Irony in Gawker Stalker

"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

is quoted

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

irony" quote:

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

Eurotrash, when she was working

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.

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6 Responses to Irony in Gawker Stalker

  1. eurotrash says:

    The biggest irony about working on Star was producing feature after feature purporting to be shocked or tenderly concerned about the ‘disgraceful’ behaviour of so-called celebrities – THE DRINKING! THE DRUGS! THE SEX! THE FEUDS! – in the knowledge that a sizeable number of staff, and probably most of our readers, indulged in exactly the same vices on a regular basis.

    That and the fact that we were peddling preposterously unbelievable crap to an audience who claimed they never believed anything Star said, but who read it anyway.

    Oh, the stories I could tell……..

  2. 99 says:

    Um, so if we know who Joseph Kosuth is, we, what, are better equipped to talk about irony? Or when Gawker was keeping it real? Do you really think this doesn’t read like some smarmy insider baseball piece? Or do you just miss how often that was the case before things like the Stalker blew up Gawker enough to make the unironic masses the primary demo?

    If you miss that, and think there is some need for an ‘ethical’ new york media blog, call Jesse (or, better, yet, Bryan) and start one. Cause I can tell you, ethical, self-serious blogs generate a massive amount of traffic. I’ll send you the stats.

    The Stalker is the perfect expression of trash that the celebrities deserve, and that the readership of Gawker deserve. If it makes too real the complicity people like Eurotrash (and Chiore and Spiers, etc.) have in that, all the better.

  3. Felix says:

    Well duh, of course it’s inside baseball. Whether it’s smarmy or not I’m probably not the best person to judge. But snarky and ethical are not antithetical.

  4. 99 says:

    I didn’t say that they were. But I fail to see how a self-congratulatory circle jerk is better than fealty to celebrity that was always implicit in the Stalker (Spiers my have been ironic is asking the masses, but their willing to do the leg work was inspired by the thing that she thought she was ironically dismissing).

  5. Eurotrash says:

    Complicit. What a marvellously pompous word.

    Of course we were ‘complicit’ on Star. We were part of the system – albeit the b-z list system. See People Magazine for the A-list complicity scenario.

    It was a fairly equal tussle, when we had the upper hand celebtrities squirmed and complied, when they had the upper hand, the reverse was true and Keith Kelly got well paid for documenting our legal losses and shame.

    And we serfs paid our rent doing it, which was all that really mattered to us. And we (or at least I) didn’t feel particularly bad about doing it, knowing what we knew about how so far most ‘celebs’ would go to use us to get even with other ‘celebs’ they didn’t like, while bemoaning what an invasion of privacy we were, at the same time. Mind you, next week we’d run a pic of them buying our magazine at some newstand, so whatever, whatever, whatever.

    Also, most of those celebs know exactly what we don’t print, that we could and that we could PROVE, but that we don’t. And they reflect a heck of a lot more badly on them, than on us.

    This is the world of celebrity weeklies. It has nothing to do with anything that Elizabeth ever did, or would ever want to do. All this smoke and mirrors is rubbish. Gawker Stalker/Gawker Schmalker. Nowadays, PR’s may monitor it (and the whole of Gawker) like a dying scientologist baby, but that was never Elizabeth’s intent – I would dare to argue – although kudos to Nick, if that’s what he intended all along.

    When Elizabeth launched that feature there was never any suggestion that it had any power to get those PR’s running for their spin machines. Everyone get over yourselves, this doesn’t actually matter one tiny little bit. I would invoke Godwin’s Law here, but I think most people have got there already without me needing to.

    Elizabeth was the great Gawker editor – without her, it would either have bombed, or have taken a longer time to get where it was, by which time something else might, only might, have got there before it. She was, er, in the moment, for lack of a better expression. Forget Gawker Stalker and look at what else she did while she was there. Some of it is pure genius.

    So it was great, and now a lot of it is dated – what isn’t? – but it’s still clever. And she moved on long ago, and she’ll do better things for herself in the future because she is extremely clever.

    A lot cleverer than Bonnie Fuller. That’s for sure.

  6. 99 says:

    Felix is the one who has been beating the Gawker jumped the shark meme for a long time. I only don’t like the Stalker because I don’t think it’s as clever or obsessive as it could be (I want bathroom stalking sightings, drugstore purchases, parking attendant arguments, all of it). I argued before and I will again: it’s not perfectly self-regulating, but it’s surprisingly effective. I’ve never seen a Lou Reed sighting (to be honest, I don’t reall read it, so maybe he’s in there often), and he’s as around as PSH.

    I have no truck with Spiers or her writing. I think the site was great when she was at the helm. I don’t think her irony comments need such close reading, but I also don’t see why people get themselves in such knots over it. It’s like reading one of those academic collections in the early 90’s about Madonna. But, yes, everyone who takes a stab at ‘defending’ it looks a little disingeuous. Balk seems to have the perfect middle ground. Stick ‘twat’ in front of it and let people figure out the rest for themselves.

    Aside from that, me calling out the ‘just doing my job’ defense is a bit thick, but it’s one thing to do your job (particularly one as innocuous as yours), and it’s another to try and have your cake and eat it too.

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