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Rex Sorgatz

I'm not passive aggressive. I'm aggressively passive.

may 22
2008

Exposed

Emily's NYT Magazine cover story: "Exposed." Chat windows across NYC are lit up like ticker-tape parades right now. (I haven't read it yet.) Update: Alright, I've read it. I vomited out a ridiculous amount of nonsense (with footnotes!) in the comments.

21 comments

rex,

did you see that Bill Simmons talks to Klosterman on his podcast, The BS Report?

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/simmons/index

posted by alpobreath at 10:52 AM on May 22, 2008

I'm enjoying the comments. Damn.

posted by Aaron at 11:25 AM on May 22, 2008

I'm rather curious to hear what Rex, as someone slightly more proximate to the Gawkersphere, thinks. I thought it was significantly better than my first skimming--the one after which I gloried in the most brutal comments--led me to think it was. That said, I'm still not completely sold that it deserves 10 (internet) pages in the NYTimes Mag.

posted by david at 1:01 PM on May 22, 2008

Yeah, I demand the Sorg-analysis too. Totally not my world, so I have no special insider context, but I thought it was actually remarkably well-written.

If you squint your eyes and pretend it's still 2002 it actually reads like sci-fi... some weird Philip K. Dick story about the future of relationships.

posted by Robin at 2:05 PM on May 22, 2008



As far as having a worthwhile perspective, I would probably argue the opposite. Because I count nearly every person mentioned in this article as a friend, most as legit friends not "NYC Friends," that subspecies of friendship based upon convenience and career opportunity, I probably have the least valuable insight here. I actually hired Emily for her first job after Gawker -- she quit after a week, citing the need to work on this article as the reason. I can believe it, as it looks painful and difficult to write. I'm sure she's having a crazy week.

Because of that, and for several other reasons, I'm the least insightful person to ask about this story. That isn't because of personal bias; rather, it's that my perspective is simply the least interesting. If I'm curious about anything, it's what the rest of America thinks about this first-person account of the rise and fall of self-exposure. Your perspective, untarnished by the noisy fracas, is sincerely more valuable than mine.

Nonetheless, some of my own self-analysis:

I won't shut up about how NYC-centric the mediascape has become. Spilling beer on myself every night, I constantly (and annoyingly) tout my midwestern aesthetics, a blend of passive-aggressive humor and "friendship over career" ethics. It's a crutch, and sometimes I overplay these cards, which my friends subtly tease me about. (Thanks for going easy on me, Lock.) Ask me about 30 Rock and Gossip Girl, and I'll celebrate them as wonderful creations -- and then I'll immediately follow it up with a rant about how inherently flawed they are, tone-deaf to the rest of America and lacking in a populist vision that anyone west of Hoboken can identify with. So much pop culture feels like it was made for me and my friends, which is entirely the problem with so much pop culture. (Despite receiving overwhelming press attention, both 30 Rock and Gossip Girl are ratings failures, which no one here seems to realize. And both are obsessed with media and New York City. Coincidence?)

What does this have to do with Emily's article? Maybe a little, maybe a lot. Again, I wonder what you think.

As long as I'm being obscure, I'll say something else about my relationship to this city. I go out to lunch almost every day with someone new, usually someone who works for a media company or a dot-com. With nearly no exceptions, there is always a moment in every conversation where Gawker comes up. And again with nearly no exceptions, the person chomping on a salad across from me confides how she has been wronged by Gawker, how her depiction was unfair, how she thinks the entire aesthetic is reprehensible.

I never know what to say to these people. I've been slammed online too (VALLEYWAG!!!), and although it sucks, I just sorta roll with it. I'm not sure if that makes me jaded or bloggy or just lucky.

Have I made enough obscure points yet?

Just one more: I know all the former Gawker editors somewhat well; Balk and Doree the least, Choire and Jess the best, Spiers who I feel the most constitutionally similar to. (Pareene is my favorite, but of course I appreciate the Minnesotan.) They are each very, very, very distinct individuals, yet they're constantly grouped as a kind of person, especially by other people in media. Even other bloggers speak of Gawker as some sort of monolithic identity, an image that must be miserable to carry around day to day. This is curious, but I can think of only one similarity between them all: none of them seem proud of having worked for Gawker1.

