It was another miserable year full of miserable things. Here is some stuff from 2018 that we hope stays in 2018.
The Content Maw
2018 is the year we officially ran out of ways to meaningfully produce what the media thinkfluencers like to call “content.” More specifically, this is the year in which the technologies that allow for and even demand the creation of content advanced to a point that the content creators, and thus consumers, have been left choking in the dust.
This is a problem that manifests itself in ways both big and small. On the small side, you find writers and publications confronted with an endless array of video and audio and publishing and social media platforms through which to interact with their audiences. Instead of turning away from that void, these writers and publications have decided to just throw everything they can think of into it. This how you end up with Twitter shows and Periscope shows and Facebook shows and Twitch shows that nobody wants to watch, podcasts about everything imaginable, writers who spend more time curating their personas than writing, and websites believing that a live feed of two old humps eating turkey chili and watching a basketball game is something that its readers want to see. It’s how you end up with obnoxious twits pivoting their performative friendship into a brand activation for Wendy’s, and making whatever the fuck this is.
It’s how you end up with an entire media company built on exploited labor for no other reason than the media company’s advanced content management system allows for the exploited labor to seamlessly enter the production line. The problem isn’t that any of this stuff exists, it’s that it exists because it can rather than because it should. Also, most of it sucks ass!
There are other consequences. Netflix, armed with an infinite digital library, is now reverse-engineering shows and movies with which to stock that library based on data mined from its users. Did you like that teen rom-com because it was actually good, or because Netflix’s data scientists burrowed far enough into your head to figure out exactly what kind of movie would activate your sentimental and nostalgic impulses? Who can say! Meanwhile, Amazon is busy buying up the rights to every beloved science fiction book in history, not because the executives at Amazon have any great admiration for the source material, but because they too have a bottomless well that needs filling, and they are desperate to do it by creating their answer to Game of Thrones. Unencumbered by the number of programming hours there are in a week or the number of weekends there are in a year, these streaming companies can just go on dumping movie after movie and series after series onto our laps until they get whatever it is they’re after. Will most of these movies and shows be any good? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter because the means to create and market all of them exists, so they shall be created and marketed.
There’s a whole streaming service just for dopey DC television shows now. Loki is getting his own spin-off series on Disney’s streaming service. So is Cassian Andor. Fucking Rashomon is getting remade into a TV series. This is all happening for no other reason than there is now a seemingly infinite number of platforms for these projects to exist on. Good or meaningful ideas are no longer a prerequisite to creating “content” in 2018, nor is respect for the audience. We’re all headed for a future in which we just have to eat everyone’s shit all day, for no other reason than there are a lot of plates in the house. - Tom Ley
Credulous Reporting On Sports Books Taking A Bath
I am picking this article basically at random, but you can find the same piece written every damn week, in one place or another, about one sport or another. As sports betting hurtles toward full legalization, the big media outlets are increasingly covering it, which is good—it’s a huge and important part of the sports industry. But those outlets are almost invariably treating readers like they’re idiots.
Here’s how it works: When a game or series of games has unbalanced action, and the result goes the bettors’ way, sportsbook directors and “industry sources” race to their nearest friendly media putz to gush about how much money they lost. They cleaned us out, they say. We’ve never been killed so badly! Those media putzes then publish an article saying exactly that. Vegas got mushed! Betting windows are ATMs just spitting out big bills! Left unsaid in all of this is what should be obvious: the sportsbooks want you to know when they lose, they want you to think you too can and will win big, if you only place your bets next week. These are press releases, uncritically passing on information designed to benefit the business. Funny how there are rarely write-ups of the overwhelmingly more frequent times when the house wins. While it’s too simplistic to say that journalism is publishing what someone doesn’t want published, and all the rest is PR, but in this case it’s definitely not wrong.
Yeah, maybe you’ll win some bets, sometimes. But if Vegas weren’t turning serious profits in the medium and long terms—and bettors losing—the industry wouldn’t exist, and it does exist. That’s the only takeaway you need. - Barry Petchesky
Whatever This Is
I don’t remember which video SB Nation was sweatily asking to use from this person, but this shit has to stop everywhere. The abrupt shift in tone—“irrevocable permission”—really puts this request in a category of its own. It’s Poochie dapping up a teen then talking about how high-interest loans are lit. - Samer Kalaf
Meaningless Government Hearings
Political theatre works—if it then inspires the next necessary step, political action. But there’s been just slightly less than zero action by Congress in the wake of hearing after hearing after hearing after yet another hearing about preventing sexual abuse of athletes in Olympic sports. The action, if you can call it that, was a report issued in late December, when the maximum number of people were likely to miss it. That report went on to largely repeat talking points already uncovered by reporters at this website as well as other publications and news outlets. The entire exercise proved nothing except that some congressional aides read good blogs.
