Friday, January 2, 2009

Gawker in an age of poverty

I'm finding it very hard to generate any sympathy at all concerning the layoffs and cutbacks at Gawker media. Apparently there's been many people let go, blogs under the Gawker imprimatur are being sold off, and there's a great deal of uncertainty and stress in the company, as there is in many companies. It's sad whenever people are let go, and it's particularly a problem in the context of so many new job losses-- all of these people, presumably, will go on to seek new jobs, and so for every new layoffeee there is that much more competition. I don't cheer the news of anyone's termination.

But I can't find much sympathy for people who, when the subject is layoffs at other companies in media or publishing, have responded with cackles of glee and derision. Cruelty is Gawker's brand, its only commodity. Gawker has elevated casual bitchiness to an almost astonishingly pure hatefulness. And now, in the face of their own misfortune, it is difficult to find room within myself for empathy for the people who have inflicted so much unapologetic bile. Something like this-- I'd like to feel a great deal of unhappiness for this women. But I only have to click her name on the post and browse around in her work and realize that this is someone who, were she to read an identical post by someone who worked at Conde Naste or Random House or the New York Times and was laid off, would feel no particular guilt in roasting that person over the coals. That's the price of killing of your own impulse for humanity. You have no standing to ask for compassion for anyone else.

(I wonder, by the way, if the post I linked to was the most honest thing that woman ever wrote for Gawker. The great comforting lie the Gawker set of the world tells itself is that they are only cruel in service to the truth; but when I read that site or its various permutations all I think, the whole time, is what a lie the whole enterprise is. Even in this post, the blogger can't quite allow herself to be genuine.)

Will Gawker survive the economic downturn? Who knows. My feeling is that people will have quite enough suffering, thanks, without needing the kind ginned up by Gawker. I'm not much for predictions, but if I had to guess, I'd say that this country is going to get acquainted with poverty in the coming years. In the face of such a thing, Manhattan elitist backbiting bullshit stops seeming funny and glamorous and is revealed to be the empty, self-obsessive exercise of small minds it always has been. The cliche is essentially true, that being nice is overrated; but being kind most certainly is not. I hope the people laid off by Gawker Media land softly, but I'll be shedding few tears for them.

Update: In the interest of fairness, I'll quote commenter Josh:

I do know the ex-Gawker blogger in question personally a little bit, and she's an absolute sweetheart...I think you're misrepresenting her work in particular, and even Gawker somewhat in general....know Gawker has a reputation for being terribly cruel and maybe I'm just missing something, but I don't see much of that, especially not over the past year. Bitchy for sure, in many cases, and snarky -- but I guess I see cruelty as being out-and-out mean to no worthwhile purpose. Their targets tend to be public figures who've done stupid or arguably immoral things, and while that doesn't mean Gawker or anyone else should have carte blanche to attack them, there is a long-standing tradition of calling celebrities, politicians, various bigwigs et al. out and serving them a sort of rough justice.

It is certainly possible that I've misrepresented this blogger Sheila, and if that's the case, I do apologize. As far as Gawker goes... I remain unconvinced. I can see how, if you're a Gawker commenter, it could be a useful social tool. But I do know of many situations where Gawker has, in fact, attacked people who aren't really public figures at all, and I think their definition of who exactly constitutes a public figure shifts pretty much to suit whatever interests them at the moment. Who knows, I could be wrong. I do think, though, that Manhattan insiderism is not going to be a growth industry in the near future.

6 comments:

Josh said...

Full disclosure: I do know the ex-Gawker blogger in question personally a little bit, and she's an absolute sweetheart, and I am also a regular reader of the site (and a $12/week freelance employee lately) -- but all that said, mustering as much objectivity as I can, I think you're misrepresenting her work in particular, and even Gawker somewhat in general.

Before she was let go herself, Sheila covered the "Layoff Horror Stories" beat over the past few months, and while her tone wasn't somber, of course -- that's not the voice of the blog, and the point was to find something to smile about amid all the bullshit -- it certainly wasn't gleeful or derisive. I'd actually be interested to see if you can find much that's especially mean-spirited in her posts -- it's really not her style. And if you can find a post where she does rake someone over the coals for getting laid off, please post a link. I'm not saying it's not there; I just don't think it's anywhere near as easy to find as you suggest.

And I dunno. I know Gawker has a reputation for being terribly cruel and maybe I'm just missing something, but I don't see much of that, especially not over the past year. Bitchy for sure, in many cases, and snarky -- but I guess I see cruelty as being out-and-out mean to no worthwhile purpose. Their targets tend to be public figures who've done stupid or arguably immoral things, and while that doesn't mean Gawker or anyone else should have carte blanche to attack them, there is a long-standing tradition of calling celebrities, politicians, various bigwigs et al. out and serving them a sort of rough justice.

As for cruelty being Gawker's only commodity, there you're just wrong, dog, and in my irritating, Marshall McLuhan–loving way, I have to call you out for thinking the content is the message. Nick Denton is -- fairly deftly, I would say, and definitely interestingly -- trying to build something that's a set of blogs plus a social networking site but more than the sum of those parts. Whatever you think of the posts, the comments on the Gawker sites generate better, more varied, and funnier discussion than anywhere else I've found online. (I mean, The Atlantic has some great bloggers, but by and large I have found it very hard to have a rewarding conversation in their comments; that Marc Ambinder had to shut his off as the Democratic primary heated up was, frankly, something they should have been embarrassed about.) Moreover, having met many other commenters in person now, it's quite astonishing to discover how well we know each other and get along when we finally meet face to face. I haven't been part of a lot of online communities, but the number of real-life friendships this one has generated seems exceptional to me. So, whatever you think of the editors' writing, don't dismiss it as the whole story out of hand. Gawker is more than just a fancy newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Gawker: Wretched of the Earth

PP

Daniel said...

Freddie, you might find this interesting. It's The New Yorker's David Remnick on Gawker.
http://www.bigthink.com/media-the-press/3453

Josh said...

Yeah, upon further reflection, I agree they've attacked people who aren't really public figures. (Their posts last year on author Robert Olen Butler come to mind.) I don't think it's happened quite as much since the Great Gawker Editor Shake-Up at the end of 2007, but were there some way to quantify whether that was or wasn't true, I wouldn't be firm enough in my conviction to put my money where my mouth is. I'm certainly biased.

sonia said...

hmm... By that standard, would you consider say, the Daily Show or the Colbert Report to be cruel?

Freddie said...

No, because I think that the people the Daily Show lambastes, with probably a few unfortunate exceptions, are genuinely public figures, politicians or celebrities who chose careers in the public eye. When Gawker mocks Lou Dobbs's son, or some poor girl who showed up on someone's Facebook at Harvard, and they say "this person is a public figure," they're full of shit.