For the record, as if that actually matters, I'm a fan of Gawker2. You can count me among the people who, regrettably, thinks Denton is something of a genius, though I'll be quick to point out the flaws of this genius, both to him and anyone who asks. A couple months ago, I was out drunk with Klosterman3, talking about Gawker. "I just don't think history will remember it well," he said of the site. It was an off-hand comment, but it has stuck with me. While it has strange historical echoes that make me think of both George W. Bush and William Randolph Hearst at the same time, it became lodged in my brain because I had never even thought to pose the legacy question.

But now that it's out there, I'm very interested.

You want to know what I think of Emily's article? You made it this far and you deserve an answer: I think it's very smart and disturbingly self-aware, like all the people here that I love with deep suspicion.

I can't believe I just blogged that. Stupid commenters.


_______________

1 I'm not sure, but Jess might be the exception.

2 This is a deeply unpopular opinion, which leads to chiding from everyone from Anil to Alexis and back again. At some other point, maybe I'll try to explain this.

3 Chuck is actually an interesting person in this context for several reasons. First of all, more than anyone else I've ever known, I am unable to talk about him "objectively." I know what I like and don't like about him, but it's a million miles from what others seem to think. And secondly, he is sorta the anti-NYC voice, at least insofaras I've established Gossip Girl's self-involved world as that voice, which blinds and/or infuriates most of this city's denizens who are completely unable to understand his success.

posted by Rex at 4:24 PM on May 22, 2008

There's nothing here to which I object, frustratingly. Because Internet objections are my specialty. 1 But I would love to talk about those questions you've delivered, without stopping at answers. 2

How New-York-centric is the media? More than New York is media-centric, bizarrely. And with that, I'm going to summon both HBO and Sex And The City. HBO itself is, well, a tiny part of the media landscape that gets an awfully big share of the zeitgeist. While people fight to the death over which of these three is the best television show ever (The Wire, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under), it must be recognized that those shows have ratings only impressive for premium TV. So, like 30 Rock and Gossip Girls, these shows are highly praised and scarcely viewed. If you could buy shares in TV pilots, what would you rather have - 100 shares of The Sopranos, or three shares of Friends? Translating the same logic to SATC, this is why I'm more worried about editorial assistants and desk clerks at publishing houses than I am worried about our impressionable American youth. I simply don't think that movie is going to open big. I think that Carrie Bradshaw is the wet dream of every venal media butt-sniffer out there, and I can't find the marketability in a two-hour big screen jaunt where four women in their forties drink heavily and complain to one another. And I'm in New York! I normally enjoy vapid movies about juvenile-ish adults drinking and fucking.

Indeed, this pop culture was made for your friends, but probably not for you. You're a little too smart for it. And the creators don't care. But the advertisers, oh lordy, they need you! Rex, you're an affluencer, you're Generation O, to steal obnoxious terms defined on the subway ads. You are the smart, trustworthy person that can really make something move if you talk about it enough. Like Kottke, who's glowing review of Indiana Jones today was a singular force powerful enough to make me buy a ticket and show up to the theater within half an hour of reading it. (Verdict: good!) If this country is full of 50 million groups of six people, and if one person in each group has disproportionate influence, you only need to reach 1.4 million of those people to have a $100 million opening weekend.3 Or, at least that was the thinking in 1990. Now, as it turns out, one reliable blogger influences anywhere from three to one-thousand people. It has nothing to do with technical smarts, it's merely coincidental that writers, web designers, and anyone with enough time and Internet access have such power. It's coincidental that New York and Silicon Valley have a plurality of people with such power. All happy coincidences for marketers! 4 Food for thought.

Now, about Gawker's legacy? You nailed it. Denton made enemies out of a lot of people who have no sense of humor about themselves, and employees out of the remaining twenty people in NYC. He will be the richest and most well known scumbag ever to walk down Crosby Street. Just thinking of him laughing all the way to the bank disgusts me in a very reverential sort of way, and I'm not talking about Gawker, I'm talking about the first company he built and sold. The reason why everyone chatters about him is, of course, to try and figure out what he's going to do next. Well, probably the same thing. Start more blogs, close down or sell the suffering ones.5 I guess what I want to know is, who is the next Will Leitch or Mark Lisanti? Who's going to send Denton a good pitch and ride it to fame and professional credibility, if not great fortune?6 More to the point, and this is the question that everyone is REALLY asking:

How can I be that person?

