My agent, though, hated the American Apparel stories. “It’s like one big contest for who can be the most vapid,” he wrote in a withering takedown of my sample chapter. “None of the characters you draw are remotely likable, or entertaining; nor do they illuminate anything.” I didn’t disagree about the vapid part, but—hello—that was sort of the point.
The next year, 2007, I took a job at Gawker Media helping launch a sister blog targeted at Gawker’s demographically attractive female readership—a property that was named Jezebel, at the insistence of Gawker CEO and founder Nick Denton and against my vociferous objections, after the blasphemous Old Testament whore who was eventually eaten alive by dogs. Gawker was in the business of gossip-blogging, an insidious racket that I and most members of my profession held partially responsible for the destruction of journalism.
But I also saw Gawker as American Apparel’s journalistic equivalent, and I justified taking the job by thinking of it as the next chapter in my immersion in the nothing-based economy, in which I would make the natural transition from creating demand for someone else’s brand to creating demand for my own. In hindsight, though, it seems obvious that Gawker had subconsciously inspired the whole book project in the first place.
I had started reading Gawker’s flagship site around the time it was founded, in 2002, because it was a media gossip blog and I was in the media. Back then, the comically bland Jim Romenesko had cornered the market on this sort of inside baseball, and Gawker, by contrast, was puerile, funny, and refreshing. Gawker writers covered the media and publishing industries as if it were all your typical inane celebrity bullshit, and padded their media and publishing coverage with actual inane celebrity bullshit—and padded that further by identifying (or inventing) a sort of pseudo-celebrity vortex of New York unknowns who wanted so badly to achieve some measure of what one of them called “microfame” that they would say or do almost anything to warrant another post on Gawker. Muddling these things together on one sarcastic Web site was popular with readers, but over time whatever I had found refreshing about it began to feel psychically draining.
I finally quit reading Gawker’s flagship site altogether after a post about the heated jockeying among New York Times reporters over which stories landed on the “Most E-mailed” list. I didn’t know why anyone in the nation’s most-respected newsroom would compete for the pro-bono, viral marketing services of a group of readers who demonstrably only care about a story if it concerns food, weight loss, or admittance into an Ivy League college—and I didn’t want to know. I had a sort of not-in-my-backyard unease about the nothing-based economy. While journalism had not exactly rewarded me in any quantifiable way, it had exposed me to a large number of people who had taken this vow of poverty for a lot of reasons other than the opportunity to endlessly debate the relative merits of carbohydrates and get their photos taken at parties.
But I also stopped reading it, probably, because it was 2004 and Gawker had just launched another diversion on which I happily lavished attention: the politics blog Wonkette.