This Sunday, The New York Times published an article by Emily Gould, once-upon-a-time blog editor for Gawker Media. Emily is a woman in her late twenties who has had the great fortune to work in the field of publishing. After reading her article, however, I have had the great temptation to look down upon her as a naïve, narcissistic juvenile. (Disclosure: I am old enough to be her mother.) But for one thing.
A few days ago, I happened to catch “The Devil Wears Prada” on cable. In both Emily’s article and the movie, we get an opportunity to see how a young mind is manipulated into becoming her own worst enemy. In the movie, Andrea doesn’t even know what the magazine Runway is all about, although she has applied for a job there. She is eventually shocked and disillusioned by the cutthroat machinations of her boss. She does truly seem like a sacrificial virgin in contrast to Emily’s claim of the same when she started her career at Gawker.
But Emily was not “virginal.” She admits that her preferred mode of self-expression has deep roots, starting in her high school days when she and her friends circulated a notebook in which they shared “candid thoughts” about their teachers. When they got caught, she claimed First Amendment rights. Perhaps more telling is the comic book she created, presenting herself as a superhero (“SuperEmily”) who “battled thinly veiled versions” of the mean girls in her grade. And when it came to Gawker Media, unlike Andrea and Runway, she was an expert: “For a young blogger in New York in 2006, becoming an editor at Gawker was an achievement so lofty that I had never even imagined it could happen to me.”
Despite their obvious differences, my takeaway message from watching the movie and then reading Emily’s article was that both these women were very impressionable. They may be hard-working women who have survived the wilds of New York City, but they still are not savvy enough to navigate without leaving some wreckage in their path. But here their similarities end.
Andrea is blindsided in her transformation from a size 6 duckling to a size 4 princess. Becoming “one of them” was not her goal when she went to interview at Runway. In contrast, Emily saw her job at Gawker as “somehow inevitable. Maybe my whole life — all the trivia I’d collected, the knack for funny meanness I’d been honing since middle school — had been leading up to this moment.”
Unlike my generation, Emily grew up with perpetual access to immediate gratification. And she grew up with feeling that the world, limited only by bandwidth, could be her friend, or at least her audience. Yet, she does capture a universal drive toward blogging: “I think most people who maintain blogs are doing it for some of the same reasons I do: they like the idea that there’s a place where a record of their existence is kept . . ..”
Her comment reminds of my embrace of the phrase, “I am therefore I write.” Blogging is a way for me to record my existence, although I try to restrict to my posts to a general theme, that of writing. For Emily, the purpose of blogging is to expose every aspect of one’s life. The irony is that so many people who criticize her type of blogging feel compelled to leave comments on her blog. By their very act of commenting, they are legitimating Emily’s blog, whether they like it or not. By the time I grabbed the permalink for Emily’s article, comments about the article numbered in the thousands. Most comments suggested at least one of the following: that Emily should grow up; that Emily should get a real job; that the article was boring (usually expressed as “ZZZZZZZZ”); that The New York Times should not have given Emily so much space to write in. There is a bit of irony here: Is what drives a commentator to leave a badly written and/or insulting post any different from what drives Emily to blog?
(For a different perspective on her NYT article, check on the comments on Emily Magazine.)
When I come across a blog or post that I find offensive or boring, I don’t bother to comment. In much the same way that personalized rejection letters can give the writer some solace that at least her story was read, comments provide the blogger some satisfaction of being heard. Comments provide some form of legitimacy, although most often in their quantity.
So, I would suggest to those who are unhappy with the nature of Emily’s blogs: Just don’t comment on them. Let her comment count dwindle. Let her audience retract to only the closest of her friends. If what she is doing is so awful, then don’t encourage her. Like any other writer, Emily has more to gain from constructive criticism and encouragement than from the banality of “ZZZZZZZ.”