Congress likes to leave out its role in creating the world that enabled Larry Nassar to sexually abuse hundreds of athletes under the guise of medical treatment. Congress chartered the U.S. Olympic Committee, which in turn oversees organizations like USA Gymnastics. Congress gave the USOC nonprofit status. Congress created an organization to prevent sexual abuse, SafeSport, and then forced it to rely on the very sports it will investigate for money to stay afloat, creating a permanent conflict of interest. And yet the best Congress can do—after years of survivors telling their stories, after countless court hearings to convict Nassar—is tell the USOC to try harder. It’s right there, on page 132 of that late-December report: “The USOC should thoroughly utilize their authorities under the Ted Stevens Act to ensure athlete safety.”
I have read that sentence over and over again and remain uncertain of what it means beyond a pithy try better next time.
Perhaps Congress will try better the next time one of these scandals happens. Nassar, after all, was not the first. He was preceded by Rick Butler in volleyball, by Andy Gabel in speedskating, and by countless scandals in USA Swimming. These scandals are not new. Neither is our elected leadership feigning to care about them. - Diana Moskovitz
The Success Guy Fetish For Waking Up Early
The fundamental problem with the culture of the United States as it exists at this moment is not that it is annoying, but that it sucks—that it’s relentlessly unjust and extremely violent about it, that it’s cruel and craven and stupid and dishonest and exploitative, and not just passive in its acceptance of all that but somehow perversely proud of it. But also man alive does that lousy culture have a lot of annoying attributes beyond the way in which it grinds up humans and demeans us all and so on. The value-neutral and completely abject worship of success, and of successful people as not just the best of humanity but somehow beings that exist on a slightly different plane than the rest of us, is annoying. That we have a culture that creates these divisions and delusions and then celebrates them is what sucks, but given that this is a little chunk in a chunk-style blog post running late in December and focusing on annoying things, it’s probably best to start with the most annoying aspect of late-shitworld’s fetishization of success.
Now, is there a self-serving reason why I—someone who likes to stay up late and get up late, who has a ton of stupid/lazy habits that make getting up early unpleasant and also has some mood issues that mean I’m sometimes a lot happier asleep than awake—might find it especially irritating when Successful People talk about waking up at 4 a.m. or post some Rise And Grind image of their watch’s face on Instagram at 3:47 a.m.? Is there a reason beyond my distaste for things designed to make people dance faster and faster and longer and longer to the same shitty tune why I might think this particular fetish is bullshit and should die? There are in fact several self-serving reasons! But as I am not aiming for the sort of success generally associated with Successful People and therefore do not consider like Tim Cook or Mark Wahlberg to be personal rivals of mine, I assure you that my gripe about Successful People getting up early only has a little to do with my personal distaste for that practice.
That’s all in there, I’m sure. But what puts me off about this is not the thing itself—waking up early, while not for me, is just a perfectly reasonable thing to do if you like the quiet or the glory of a sunrise or if, like virtually everyone who does it, you have to do it for your job (or a blog post)—but seeing it spun as a way to Get An Edge and destroy the competition and perform your want-to in public. A big part about what sucks about life in this nation at this moment is the fact that our fetish for competition, which can be healthy in responsible doses, is not paired to any policies or civic values that militate on behalf of a fair fight. The blank decontextualized cultural tic of studying and celebrating and emulating the behaviors of the people that those interlocked perversities have made “winners,” on the other hand, is just annoying. — David Roth
Unless under specific orders from a doctor, you do not need to know your resting heart rate at all times. You do not need to know how many steps you’ve taken today, or how many consecutive hours you’ve taken a standing break, or your ECG results. And you absolutely don’t need the ability to compare any of these metrics with those of your internet pals. You don’t need to be able to read texts on your goddamn wrist, either.
