nicole for a school project which I posted on my blog.

Courtesy Zoe Garden, and now I want a logo :(

AK: This sounds so obvious, but it's only dawning on me now. I feel like you and Nicole went full fandom--the enthusiasm in the post you linked is contagious--and it drew people in. I'm just blown away by the post, really. Being a fan of the early 2000's ties to family, friends, a feeling the whole world is wearing this tracksuit. I mean, there's this incredible energy around it all. I'm proud of what I make online, but I can't help but think it is different.

You mentioned the post comes from a school project! Did your interests and school merge well? A lot of students I've run into feel like they there are things they have to do, that they can never do what they truly want.

ZG: My interests definitely drove me to what I decided to major in in college. I decided to major in Communication and Media. I ended up transferring to the University of Michigan in Fall 2019 into the College of Literature, Arts & Sciences (LSA). I also have always been invested in politics and was pursuing a minor in Political Science, but did not finish due to the pandemic.

I began becoming invested in politics during the 2008 Presidential Election. Even thought I was only in 4th grade; I woke up early before school to watch the news instead of cartoons or something. I’ve always been an avid reader and read well beyond my age level— but I started becoming more interested in learning about American History and why our government runs the way it does. It was kind of funny looking back thinking of my parents probably wondering why I was asking questions about health care and the economy— because I was still a child trying to make sense of adult problems.

When I first was applying for college, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I originally applied to school’s saying I was interested in studying English. Last minute, I decided to major in Communication because that’s what my dad studied. I thought, “well, my dad and I are pretty similar— why not try this.” It just so happened it worked out for me! But I have many friends who switched majors multiple times, and there is no shame in it.

AK: You've provided so much to think about, and I believe it fits together so nicely in the stuff you create. A deep interest and use of media was one set of things that led to majoring in Communication. And Communication doesn't seem to be just a major, as it might be for some, but real thinking about how we communicate, how fans feel they're being spoken to, and—Tumblr's particular magic—how fans speak to each other.

Regarding politics, you've got this powerful post, "Growing Up During The War On Terror," and I want to share that link with everyone reading because they know this sort of reflection, this sort of "putting it all together," isn't easy. I feel like you merged two of your interests incredibly well there. I wanna end this interview with your thoughts on fandom. In what ways do you feel its been really good, and could do so much more good? And what have you seen that you'd like to see less of?

ZG: I think fandom is great for meeting others, finding outlets to express your creativity, learn new skills (maybe like photoshop or an editing software), gain an audience online and much more. I think people still have to remember to be careful just for how much information is being shared online and still keep safe practices to protect yourself. For example, I’m seeing on TikTok now a lot of bad practices that occurred on Tumblr relating to EDs and glorifying not great public figures. Especially in the Tumblr era of around 2012-2014, the book Lolita was glorified w/ music by Lana Del Rey and other works — for the wrong reasons (missing the point of why the book was written.) The Lolita Podcast is a great source.

I’d recommend episode 8 of the Lolita podcast.

I do have a 2014 Tumblr themed playlist on my Spotify. It’s all the stuff I listened to back then.  

AK: Thank you so much! We've covered a lot. I think my main takeaway from this conversation is "holy, how does Zoe do all this?" Is there a post or two of yours that you want to draw a lot more attention to? Any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?

ZG: At the moment, I’m working on a piece w/ my University of Michigan research team that I believe will be published in the fall. It’s on our research about Library Analytics practices in Umich libraries we’ve been working on since Sept 2020. Other publications I'm not sure if I can say.

Right now, I’m finishing up another review I’ll post soon. Earlier in March, I had a piece about Deuxmoi and in January I posted about H3 vs. Ryan Kavanaugh lawsuit & a YouTube video along w/ it that I researched for four months.

So other than that, I will come out with a larger project soon –– once I find something that catches my eye.

You can find me on all social media platforms as @somelikeitpop. On my website, SomeLikeItPop.com, I write in-depth essays, reviews and interviews about pop culture, social media, and politics. You can subscribe to my Substack for updates.