by Shelton Bumgarner
Some thoughts on NYC media.
by Shelton Bumgarner
Some thoughts on NYC media.
I’m old enough to have some context on the notion of snark in the mainstream world. I’m old enough that I remember staying up way past my bedtime in the late 1970s to see the Not Ready For Primetime Players do their thing on SNL. A little bit later, it was David Letterman’s Late Night that was the center of the snarky world. About the same time, Spy Magazine was picking on Donald Trump and everyone cool seemed have an inside joke they could all chuckle about.
Then things changed.
The 1990s came and, well, things weren’t very snarky. There was the wildcat site Suck, but that was a flash in the pan as the Internet began to go mainstream. People were too fat and sassy and the only snark in mainstream was stuff like the comedy troupe The State. But for about a decade, there wasn’t much snark.
Then, about 2003-2004, Gawker popped up and snark came back in force. Unfortunately, Gawker started off snarky and ended up, well, just fucking mean. But it definitely served a snarky purpose and even went so far as to write really long pieces about snark / smarm that everyone talked about for a few days.
I would say the closest thing we have to mainstream snark is, well, Twitter. We have a kind of peer-to-peer snark now. What’s really ironic is Gawker died just about the time Trump rose to power. Gawker probably — if it had kept it scruples about it — could have been a major player in the Trump Era. New York Magazine and The Daily Beast occasionally attempt to claim the Gawker snark throne, to varying degrees of success. And a lot of the writers of Gawker have endup in plum write gigs across the media world, so its snarky legacy lives on in its own way.
And, honestly, I don’t see a Website devoted to snarky content ever popping up again. It just costs too much money to start a Website now. So unless something extremely unexpected happens…snark is dead. Long live snark.
Sometimes, the absence of something can oddly be just as noticeable as the presence of something. It wasn’t too long ago — less than 10 years ago — when the nattering nabobs of the New York media world were aflutter over snark, smarm and the the difference between the two.
At the center of this debate was the late, sometimes-not-so-great Gawker Media. It is interesting that Gawker was at its best in the 2003-2004 era when it was new, just starting and was commenting on the early George W. Bush era. It was the age of the Second Iraq War and for people like me, Gawker.com really tapped into the zeitgeist.
It did, at least, for people like me.
In those early years of Gawker as we settled into the long war of Iraq, the site was a place to go and get a good chuckle over the foolishness of it all. In 2004 Wonkette was still under the Gawker Media umbrella at it, too, was really cool. It was really snarky and fun and was talking about stupid shit that the Bush Administration was up to.
But gradually, things changed. Some of it had to do with the loss of focus on the part of Gawker Media founder Nick Denton and some of it had to do with, well, Obama being president. It was difficult to be snarky and mean about how stupid The Powers That Be were when, like, we had a Cool Dad as president. The battle over snark versus smarm was joined and the issue became so muddled that eventually the lights got turned on, the beer drained and the party was definitely over.
Flash forward to now and it seems as though we’ve entered the post-snark era. This is really, really odd because there’s so much to be snarky about. If ever there was something to be unabashedly snarky about, Trumplandia is definitely it. The absence of any real snark as practiced by Gawker.com and before that Spy Magazine and Late Night With David Letterman is a quite a head scratcher.
Some of it, probably has to do with demographics. The people who most likely be the generators of snark — young people — are probably just a little bit too young to reach that 20-25 age era of their life when they want to crack wise at everything. Or not. I don’t know. It is interesting that the closest thing to any kind of protest or snark in pop culture is the pretty bland “woke” pop music you hear every now and again. Pop culture in general really hasn’t changed much since Trump’s victory. There are a few pings here and there of Hollywood getting its act together and helping people process Trump’s ascendance, but not nearly as much as you might think. Some of it is that it takes time to develop scripted material, I know, but still. You’d think they’d fast track that shit or something. Times are kind of desperate.
But there’s no site right now that is tapping into the anger that a lot of people are still feeling from the events of November 2016. What’s weird is, we have Axios. Axios relies upon “access journalism” for its scoops on the Trump Administration and it plays it right down the middle. No snark, no quips, no figurative raised eye brows, no anything. Just plain, boring facts about the insane clown shit-show that is the Trumplandia era. I guess what I’m suggesting is that The Resistance needs it’s own version of Axios. An anti-Axios. Something that does for The Resistance what Axios does for Trumplandia. It would be irreverent, snarky and cool like Spy Magazine was 30 years go.
You’d think that someone, somewhere would see what I see — that there is both an audience and a market for a snarky site like the old Gawker or Wonkette. Something for people like me to read and have the occasional cathartic laugh through. The closest thing we have right now is the podcast company Crooked Media. The only problem with Crooked Media is it always leave me wanting more. I listen to Pod Save America or Pod Save The World and I get so stirred up, so angry that I want to read articles about what they’ve been talking about. But, to date at least, they haven’t started to generate that kind of content. That would be the obvious thing for them to do to take their site to the next level, I must note.
This brings up the interesting idea of what my would be neo-Gawker would be like. In my imagination, it would be a lot like the Gawker.com of 2003-2004, but with a lot more video. Like, I would like most blog posts to have a 2 minute clip from the writer of the post explaining what they have written. I would also like regular video podcasts. Though Trumplandia has caused me to become addicted to podcasts, I think video podcasts are the future. I used to do one on the now defunct Blab platform and it was a lot of fun. If you’re all that interested in what I did, you can samples of my “show” on my YouTube channel.
I have suggested on more than on occasion that of all the existing media companies out there, that Playboy has the biggest vested interest in re-tooling itself as something of a neo-Gawker. I’m sure it’s a lot more difficult for them to do this than I think, but they have the means, motive and opportunity to do as I suggest. They are a legacy brand with a history of progressive leanings and they’re desperate to be relevant again. It would make a lot of sense for them to poach lot of Jezebel.com writers and completely retool Playboy.com to become the site that people like visit to process what is going on with Trumplandia.
Another thing I might suggest is having someone, say, Ilana Glazer, be a roving reporter for the site. I really liked what Gawker did with Julia Allison way back when and it would be fun to recreate that silly experience of having a young, attractive woman running around the streets of New York City having zany hi-jinks. I just think that’s really cool. I really like the concept.
Regardless, maybe the media world has changed to such an extent that what I want simply isn’t possible. It could be that the amount of money needed to start a major blog is now such that the whole endeavor is cost prohibitive. That makes me sad. It would be so much fun to have one site that was the go-to site for The Resistance. Something that really tapped into this anger that many of us are feeling.
I would start such a media company myself — The Trumplandia Report is kind of my vision of what it would look like — but, alas, I don’t have any money and generally no one listens to me. But I need somewhere to vent, so I write here whenever the mood strikes me. I hope that doing my little part for The Resistance helps in some way.
Shelton Bumgarner is the editor and publisher of The Trumplandia Report. He may be reached at migukin (at) gmail.com.