“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on,” John F. Kennedy once said. “Ideas have endurance without death.”
I was reminded of that quote, which, to be honest about how stupid I am, I reverse-sourced after half-remembering a similar, much goofier one from V For Vendetta, when reading the final word on the soon to be defunct Gawker. Choire Sicha, an early an formative editor of the now infamous site, wrote today of the passing of many other publications, and the ensuing “post-death beatification” that softens our memories of them. Perhaps appropriately, the many encomiums for Gawker of late seem to have actually done the opposite, inflating its occasional malice to its defining characteristic.
While it’s no revelation to point out that we only end up missing things once they’re gone — “The moment will come soon enough when you need a Gawker, and you’ll be furious that you no longer have one,” he writes — in truth, while Gawker may be leaving us, it can’t die, because it wasn’t just a website, it was an idea.
Your interpretation of what that idea actually was will differ, most crucially depending on whether or not you or your friends have ever been the target of the site’s scurrilous platoon of blogging rogues. By his estimation, owner Nick Denton’s concept for the site, as he often told it, was based on how the most interesting stories were always the ones reporters didn’t publish, but told to one another at the bar. I have no doubt that’s certainly what he saw as Gawker’s ideological mandate but I don’t think that’s actually what it amounted to at its essence.
While it would be impossible to distill some 202,370 posts over 14 years, resulting in nearly 7 billion page views into a singular point of view, I think Adrian Chen, one of the site’s most prolific writers, inadvertently summed things up in this post from 2013, Here Is The Gif to End All Gifs.
The gif, rotating, dreadful, animated text, he wrote, “represents an appropriate reaction to 99% of things one sees on the internet. It is literally the gif to end all gifs.”
The message: lol nothing matters.
The gif became something of a meme among media Twitter around that time, occasionally used as a salve for a wounded ego, or more typically as a nihilistic reaction to any of the seemingly unending apocalyptic news stories coming out that year. But to stare at it, and it’s impossible not to stare once you’ve seen it, is to stare into the heart of Gawker. When you realize that nothing does matter, and we’re all fucked anyway.
It’s that idea, more than my second choice for determining The Meaning of Gawker — “No, fuck you” — that the site regularly reminded us of so often over the years. Which is not to say that they didn’t write about matters of import — this collection of some of their best work is a handy reminder of that — but in the way that they reduced everything, even, or perhaps specifically the important, to the level where we could laugh at it.
Fittingly, on the way out the door, they’ve offered us up one last doofus at which to laugh in the form of Dane Cook today, who’s been taking all manner of hell from all corners for this.
— Dane Cook (@DaneCook) August 22, 2016
The beauty of Gawker was that so often they didn’t even have to try to be mean, they simply had to keep their eyes open and provide readers with the coordinates of the deed. This is where those who have been cheering Gawker’s demise often confuse things. While there have certainly been many cases over the years where they crossed the line, or sought to specifically target someone, whether out of boredom, or traffic-thirst, for the most part it wasn’t Gawker going out of their way to make the rich, self important, or influential the butt of a joke, it was the subjects of the posts themselves doing the heavy lifting.
To peel back the protective layer that had previously surrounded those in Silicon Valley, or New York media, or professional sports, and to show us that the gaudy and the lauded weren’t simply human, but like us, no less capable of repeatedly stepping on their own dicks, or taking pictures of them any way, was to remind us that nothing, and no one, really matters.