Here’s an article by Mary Elizabeth Williams, candidly discussing her brief stint as a Gawker punching bag, all while not only battling cancer, but also grieving the loss of two family members. Her tone throughout just screams “I EXPECT BETTER,” questioning the validity of the site’s mastered craft of insulting someone in a public sphere, no matter the circumstances. In response to Williams’s piece, the pop culture dungeon of snark gave a rather long-winded, unsolicited lesson on the importance of criticism that basically boiled down to this: suck it up. Such was the Gawker way.
Watching its existence dangle in uncertainty – courtesy of a self-proclaimed racist, washed-up, wrestler’s lawsuit, secretly bankrolled by Grudge Holding Billionaire Peter Thiel – ‘The Gawker Way’ is what made rooting for the media outlet very difficult for many. Both sides were terrible, but one less than the other. Here’s a hint: any side not getting secretly bankrolled by Grudge Holding Billionaire Peter Thiel is usually going to be the lesser of two evils. The fact that someone rich enough had the ability to wipe an entire publication off the face of the internet because of something written about him, no matter how tasteless, sets a worrisome president. Oops, I mean precedent.
This is the ideology baggage that comes with defending Gawker in this particular instance. So when news broke this Thursday afternoon that Gawker will be ending operations next week after being acquired by Univision, it lead to a healthy mix of sympathy and celebration.
For years, each site spawned by Gawker Media has made a name for itself by being hyper-critical, unforgiving, and often times crude. As evinced by the cringeworthy headline to this Deadspin article featuring a pair of racial slurs, and Jezebel’s Sony-hack-exploiting discovery of Amy Pascal’s recent Amazon purchases, they flaunt this reputation proudly.
So what should be made of a media company that treated their subjects in such a way? Readers and writers alike would frequently waffle on their stance, almost daily, based on whether or not Gawker’s vitriol was being used for good.
Make no mistake, there was plenty of great writing all across the board. Just a couple of months ago, there was a hilariously thorough investigation on the possible origins of Donald Trump’s infamous hairstyle done by Ashley Feinberg. Gawker also proved to be a launching pad for many important conversations. Although comedian Hannibal Buress sparked the nationwide exhuming of Bill Cosby’s unchecked half-century of shittiness, Gawker also helped with this article written by Tom Socca months before Buress riffed about it on stage. In addition to Kotaku’s consistently strong defense against the endless black hole of gross that is Gamer Gate, Jezebel always provided some of the funniest, hardest-hitting satire online.
Gawker’s sophomoric recklessness, however, can’t be legitimized by claiming that the good outweighs the bad. Gawker always gave a maximal effort when it came to making a point or looking for dirt on pop culture figures. Sometimes it was done by hijacking an ad campaign with Hitler quotes. And other times writers would just blindly throw a dart at a wall of actors’ headshots and whichever beau it landed on, they would insist that he’s gay.
Outrage from these pieces would come and go like the ocean tide. Disgruntled readers eventually moved onto something else, and everyone on team Gawker reveled in all the clicks their outlandish behavior garnered. It seemed as though this would be the perpetual give and take. Little did anyone know, Grudge Holding Billionaire Peter Thiel was biding his time for nearly a decade, looking for a way to finally put an end to this problematic smut-haven.
To be completely fair to Grudge Holding Billionaire Peter Thiel, Gawker outing him was despicable. Reluctant apologists have been sharing the article on Twitter recently, saying that for Gawker standards, it was tame. That same argument was used by Williams’s friends as a way to console her after getting Gawker’d. And admittedly, yes, for Gawker standards the Thiel article actually was tame, oddly complimentary too. But the fact that one of the site’s more tender examples of writing still involves outing a gay man has to be challenging for any Freedom of Press defender to stomach.
It would not be surprising if a fresh batch of Gawker imposters sprout up in the next few years looking to make a name for themselves. Nobody should, though. It was a bold experiment, being terrible to everyone on the planet, but media outlets shouldn’t start priding themselves on being devoid of tact and empathy. Leave that to all the off the wall celebrities out there.