Oversharing the Wealth

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted Feb. 20, 2009

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Photo by Elinor Carucci for New York Times.

"Exposed," Emily Gould's essay in last week's New York Times Magazine, was the definition of high camp: unintentionally funny, painfully earnest, obliviously unflattering and so, so poorly executed.

Let's not get started on the accompanying photography--portraits of the author brooding, lying in repose and typing on her laptop. Like its kin--pathetically amateurish singer-songwriter album art of likeminded diarists--the overly literal images (Do painters always pose with brushes in hand? Jewelers holding beads and string?) had some of us in the PW office crowing. Especially after reading the artist's statement. (She "specializes in portraits of everyday female vulnerability.")

You just can't make this stuff up.

Though the article was accidentally hilarious, it brings up valid points about the state of publishing as pulp nonfiction gives way to online papers and blogs.

Said points aren't in the essay itself. To give the editors at the New York Times some credit, the piece came across like a good idea gone bad. Perhaps Gould said she'd ruminate on the unique way bloggers negotiate privacy boundaries. Of course many creative professions warrant such delicacy, but most of us don't work in environments where personal overshares are specifically sought and handsomely rewarded with both attention and money.

As Gould says in her article, blog posts in which she revealed personal or intimate details received the most hits. This follows the general trend: A search of Gawker media blogs confirms personal posts tend to net the most hits.

Consider that editors are paid on a per-hit basis and do the math. Like how Barbie at the strip club has to decide how far she'll go in the champagne room, thereby setting the standard for Barbies everywhere, so does this type of blogger. The danger of writing confessionally in a permanent archive is tricky business and would've been worth writing about for what it says about our entertainment culture.

Perhaps Gould pitched that she'd use her personal behind-the-scenes narrative to extrapolate on what her relatively obscure personal experience reveals, or meditate on her addiction to confessional oversharing on the Internet (and now newspaper and radio). The piece could've addressed the blogging age gap. Or indeed, the gender gap.

But it didn't.

Instead, like her CNN face-off with Jimmy Kimmel, she came off as a self-conscious train wreck, dully exposing the narcissism and sense of entitlement of someone who's either having a public breakdown, or who's just another girl trying to make a living--any press is good press, right?

If Gould is an enterprising opportunist careerist, well, play on playa, and the burden's on the New York Times. (Interesting sidenote: A couple days before "Exposed" went up online, Gould started guest blogging at Jezebel, another popular site owned by Gawker Media. A comeback?)

If not, a lot of the comments are gallows humor and Gould's the Brit-Brit of the blogsphere--someone in need of intervention.

One commenter (not that I read all) finally said what I'd been thinking: Could this have been a set-up? Letting Gould make a fool of herself--more rope, please--out of some sort of professional hostility from newspapers against bloggers?

By Sunday the story had more than 1,100 comments. The overwhelming majority of commenters trashed the piece and called the NYT editors to task. In the words of one commenter, the piece was an "empty, insipid, almost completely pointless neurotic essay by a know-nothing nobody." In another, Gould was accused of substance abuse (Get it? It doesn't have any).

The real question brought up by the publication of one girl's 8,000-word finger-flip to an ex-boyfriend goes like this: Because web traffic determines ad cost, is the distinction between good and popular collapsing?

Is writing taking on the Hollywood value system, where any press is good press, even for the press?

As newspapers shift online, it seems like the medium is a whole lot of the message.

If Gould got one over on the New York Times editors, well then, an editorial regret is part of the risk of taking editorial chances, and it's not that big of a deal.

But if the editors' thinking was that any hits are good hits, then it's time to take a look at where we're headed--sweeps week every week, a perpetual peacock parade--besides, you know, online.

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Comments 1 - 3 of 3
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1. Tim said... on May 28, 2008 at 11:06AM

“Oh come on. EVERY interesting new york times story has a thousand comments trashing the editors -- the kind of people who read the new york times and then decide to comment are just that kind of people. They don't realize that the fact they read the whole thing was the POINT, to the editors. Not some kind of absolute truth or insight. I was surprised that she could really write -- when she's confessing to writing endless trivia gleaned from the morning papers. If you can write without self-justification, you're a writer. Or you have a really good editor.”

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2. edward said... on May 30, 2008 at 05:55PM

“and to think, it all started with justin hall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Hall) and links.net (no longer active).”

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3. Randi said... on Oct 25, 2008 at 04:30PM

“I'm looking forward to the era in the US when it is cool to be smart! When the articles that get the most hits are entertaining ones about economy, global peace initiatives, sustainability, personal growth... when people feel inspired to learn, to grow, to change, to move past old paradigms when they no longer work. When we work together to make all our lives better. The other vision, one I refuse to accept, is presented in the brilliant film "Idiocracy" All I hope is to be inspired to make better cultural products that can be complex, intelligent AND fun!”


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