Doree Shafrir’s New York magazine article on netiquette prompted discussion that in light of Gawker’s winning Adweek’s award for “Blog of the Decade” and Mediaite christening the 00s “The Gawker Decade” is extra interesting. Particularly this from Peter Feld:
Gawker is Gen X (maybe not some of the newer ones writing it now, but it’s a Gen X sensibility).
and from Elizabeth Spiers:
I don’t think there’s a generational split. Some of the most distinctive dry, snarky voices to crop up it the last few years—Alex Pareene, Maggie Shnayerson, Foster, Sheila McClear, Moe Tkacik, Meagan Keane, half the writers at The Awl, etc—are Gen Y. I don’t think either generation has a distinct sensibility, re: dryness or snarkiness.
Thinking about generational sensibilities is more useful than AdWeek’s (true) summation that “[Gawker] defiantly skipped magazine prose in favor of Internet snark, obsessively needling the New York-centric media world.” Indeed, but Gawker’s genius was—is—a lot more than snark and obsessive needling. It was a perfect and, in 2002, novel, pairing of audience and product. The audience was office-bound Gen-Xers and -Yers with high-speed Internet access, time to kill and the suspicion that we were smarter than the Powers That Were. The product was Gen-Xer and -Yer voices, with traces of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a passing resemblance to the wit of Joss Whedon characters. At the end of the decade of Dilbert, it was the way we talked amongst ourselves, the attitude that made us love The Onion and love it doubly because no one over a certain age knew it existed. And here Gawker was using our voice to take on the Powers That Be. So it seemed, from our work computers.
Conservatives must have breathed similar relief when Rush Limbaugh and Fox News first came on the air: you can say that? You can talk this way? And they can’t do a thing about it?
Why hadn’t anyone thought of doing this before?
Old Media earned Gawker’s snark. In return for being proper, authoritative and all Strunk and White, Old Media was supposed to be impartial, judicial, and reality-based. Instead, it often relied on a matter-of-fact manner as proof of authority, and slacked on the matter of facts. Judith Miller’s lies were on the Times front page. John Yoo could be seen on PBS’s The News Hour, explaining why torture enhanced interrogation was reasonable, while Jim Lehrer rejoined, “Uh-huh.” This was the era of yellowcake, rhetorical mushroom clouds as smoking guns, and Ari Fleischer’s warning the White House press corps that people should think very carefully about what they wrote. Meanwhile for years cable had been telling us to worry about shark attacks and obsess about the Osbournes and OJ and…. I don’t even want to think about it. Snark was long overdue. Remember Enron? Those were the days of amber alerts (as Michael Musto wrote: Amber Alert—best drag name ever), while Alan Greenspan’s low interest rates and what would come to be known as the housing bubble meant that Euro and i-bank money was giving New York neighborhoods Sex in the City makeovers while New Yorkers were getting laid off or were simply terrified a good deal of the time. Gen X and Y could tell that something stunk, and it wasn’t the maple syrup smells drifting over from New Jersey.
Old media expected us to watch The Attack of the Clones as if it were good, and to buy photo spreads of Brangelina with sincere interest. Old politics expected that while those in the top income brackets got their taxes cut the rest of us would acquiesce to data mining and black site prisons and rising payroll and state and local taxes and buy the narrative we were told (and they’re still at it: see today’s bomb-bomb Iran Times op-ed, and this response by Marc Lynch).
Gawker was not credulous.
While less overtly political than it has since become—with a smaller staff, its political beat was for a time owned by Ana Marie Cox as Wonkette—Gawker legitimized, promulgated and typified Gen X skepticism. Gawker flipped the Old Media equation of the glitterati and the lumpen masses. In the Gawkerverse, the famous are lumpen, and writers, plucked from obscurity and given their blogging shot in the big city, glitter. In the Gawkerverse, the rich and powerful become the writers’ property and no longer dictate the attention they receive. And the writers assume their readers are as smart as they are.
There have been a lot of complaints about snark in the Gawker Decade, cries of nihilism. Don’t like being snarked at? Be less risible and visible.
Snark turns out to be exceedingly trustworthy. Snark is not trying to make you believe anything. It was an apt voice for the Bush years. By the time Gawker launched, there were few in Old Media I trusted except Paul Krugman, Bill Moyers and The New Yorker. And Gawker Media. Gawker made no pretense about what it was up to, and you could trust that no one was leading it around by the nose.
Photo and composite: Sarah Malone