Gawker, “On Smarm”

I could post any of the multiple post-mortem pieces from the front page of Gawker today, the day of its final posts. But I found myself dwelling on this article as I scrolled through the rest. It took the internet by storm at the time; enough that, no matter how many angles for or against smarm you found… We were left with the conclusion that smarm must exist. We all knew what it was, but we didn’t have its name until this was published. We had snark, obviously, but we didn’t have the opposition steadily mounting against it.

Peter Thiel is a smarm fountain, gushing at opportune moments. Any Facebook overlord must be, it’s the soulless (just look in his eyes) ethos of Mark Zuckerberg: “we’re a company and our product is relationships.” No, obviously not. A pause for thought reminds us that behind all the goodwill is the data we’re providing, our product, us product. Smarm is what Facebook at large and Thiel (at small) uses to insulate his machinations, like peanut butter smeared in a thick coat around a rotting apple.

I hear that Thiel was mad at being outed in 2007, and I hear the defense that he was in Saudi Arabia at the time, a country where he could’ve been imprisoned and executed for his predilections.

Are you kidding me? No matter what, Thiel gets his way. Nobody would execute him; crime dramas like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and The Wire have explained power’s function to me, that you can always buy yourself out of a dangerous situation. Much more likely that a business deal of Thiel’s fell through, that his homosexuality ruined the potential for that much more money from the Middle East. And just like that, because of Gawker being mean, we’re supposed to support the gay man who wanted to hide his gayness in order to collaborate with the (admittedly arguable) source of contemporary global terror. But I’m just speculating. Rambling, because it’s late and I’m sad, and I’m seeking ideas I haven’t read. Some might call them conspiracies.

But during this mental walkabout, I did just stumble on something that I believe has gone unmentioned: for all the complaints about Gawker’s targeted vivisections, why didn’t any of their unwilling subjects say “no, you’re wrong?” Why didn’t they write into Gawker and say “would you be willing to publish my response?” and even if Gawker refused, why not publish your response on your own goddamned massive platform with a disclaimer that Gawker refused to publish it?

Here’s the answer, and I can’t believe it took me so long to figure out: they’re probably idiots. They are, at least, dumb. They don’t know how to write a retort. They stumbled upwards, lucky enough to be born pretty, or in the right school district, or far away from hard drugs (here’s where I’m coalescing my recent readings of Hillbilly Elegy and How Nonviolence Protects The State) and they bypassed the meritocracy, the one that only really exists on the fringe between the middle and lower class. They cannot bear to be a target because they hopelessly flounder and squirm as a reflex, and their PR people say “oh no we’ll just remind everyone else that they’re being the mean ones, and you’ll be loved.” So they make a Facebook post or a tweet that says “wow some people just are so mean @gawker” And maybe it worked to win us over, but they’re still the dumb ones. They could never hope to refute what was said about them, because they can’t grasp it, because their power is a happy accident. They’re only aware that the meanies were mean. Oh no.

Okay, so in that way, in the way that they can’t compose an elegant rebuttal to a professional writer, they’re the same as the rest of us. I’m not saying they’re lesser people! I’m saying they’re same people! And that shatters an illusion, right? That’s what Gawker, at its best, did: it made the powerful as powerless as us plebeians. Peter Thiel is straight up too fucking dumb, too fucking lazy, too fucking senseless to put hands to keyboard and write “guys, I didn’t appreciate that, here’s why” in a way that promotes his humanity and his sympathetic side. He’s boring, thoughtless, and for all of his airs of technocratic utopia, he’s single-mindedly focused on the simple.

So instead, he sneaks. He sanitizes. He smarms.

EDIT – From a several months old article in The Hollywood Reporter comes this e-mail quote from Gawker founder Nick Denton as provided by one of the site’s targets, journalist Michael Wolff:

“Denton immediately emailed me and, in our exchange, apologized for the Gawker coverage about my girlfriend and forthcoming baby: “That description of Victoria was mean and pointless.” Then he added: “I do wish there was a better way to address insults without storing up resentment … I would love to institutionalize and automate some right of response. Even the most insolent of Gawker bloggers is better and more reasonable in an exchange.

Denton saw it. That Gawker’s victims were unwilling/unable to defend themselves, or saw a public defense as gauche. The onus isn’t on Denton, though. Total morons.

Gawker, “Brands Are Not Your Friends”

The prevailing online marketing strategy for brands in 2015 is to blend in with the children, become just another bae to fave and retweet.

It shouldn’t have to be said out loud to sentient human beings that this is bad. But it is. It is sinister and bad and says a lot about how we have collectively lost our minds as a species. I’m afraid and sad for everyone.

This year-old article is on the banner at Gawker today, which is fortuitous considering it’s one of my favorites, due for a re-read. A quick, crucial message about navigating the funhouse mirrors of the internet, and a read that’s centered around the sort of stunt we should all be pulling (Gawker’s injection of a Coca-Cola bot with Mein Kampf quotes, and the ensuing backlash courtesy of, presumably, non-employees of Coke).

I follow their model. Our relationship with brands should be one of active antagonism. They war for our attention and adoration, and the best tactic we’ve got to counter them is pointing out the thirst for blood behind their grimaces.

(Yes, I am still dwelling on the “death” of Gawker’s independence. But I hate their brand too.)

Gawker – This Is a Good Newspaper Front Page

 

Peel back the sticky poultice we re-apply every day on our wounded nation and purge the pus of violence. Grief, disgust, anger, these are not our enemies when it comes to action. I feel blessed to be moved, alert by my discomfort, and resolved to eradicate that pain rather than avoid it. ISIS produces propaganda, Williams gave us reality TV.

And while Gawker, like any publication, is far from blameless, I salute them for boldness. I’d rather read an opinion piece included in the same feed as news stories than stomach the “objectivity” of any 24 hour news network.

All Is Lost; Nightmare Man “Surprises” Wife With Her Own Pregnancy 

 
 
If the internet isn’t pumping cynicism into your gut, you’re done for. Finished. You are a sucker, a mark for every adman and narcissist out there. Whether “satirical” news sites (lamented elsewhere) or videos like this one, your share and your care are going to a lie. And, like, yes, reality TV to Realpolitik, there are plenty of lies we’ve already raged against and with which we’ve come to an understanding. But this is the newest shape, lies of the Internet Age, and the common-man humanity of all its smarm is what makes discerning the bullshit even trickier: “he couldn’t lie to us! He’s a happy dad! He is not DadCorp. He is us.”

No: fight. Doubt. Doubt everything on this World Wide Web if it isn’t packaged as entertainment. Doubt that your friends’ lives are as thrill-a-minute as their profiles would indicate. Doubt the vlogger construct, doubt the intimacy they purport to share.

I’m trying to keep mellow across the internet these days, but this comment on the original article inspired me to write this whole reaction, as it is a surgical splish of red paint across the rose-tinted glasses foisted on us by the pregnancy video. Take or leave the invective, but the perspective is perfect:

“Sweet, can’t wait to see the viral video showing her devastation if she should miscarry in a few days or weeks.

Seriously, get a fucking job and an ounce of dignity.”