"I was being ironic" really is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
If you do a stupid or offensive thing, you can almost always claim that you
were being ironic. Once in a while, you might even be right, in that you might
have had ironic intent. But that doesn’t stop what you did being stupid or offensive.
And, of course, anybody can claim after the fact that they were being ironic
(or, better, "subtly ironic", whatever that means) even if they had
no ironic intent whatsoever.
Gawker knows all this better than anyone. Indeed its weekly "Blue States
Lose" feature is little more than an extended excoriation of hipsters who
think they’re being ironic but are really just being tragic.
like most people, I think, in that I have different uses for irony at different
times. When I say I love Thomas Kinkade, the appreciation there is definitely
in the realm of the ironic; when I say I love Britney Spears, I actually mean
it. (Hit Me Baby One More Time and Toxic are two of the greatest pop songs of
all time.) For me, however, irony really comes into its own when it’s a bit
more sophisticated and a bit less clear-cut. For instance, I have a neon sign
on my wall at home: there it is, at right. I was the person who came up with
the idea for it, and even I (perhaps especially I) am far from clear
on how ironic it is. In fact, that uncertainty is a large part of the reason
why I like the sign so much. (If you don’t "get" the sign, don’t worry,
nobody gets it. Try asking Choire.)
But back to Gawker, and its various alumni. Former Gawker editor Jesse Oxfeld
in New York magazine as saying that the skeevy
Gawker Stalker feature belies Gawker’s "Ur-New Yorkerness". In response,
former Gawker editor Choire Sicha quotes
former Gawker editor Elizabeth Spiers responding with this:
The point of Gawker stalker *was* not being impressed by the celebrities.
The irony was subtle, but I’m fairly certain it was obvious. (That Jesse interpreted
it that way may be indicative of why he wasn’t a good fit for Gawker.)
Oh, and in response to Spiers’s response to Oxfeld (are you tired of this yet?)
former Gawker "mascot" Andrew Krucoff says
that Spiers is talking bullshit.
I’m with Oxfeld and Krucoff on this one, even after a very interesting and
wide-ranging IM conversation with Spiers, who bases her analysis of Gawker Stalker
much more on the history of its inception than on how it is actually perceived.
The main reason that I’m with Krucoff against Spiers is that I hate the irony
defense. (Spiers does too, sometimes: she was quite famous, for a while, for
hating on "ironic" trucker caps at every available opportunity.) And
in any case, insofar as "subtle irony" means anything it means non-obvious
irony, and therefore obvious subtle irony is something of a contradiction in
That said, however, the New York article does actually say what I think Spiers
was trying to say, or at least what I think Spiers was driving at with her "subtle
Even Gawker Stalker is presented partly tongue-in-cheek, a guilty pleasure
that’s heavy on the guilt, its meticulous missives a halfhearted joke
about how silly it is to obsess over the whereabouts of Ryan Adams.
The problem is how halfhearted the joke is, and how old the joke is. When Gawker
Stalker was launched, says Spiers (and she takes full credit for the idea, saying
that Nick Denton was on holiday at the time, and refuting any assumption that
it was a feature forced on her by a gossip-hungry overlord), "the celebrity
mags weren’t nearly as nasty as they are now. Gawker Stalker was exactly the
opposite of standard celeb coverage at the time, which was fawning and worshipful."
Of course, that no longer applies, since features along the lines of "stars:
they’re just like us" appear in every tabloid in the supermarket. Gawker
Stalker is no longer the opposite of standard celeb coverage; it’s merely an
extension of it. Which means that whatever irony or separation from the celebuverse
was there originally has long since disappeared.
Spiers concedes that Star magazine and its ilk are now doing something very
similar to Gawker Stalker, but says that what they’re doing is "coming
from a different place" than Gawker Stalker. That, it seems, makes all
the difference: "we’re talking about intent, not effect," she says.
Oxfeld should know that the intent behind Gawker Stalker was in some
way ironic, and therefore he shouldn’t have been offended by it.
This is not particularly convincing, especially when Spiers also concedes that
at celebrity tabloids, "invented several features that were at least according
to her, ironic". She also concedes that most Star readers, at
least on the coasts, are reading the magazine ironically – or at least
kid themselves that they are. In other words, there might be a little bit of
ironic intent behind Gawker Stalker, but there might be a little bit of ironic
intent behind Star, as well. And there might be a little bit of ironic
intent in Gawker Stalker’s readership, but there’s a lot of ironic
intent in Star‘s readership, certainly in New York. And Spiers certainly
stops short of defending Star on the grounds of irony.
It’s worth noting that Gawker no longer feels the need to resort to the irony
defense: their note
today says in as many words that they’re practicing gutter journalism.
You can either hunt with the pack or sympathize with the prey, but you can’t
do both. Once that dick comes out of your mouth and you’re handed the money,
you’re a whore; it doesn’t matter how many pages you spend contemplating the
symbolism of sucking cock for cash. We, at least, know who we are – and we
welcome Adam Moss and Co. down here to the gutter.
Spiers might not like the fact that her invention, Gawker Stalker, has now
become Gawker’s proud flag of whoredom. But Gawker is right and Spiers is wrong:
there’s nothing noble or justifiable about Gawker Stalker, certainly not in
its present incarnation. Gawker’s not trying to justify it; she shouldn’t, either.