How Gawker Lost Its Edge

on 29 September, 2008

Player 5150”>Blogger Emily Gould once mused, over a bold-faced headline, “When isn’t Jimmy Kimmel visibly drunk?” This simple, slanderous inquiry was enough to make Mr. Kimmel inform Gould, on national television, that he would “hate to see [her] arriving in hell and somebody sending a text messaging saying ‘guess who’s here?!'”

These days, it’s tough to imagine a world where Gawker, current media gossip mega-site and “flagship” of the Gawker Empire, had enough chutzpah to really piss people off. Sure, at the apex of its nastiness, the site was often difficult to read without guilt—inspiring cover stories about “The Culture of Bile” and even the wrath of George Clooney, who vowed to send fake sightings to the Gawker Stalker.

When Gould resigned from the site to tend to her karmic existential crisis—the boomerang affect of throwing so many anonymous barbs—even loyal readers let out a sigh of relief. But now that Gawker has been sanitized, the angry underclass has found itself with no outlet. Oh, where have all the bloggers gone?

To stardom, of course.

See, Gawker began for and by witty, searing little people to make astute, pointed, and unflinchingly negative commentary about the totally undeserving big people. But in the years since Gawker’s formation, those little people have become big people. In the Age of Internet Journalism, founding fathers like Gawker have become lucrative and influential.

Once just a collection of unknown misanthropes on the internet, the Gawker family has gone on to become powerful figures in the media world, and micro-celebrities in and of themselves—with New York Times Magazine cover stories, self-promoted stardom, Vanity Fair profiles, n+1 analysis, and a legitimate role in writing the zeitgeist of their generation.

Gawker’s exposure has had creative benefits, but with audience expansion has come self-consciousness. Gawker writers are no longer anonymous bloggers, and being out of the shadows means having to take responsibility for what you type, making it more difficult for them to muse about Jimmy Kimmel’s sobriety, or resist using their status to promote political platform.

All of which could be a positive change, since it forces internet journalists, the alleged future of the industry, to take on a modicum of integrity and responsibility (a conventional plus). But wasn’t the internet the final frontier for the uncensored spewing of squalor? If I wanted a sanitary discussion, I would turn on a TV—where cameras and a live audience keep pundits in line. But sometimes, you just want to hear someone smartly compare Kevin Costner to Jabba the Hut.

So today, when I see Gawker promoting a presidential candidate, or linking to a video clip that they find un-ironically funny or smart, or picking fights with a jock in support of artists—and please, commenters, in the spirit of the once-angry internet, add your own examples—I can’t help but feel sort of disheartened. The internet was the happy place where smart people could finally scream “FUCK EVERY1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”—a sentiment I never thought I’d miss. But with Gawker now adding “Well, I guess some people are actually okay,” the sardonic are alone again in their silence.

Photo by Flickr user m d portela used under the Creative Commons