Doree Shafrir’s New York magazine article on netiquette prompted discussion interesting in light of Gawker’s winning Adweek’s award for “Blog of the Decade” and Mediaite christening the ’00s “The Gawker Decade.” 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 among 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. So it seemed, from our work computers.
Some must have stretched into 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. Along with being proper, authoritative and Strunk and White in style, old media was supposed to be impartial, judicial, and reality-based in fact. 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 landed on the Times front page. John Yoo could be heard on PBS’s The News Hour, explaining why
torture enhanced interrogation was reasonable, and Jim Lehrer rejoined, “Uh-huh” to assertions that yellowcake and rhetorical mushroom cloud smoking guns were serious concerns, and Ari Fleischer warned the White House press corps that people should think very carefully about what they wrote, and Alan Greenspan interest rates and what would come to be known as the housing bubble gave New York neighborhoods Sex in the City makeovers while New Yorkers were laid off or terrified of terror a good deal of the time. Gen X and Y could tell that something stunk, and it was more than the maple syrup smells on the air 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 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 would buy narratives doled out through reliable sources (such as this bomb-bomb Iran Times op-ed; see better this response by Marc Lynch).
Gawker was not credulous.
While less overtly political than it has 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 and 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.
Earnest complaints, cries of nihilism have been raised about snark in the Gawker Decade. Don’t like being snarked at? Be less risible and visible.
Snark turns out to be, in its abnegating way, sincere. It is not trying to get you to believe or buy anything (you’ve paid your part of its ad buys by clicking through). It was an apt voice for the Bush years. It makes little pretense what it’s up to. You can trust that no one is leading it around by the nose.
First published on sarahwrotethat.com.
Photo and composite: Sarah Malone
Feld, Peter. Tumblr, 23 Dec. 2009, peterfeld.tumblr.com/post/297193045/spiers-also-from-doree-shafrirs-ny-mag
Spiers, Elizabeth. Tumblr, 23 Dec. 2009, spiers.tumblr.com/post/297210958/peterfeld-spiers-also-from-doree