I find that noble. I mean, it's not just a plain chase for money. Lisanti and Leitch are two of the most respectable guys out there. They work hard and have great ideas. Is it so wrong if there are people out there, in all respect and admiration, losing sleep about the fact that he/she hasn't made it there yet? Isn't that the reason why all of us are overpaying for everything, basic or frivolous, just for the privilege of being here and being able to catch a drink a couple of times a year with the gods? I mean, camaraderie is great, and there are many great fellows to be found here in NYC, but if you're asking why creative, non-braindead people are interested in Gawker, other than watching for their own name to come up, that is it. Maybe just by talking to someone who thinks on that level, successful or not, maybe an idea will roll out of someone's mouth and make someone at the table respectable and successful.7 This also explains why people are interested in Julia Allison.

Sadly, this does not explain the situation with Gould. She is a bad car accident and there are a lot of, um, gawkers. And she's posing suggestively in the wreckage. Quite literally.8

I've talked too much and I owe you a beer if you got through it all. It'll be easy for me to repay zero beers on my current salary.

_______________

1a Footnotes in a blog comment, almost as self-important as multiple self-referential essays in different magazines!

1b When I buy a computer, I don't ask for giga-anything... I just ask for the computer that allows me to generate cranky ripostes on the Internet the fastest.

2 My best high school teacher said, among many wise things, that life was not about answering questions but about using answers to find more questions.

3 To confuse you about NY-centric media, if the entire city of New York, and a piece of Hudson County NJ, went to see a movie on opening weekend, that's a $100 million opening. This is a lazy but effective sales tactic.

4 I mean, what would you rather see? A movie about people falling in love in New York, or a semi-documentary about the favelas in Rio? Which type of movie do you think you'll see on subway posters 90 times before seeing one poster of the other type?

5 Gridskipper has not been updated since the day it was handed over to Lockhart & crew. Just saying.

6 Well, if they DON'T make tons of money on speaking circuit fees and in book sales, both of which are easy pickings when you've got that much momentum, they're doing it wrong.

7 I'll fess up to that instantly. I'm not going to get those ideas talking to my roommate, or by talking to the large plant in my living room. (Probably not.) If beer pubs were not the best places to court wise-thinking fellows and friends, I would probably drink no more than twice a year. I would weigh 15 lbs less and have saved $15k in dining expenses, provably.

8 The fucking laptop cable! Bloggers and laptops! Like peanut butter and jelly, I tell you!

posted by BrianVan at 6:59 PM on May 22, 2008

After I read it and especially after reading the comments of people screaming "why is this New York Times Magazine worthy?" I thought that the piece in its context was not really that much about Emily and Gawker but more of a document of a current extreme example of an experience and cultural phenomenon that is and will become much, much more commonplace.

And yeah, it reads like a blog post slash diary but the NYT left her to write the story in the context of the medium she's writing about without being ironic. Or is it ironic? Way to go either way, throwing those Times die-hards into confusion and disdain. Hopefully some of them will figure it out the same way or perhaps I'm thinking it's more clever than it is.

posted by Aaron at 7:08 PM on May 22, 2008

I think your idealization or a Midwestern "real America" is interesting but misguided. After all, anyone in Hoboken who would actually read the article is almost certainly hoping to get to New York.

As to Gawker/Manhattan's social scene, I also think it's just people's perennial obsession with celebrity writ small. While most of America spent years loving and hating Britney Spears, the Gawkersphere spent about that much time loving and hating Julia Allison. We seem to collectively love to build people up in stature if only to be able to take greater pleasure in watching them eviscerated.

In some sense, I feel like the article is seeking to make that point without finding it. Emily Gould is Britney Spears on a smaller and less famous scale. There would be something interesting in such an analysis, but it's not really in the article.

I'm not not your ideal of an outsider but I think there's a fair deal more egocentric navel gazing to the article (and the Gawkersphere, this other recent article, NY Observer, Young Manhattanite, etc) than many people feel is merited. But it's rather similar to the dearth of Perez Hiltons and People Magazines that exist for the rest of the country/world.

Most people who have savaged the piece seem to be rejecting it as an artifact of celebrity culture--and all the petty superficiality that comes with that--than on it's merits. It is indeed a somewhat perceptive examination of what it's like to be no-privacy-allowed celebrity, even if a minor one.

