Breakups have a way of robbing you of your identity, especially when you’re the one who’s being broken up with. If the union was worth joining in the first place, severing it disrupts your habits, your decision-making, your system of loving. It erases the mutations your love has engendered. You don’t even get to keep them in a jar of formaldehyde. Your best chance at preservation is art.
As someone who’s written for Gawker for over four years, the site’s shuttering feels like being dumped. Before Thursday of last week, I was a person who wrote for Gawker. I carried around the baggage that came with that and listened to strangers’ and acquaintances’ opinions on my brand of luggage (it changed through the years, and soured particularly post-Hogan verdict). And by the time I am done writing this post, I will be a person who used to write for Gawker. Just like that, parts of me burn off. So I write them down.
During our Senior Week, I tried to write about my renewed obsession with George Michael’s “Freedom ‘90,” but I couldn’t quite articulate why I had adopted that song as that week’s anthem. In that meta-pop song, Michael describes his fatigue brought on by the demand of celebrity, and vows to run a more artistically respectable ship. (He famously refused to appear in its video, as well as the other videos from the album it appeared on, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1.) Michael consciously ended one era of his career—MTV-friendly bubblegum heartthrob—but used it as a pivot. By sticking a fork in things, he created a new road. Unlike most people, especially pop stars and particularly the ones who’ve emerged since Michael’s reign, he got sick of the bullshit and he actually did something about it.
Today, I realize that I’ve been jealous of George Michael’s agency, his ability to steer his career. Granted, he had no idea where it was headed (he never again saw commercial success like he did pre-Listen Without Prejudice), and his decision proved that freedom has its own trappings, but, wow, what a narrative: Pop star at the peak of his fame stops pandering and decides to make the music that he wants to make.
(I’m also jealous that George Michael had the resources to live comfortably after burning his multimillion-dollar career to the ground.)
When I think about the demise of Gawker, I cope by viewing it from a remove and as a narrative. If nobody starves and this somehow manages to leave freedom of press unscathed (the latter obviously being the bigger if than the former), what has been crafted is a tale that would seem too outrageous as fiction. Each chapter in Gawker’s trajectory, particularly the last few feverish, increasingly mad entries, has been, objectively, fascinating, and here upon us is a definitive ending, to boot. Ah, the comfort of closure. This sucks right now for many people who are directly affected, but when it’s history and we’re all looking back comfortably, what will remain is that narrative. And really, that’s the best life can give you: enduring narrative. We humans and our things come and go and so little is remembered. We know that Gawker will be remembered. There’s a good chance its narrative will prove so indelible as to be legend.
How the legend will be recounted is another question. When the Hogan verdict was announced earlier this year, the schadenfreude-drenched response on social media found many people pretending that Gawker had only run two posts: the Hogan sex tape, and the CFO/gay escort story of last year. I’m not sure, exactly, why so many people saw fit to distill the millions of words that Gawker has produced down to a few thousand (and about a minute of grainy video). I wonder if it’s easier for some people to simplify either because they aren’t very smart or they don’t like thinking. That sort of revising, of steamrolling nuance, of performative ignorance, though, is something that Gawker, functioning as it was supposed to be functioning, would resist, refute, and ridicule. And now with Gawker not around, there’s one less site invested in calling bullshit, one less site to shake you from the comfort of black-and-white thinking and selective reasoning.
You’ll agree or disagree with this assessment, depending on the posts you read, and depending on how invested you are in nuance. Because of Gawker’s breadth, and because it didn’t have so much a single voice as a cacophony of several voices at any given time, the site meant many different things to many different people. What appealed to me, more than anything, was a sensibility that loathed preciousness, that refused to defer to the most sensitive person in the room out of social pressure and smarmy politeness. The site’s run-till-tackled mentality was exhilarating while we ran—I appreciated that no one ever asked me to reduce myself or change to appease readers, especially because I know that even the best-intentioned among a liberal audience can have a hard time swallowing really gay shit. The tackling that finally took place, wrestling Gawker to the ground and then erasing it from the planet, makes me wonder whether time will revise that run as an illusion. Maybe that run will be remembered as a 14-year slow fall. We who took part know better.
I have never felt entirely comfortable in any group, but I came closest at Gawker, because I generally felt like I was working with people who were the best at what they did, making something that would with another staff and (inevitably) more stifling management be impossible. I think a lot of us—and the site overall—share a sensibility that simultaneously takes the world very seriously while understanding that everything is a big joke. And we’d joke about the overly serious and take serious the overt jokes. I dusted as much as possible with a thin layer of satire, because this world and its inhabitants are fundamentally ridiculous but, overall, endearingly so. Nothing I worked on directly summed this up better than The Best Restaurant in New York, in which Caity Weaver and I lovingly mocked New York City, historic landmarks, consumerism, consumption, human interaction, food writing, writing in general, doll-carrying, and ourselves. I can’t believe we got so many free meals for such nonsense. No one ever told us no. We ran not until we were tackled, but until we were stuffed with food and lunchtime prosecco.
There have been several times that I’ve been at a Gawker party at Nick Denton’s apartment, and I’ve looked around and thought, “Anyone that I could possibly talk to right now is utterly crazy,” and they were so for any number of reasons—because they were eccentric, because they were fucked up, because they were geniuses, because they were actually disordered, because they were John Mayer. Working at Gawker was somewhere in between doing time in an asylum and worshipping in a cult. So many times, it struck me that this place simply shouldn’t exist. And yet it did. Until didn’t. I can’t say I appreciated every second of it, but I did appreciate the vast majority of those seconds. If nothing else, it was an honor to see the narrative being written up close for as long as I did.