Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Emily Gould: A Contemporary Tragedy

This weekend's cover story in NY Times Magazine, "Blog Post Confidential, What I Gained and Lost by Revealing My Intimate Life on the Web" was written by 26 year old Emily Gould after her infamous and almost instantaneous rise and fall as a budding journalist. Days before her article was released, the NY Post printed, The Dangers of Blogger Love, by Joshua David Stein, ex-boyfriend and co-worker of Emily Gould, telling his side of the story and the sordid break up that followed.

What makes this worthy of a national news magazine cover is not the salacious, public spectacle of unrequited love or the corruption of yet another promising, young mind, it's the recognition by the media of blogging as an effective and important forum and the responsibilities we must explore that come along with that deserved and exciting recognition.

Emily's fall down the rabbit hole began with this appearance on Larry King Live hosted that fateful night by Jimmy Kimmel. It's a cringe-worthy train wreck.

Emily has become the tragic icon of the blogging age. And because in the internet age, Warhol's fifteen minutes lasts forever, she will, with the click of a google button, always be known as the naive, young woman who snubbed her nose at journalistic ethics and got skewered for it on broadcast television.

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones...She got a taste of her own medicine... She was hoisted by her own petard... Don't shit where you eat. This 21st century tragedy is easily summarized by these and other idioms. While I could join the crowd and lambast Emily Gould for her ignorance, her immaturity, her lack of personal and journalistic ethics, her unconvincing moral relativism, I actually feel sorry for her.

From my position in my mid 40's, I look back at my 20's and recall a time of deep confusion and constant inner conflict. I desperately wanted to know who I was, tried to be the mature, self-assured person of my dreams - but with each day I'd fail another test and realize I had no clue. Lucky for me, my mistakes were made in relative private.

I see this same mental disarray in her article. The piece is a generous opportunity for Emily to explain herself - to show us the life lesson learned from her very public downward spiral. The problem is at 26, and only one year after, she's too close to have forged a clear perspective. Her 8,000 word article is riddled with examples of her inner turmoil and confusion. With her sub-title I expected a revelation, resolution, or at least some genuine feeling of regret. I was disappointed. I envision Emily as Anne Hathaway in "The Devil Wears Prada". But she's still the Anne all swept up in the world of fashionistas, false images of import swirling around in her fabulous little head. Not the Anne who's traded in the Louboutins for Loehmanns and tells a startled Meryl Streep just what she thinks of her. The ending of Emily's article is inconclusive, empty, and unsatisfying.

She is a bright girl with moments of intelligence and clarity but she constantly mixes her moments of insight with muddled contradictions leaving me wondering if she has learned anything from her experience. About Gawker's coverage of the rich and famous she writes:

"Everyone was a hypocrite. No one was loved. There was no success that couldn't be hollowed out by the revelation of some deep-seated inadequacy"

Paragraphs earlier she compares a high-school prank where she publicly embarrasses an ex-boyfriend to more recent examples of the same poor behavior:

"The big difference between these youthful indiscretions and my more recent ones is that you can Google my more recent ones."

There is a thinker behind the first statement, a keen observer of human nature. The second statement is written by a person who doesn't have a clue about anyone, most of all, herself.

She, like Holden Caulfield, possesses a delusional sense of entitlement and power:

"At my old job, it would have taken me years to advance to a place where I would no longer have to humor the whims of important people who I thought were idiots or relics or phonies. But at Gawker, it was my responsibility to expose the foibles of the undeserving elite. I felt liberated - finally, a job where I could be myself!"

And about Kimmel's interview:

"I was dismissive and flip. My untrained, elastic face betrayed the shock and amusement I was feeling about being asked, somewhat aggressively, to justify something that I thought of as not only harmless but also a given: the idea that anyone who makes their living in public was subject to the public's scrutiny at all times.

By her own admission, Emily was always someone who enjoyed "telling my own secrets, telling others about the ongoing story of my life." We all knew people like her, and while that kind of attention-seeking is acceptable when you're young and alone, it's no longer acceptable if you suck others into the vortex with you. Admittedly writers strive to be authentic but there are boundaries and a mature writer carries with her a sense of responsibility and regard for her real-life subjects. The end never justifies the means.

Emily stepped out on stage with her personal blog and got applause. At Gawker, she got her standing ovation by way of thousands of readers. She garnered the attention she'd always sought and it was a challenge, with her naivete and inexperience, to keep her wits about her in the midst of newfound celebrity.

She swam with the sharks. Nick Denton, Emily's boss and owner and founder of Gawker Media, threw her to the wolves when he had her represent Gawker on Kimmel. There were others above Emily who could have fought back more eloquently. I believe he sent her knowing that her unprepared, uneducated, deer-in-the-headlights response would take the heat off of his company.

Emily mentions in her article that she and her predecessor, Jessica Coen, were referred to by Gawker staff as "sacrificial virgins". I'd say lambs is more appropriate. Emily Gould was taken out to the field and slaughtered.


ByJane said...

Man, you have got all eight cylinders charging here!

insane mama said...

Wow, great post, I'm going to have to read the whole article in the times

Candace said...

So glad to read this. I posted a link on my blog but that was all I could manage. This is a brilliant assessment. I've been asking some questions of myself lately before I click Publish Post.
It's an interesting time, having self expression and the internet intertwine.

Dawn said...

Perhaps I am too unsympathetic to her situation, but it strikes me that this entire situation has everything to do with arrogance and a lack of caring about other people.

This generation of young people for all their talk about caring about the planet, etc., don't really seem to give a damn about anyone but themselves and how snarky they can be.

The Internet has created for these selfish kids a forum to try to outwit one another at someone else's expense.

It's cruel. She was cruel. And not just to the "establishment" that she claimed she wanted to topple, but to someone who loved her.

I won't say that she got what she deserved because I don't want to be cruel and I know I've published things that would hurt people I love because I was angry with them at the time and I just hope they never stumble upon it. But, she did it, as often as not, with the knowledge that the person she was hurting read her blog and didn't want her to publish the intimate details of their live(s) together.

And, I haven't read her boyfriend's version of the story, but as the saying goes, "what's good for the goose is good for the gander."

I think really what this comes down to for me is that I hate snarkiness and meanness at the expense of others; I dislike people who say mean things about others to get a laugh, especially about the appearance of others.

I also hate the sense of entitlement that kids have today. The idea that they should walk in and be an editor at 24 and never have to cater to the idiotic whims of their superiors. It's called paying your dues and everyone should have to do it.

There was just so much to dislike about all the people involved in this story. Except for Henry, the boyfriend. He is the only sympathetic character in the entire drama.

©2010 merlotmom.com. All rights reserved. Reproductions of any portion of this website only at the express permission of merlotmom.com.