In any case, thanks for explaining how you feel about it all. I did, after all, ask.

posted by david at 7:09 PM on May 22, 2008

1) I want to make it clear that I don't think the Midwest is the "real" anything. My only point, now and since mommy first let me watch cable tv, is that NYC thinks of itself as the real thing. This is hardly a unique proposition, I grant you.

2) So far, I haven't actually seen any real criticism beyond the fact that it's first-person. NY Mag has probably been the harshest on this matter.

posted by Rex at 7:20 PM on May 22, 2008

p.s. It's my birthday, so I'm really fucking cranky.

posted by Rex at 7:24 PM on May 22, 2008

Jesus. Forget per word payouts, forget per pageview payouts... per footnote change is the future!

I'm going out to drink now.

posted by Rex at 8:18 PM on May 22, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Who is Emily Gould?

posted by taulpaul at 8:21 PM on May 22, 2008

this entire 'rise and fall of self exposure' thing is getting old.

posted by marrina at 1:17 AM on May 23, 2008

I thought the article was bigger and more relevant than a lot of those commenters are giving it credit for. For one, Emily puts a face (her own) and feelings behind a byline that so many people felt (and apparently still feel) so comfortable attacking from afar. Why do people do this? I still don't understand.

I've also always been curious about how the constant blogger can possibly have a fulfilling social life, love life and family life. Emily writes that she was thinking about Gawker "in one way or another, 24 hours a day," which pretty much answers any questions I had about that.

posted by Alexis at 1:50 AM on May 23, 2008

And happy birthday, Rex. I'm technically a day late, but I was also a week early.

posted by Alexis at 2:12 AM on May 23, 2008

Thanx, Lux. I'm glad you're here. You probably remember, I'm full of self-doubt more than ever around these times. I hate to say it, but this place makes it a little bit worse.

posted by Rex at 2:15 AM on May 23, 2008

Reading blog comments with footnotes is only slightly more pleasurable than reading footnotes in a David Foster Wallace book.

(Did you catch the Midwestern passive aggressiveness in that?1)

I have to agree with you, though, Rex. New York does get a disproportionate share of cultural relevancy.

But maybe that's a good thing as it insulates the rest of us self-important media folk. It's nice to live life without baggage, folks!

Although, as soon as east coast media pick up on something I enjoy from the Midwest, it seems to bring out the douchebag Midwesterners who only understand their own culture through the lens of ever-present east coast media.

_______________

1 For those of you that don't understand this, here's an example: When purchasing expensive but unnecessary items at some kind of discount, it's not uncommon for Midwestern people to say "That's not too bad a deal" or some other sentence construction that both knocks down and praises said offer.

Seeing silver lining in storms and all that.

posted by Zac at 10:44 AM on May 23, 2008

"Posing suggestively in the wreckage." That's the best thing I've read all day.

I think Emily's piece was better than Blogumentary.

How's the day after, Rex?

posted by Chuck (not Klosterman) at 1:58 PM on May 23, 2008

Four times, Rex - four times I tried to respond to this, and every time it came out long, bitter, frustrated, verbose and angry. So I quit. Then I kept on trying to rewrite my "I quit" comment to say something meaningful, but now I quit that too. The only reason I'm going to hit the 'add comment' button is because I so desperately want to be part of the conversation. Worse than anything - to be critiqued, to be embarrassed - is to be left out. So here's to my futile comment.

posted by Nav at 11:03 PM on May 23, 2008

Hi, Rex -- thanks for the heads-up Tweet ... can anyone explain why the NYT "community" on this article auto-directs to the home page. Odd.

I thought the article was a fascinating and it reminded me of quarter life and the innocence of life in our 20s and the pervasiveness of our celebrity (minor or major) culture.

It also made me sad that anyone can -- or would want to -- build a successful business based on personal attacks, nasty gossip.

I abhor the way political discourse has moved from issues to personal attacks, and from this article, that looks like Gawker's business model. What is the dark place in us that unleashes this force --- one that moves beyond staring at a car wreck to the equivalent of walking up and telling someone that they were stupid or reckless or negligent?

(PS - comment preview would be a lovely addition!)

posted by Kathy at 1:26 AM on May 24, 2008

Happy belated!

(this is probably stating the obvious, but) I don't think the vast majority of New Yorkers are part of the NY that you describe either, and have no more affinity for it than the average midwesterner..

posted by Jay Smooth at 7:28 PM on May 25, 2008




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