Blogging While Anti-Black
Imagine if there were a website where you could vicariously cruise the halls of power in New York and DC via deliciously campy witticisms about the gossip and gaffes that plague powerful media moguls, real estate barons, and politicos that delight the reader in ways that can only be described with overused nihilistic German words.
Enter Nick Denton. Denton, a former journalist with dot-com money, owns two website blogs called Gawker and Wonkette that serve just that purpose. Gawker and Wonkette have become the sine qua non of the New York and DC cultural elite, or at least those wishing to be a part of it. They chronicle the intricacies of the media power structure, the players and their sycophants in all their hubris. Their succinct invectives come from snippets found in established gossip columns, newspaper articles, wire copy, email tips, and an occasional instant messenger-inspired epiphany.
Denton has mapped out a route for monetizing the blog world in short order. It is a strategy to provoke outrage and publicity by taking the piss out of celebrities and luminaries of New York and DC. And I don't have any problem with that. It's just that these sites have decided that one way to telegraph their supreme coolness is to continually joke about non-whites as marginalized second-class citizens. It's this casual, damaging disregard that is hard to quantify, and yet, Gawker and Wonkette exemplify the growing phenomenon of white hipsters adopting a casual racism. Is it any wonder so many still feel blogging's a white man's sport?
Gawker is run by a New York Observer contributor named Choire Sicha, whose vibe is that of a young Rex Reed -- a man riffing on the superficialities of life with the highly self-referential banter one expects of a Lower East Side scenester who turns to writing when his dream of being discovered as an underwear model at a gallery opening in SoHo has evaporated. Sicha's writing style is composed of a bitchy stream of consciousness peppered with metaphoric comparisons to viscous fluids, queer malapropisms, and three-part neologisms such as "man-f*cking-hattan."
In an article covering the New Yorker Magazine Festival, Sicha reports that, "around me the audience is white," although he also says that he sees people like ZZ Packer and Edwidge Danticat (of whom he says "Edwidge is also adorable -- you want to drive around with her in a giant Haitian-mobile and smoke a little weed"). Both of these women writers appear, at least to casual inspection, not to be white. In truth, there were several people at the three-day event who aren't white, despite his claims, and whom he characterizes suspiciously by ethnicity. Sicha's descriptions of non-whites seem to fall into the usual pattern of one part paternalism and two parts Maplethorpeian admiration.
Ana Marie Cox, a.k.a. Wonkette, is Sicha's DC counterpart. Her mission: to plumb the DC gossip scene for any signs of life in a town where getting invited to a Beltway power party is harder than getting a reservation at Nobu during a Mad Cow Disease scare. For a city that arguably controls the fate of the known world, DC has a social scene that is only slightly more interesting than life on an Alaskan oil field -- this city's idea of a velvet rope is ten secret service guys standing in a row. Cox's current main source of stories seems to be blog-refusnik Matt Drudge (oddly, she's simultaneously constantly plugging rumors that Drudge is gay). She also has a penchant for reminding everyone on the Internet that Wes Clark, Jr. seems to be within six degrees of her via his past conquests, while boosting his Google entries high enough so that he can sell his scripts. In exchange for that, she is hoping to prime his pump as a gossip leak, as she missed a golden opportunity to slam his father, former Democratic Candidate Clark, for admitting that he knows what a metrosexual is. Who said a bug doesn't know it's a bug? Unfortunately, she missed the scoop of Clark retiring from the race, Clark's endorsement of Kerry, and Clark's knowledge of Kerry's alleged affair.
Like Sicha, Cox injects ethnicity into even the most mundane occurrences. After a VH-1 Pop Quiz given to Democratic candidates about various music, sports and film icons, she declares "Wes Clark: The whitest candidate in a very, very white field." Evidently, not knowing who starred in Total Recall or who wrote the Harry Potter books makes you white. Both sites seem obsessed with the eugenics of not just people, but ideas. But you don't have to take my word for it, let's examine some actual entries from the websites:
There are many things one can say about Martin Luther King, and it's fair game (though kind of poor taste) to poke fun at his alleged infidelity, but denying the holiday even exists is worse than marginalizing the event. He gave his life for what he believed in and there are still states and cities that refuse to recognize this federal holiday to make a direct statement about their politics. Gawker cast down its gauntlet in questionable company.
Gawker: Jan 19: Media Bubble: Something Going On In Iowa?
Evidently there's some sort of national holiday today? Also some election thing is going on in Nebraska or Iowa or some flat state. I didn't really catch it.
On February 6th both Gawker and Wonkette synchronized their Starbucks-induced, ethnicity-laced barbs for a double latte whammy:
Laughing at Russell Simmons is easy -- he's got that lisp, and a trophy wife who by our estimates costs him about $50,000 a day. However, there is a huge chasm between humor that's good-humored and the wink-nudge barb that seems hip, but in fact serves to divide.
Wonkette: Feb. 6: Russell Simmons: Bothering the White Folks Again
Lloyd Grove reports on Wednesday night's Victory Campaign 2004: A bunch of liberal celebrities got together to bash Bush and showed PowerPoint presentations. Is there anything more politically inspiring? Way to excite the base, guys. Then hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons harshed everyone's mellow, saying "The shit y'all doing is corny!" and "We are not included!" That's no way to get invited to the after-party, Russell. Can someone give him some "bling-bling" or whatever those people call it and tell him to be quiet?
Gawker: Feb. 6: Too Black, Too StrongThese sites stand as two towers forming a portcullis that bars the entry for those not of their ilk by rapier wit, snark and innuendo. The tone of post-black humor, when wielded by the non-black for a non-black audience only serves to polarize people. It acts as a catalyst for life imitating art, giving a nudge to those who are influenced by the power of the written word.
Hey! It's Black History Month! And it's leap year, too, so we get a special extra day of blackness in the media. Here's an in-depth report that I like to call "Black History Month: What's Up With Black People These Days?" ... Well, looks like those are all the black people in the news today -- one presentation of a marketing scheme in the paper of record and one gossip item painting an incredibly successful (if highly annoying) businessman as a buffoon. Okay, we'll look for more black people tomorrow! Maybe Nicole Richie will slice someone up at fashion week.
We don't expect media-centric blogs about people of power to read like an issue of Final Call, but we don't expect them to sound like National Vanguard either. Nick Denton and his employees have decided that a person's ideas, actions and deeds don't define them, the color of their skin does. Thanks for letting us know where we belong.
John Lee is a writer who really is from Brooklyn. When he isn't serving in a domestic capacity in the Hamptons, he directs commercials and monitors bank robbers in the Eastern Block.