Apple is not the real villain here, of course; my beef is with the entire “quantified self” thing that leads otherwise reasonable people to put sensors on their body to measure their posture and buy a smart mattress to track their sleep and use a bathroom scale that is beaming every minor change in their weight to god knows where. These technologies have been a literal lifesaver for many people who have actual health needs, but the average healthy young dude strolling around Brooklyn or San Francisco has zero actual use for this data outside the confines of a yearly physical. There is such a thing as too much information!
I’m not under the delusion that my husband or any of the rest of you are going to take my advice and throw your Fitbits and Apple Watches into the nearest river, so I have a compromise to propose: You may keep your terrible technology so long as you vow to never, ever discuss your metrics with me or anyone else. — Megan Greenwell
The last thing major American cities need to do right now, in the dumbest time in modern American history, is to give privileged young dipshits even more carte blanche to pretend to own the world. And yet, every year, New York, San Francisco, and probably a few other cities that I’ve never been to and won’t look up debase themselves by allowing hordes of overaged Vodka Samm cosplayers to barf everywhere all over their downtowns and treat the viewing public to the garish spectacle of two Santa Clauses getting into a fistfight or boning on the subway.
The singular tragedy of SantaCon is that it was actually a decent idea upon its inception. Originally called Santarchy, the gathering that would later metastasize into an orgy of consumption was founded in 1994 as a sort of anarchist art project intended to skewer American capitalist Christmas celebrations. Mostly, it was rabble-rousers fucking around downtown in Santa costumes and attempting to delight the public with their hijinks (hanging a Santa in effigy apparently did not go over well) like they were in some sort of late-period Pynchon novel. The founders called it a “magically singular experience,” and a tradition of sorts was born.
The San Francisco of 2018 is a world apart from the San Francisco of 1994. That city doesn’t exist anymore, and anywhere that anyone from two decades ago cared about has been crushed by the new ruling class and turned into foundation rubble for a stack of hideous condos. Fittingly, SantaCon has morphed from whatever it started as into a shitshow intended to give the worst people in this city a stage on which to perform. Its time has come and gone, and the only fitting tribute to SantaCon would be for it go and die, forever. Also, the New York one is awful too.
While I have you here, a tangential phenomena that needs to die is the cheap-ass, poorly made adult onesie with a mega diaper-sized ass pocket. An embarrassingly poorly made body sack that has ears on top is not a costume, and everyone who wears these looks like a big dumb baby. Thank you, and happy New Year. — Patrick Redford
Shilling For Brands
As I wrote around this time last year, people who work in media should not be doing ads for brands. They should not be doing it explicitly, which is desperate and grasping, and they should not be sneaking it into their work, which is either insidious or just plain stupid. Unfortunately, some people missed the memo, so here it is again: Have some fucking self-respect, you sellouts!
Don’t do ads for sneakers and definitely don’t act like these ads are “storytelling.” Don’t hump Nike for standing up for Colin Kaepernick when, of course, making him the face of a new ad campaign was a strategic and empty PR move. Don’t write a long ad for a music festival, an airline, and an entire country’s tourism department, and especially don’t fail to mention it’s all sponcon! Don’t do “branded videos” paid for by a big bank while claiming you retain “full editorial control” over other videos they pay for. Don’t do branded content for a hotel chain. Don’t write a blog that’s just an ad for soda. Don’t go on and on about an ice cream shop in a profile of Harry Giles. Don’t write commercials for Serena Williams’s TV show. Don’t write commercials for LeBron James’s TV show. Don’t write about a new technology an NBA team and its owner are flogging if you’re not going to bring a shred of critical thinking to it. Don’t do a Q&A for a men’s clothing shop in your capacity as Sports Illustrated writers, in which you joke about being easily bought. Don’t post photos of the free shit brands send you in the hopes that you’ll post pictures of it. Don’t thirstily beg for personal beer sponsorships.
There are sales teams and marketing groups and influencers and micro-influencers and nano-influencers and people pretending to be influencers who spend their time doing ads for things. Writers and reporters can spend their time doing other things, like bitching about the same thing year after year. — Laura Wagner
When I first heard beady-eyed pigfucker Bryan Goldberg had bought Gawker, I thought it was pretty funny. What more fitting end could there be to a story as dumb and sordid as Peter Thiel’s murder of the site than for it be sold to someone who made his first fortune by convincing sportswriters to serve as the wetware necessary to intermediate between idiot readers and robots churning out the headlines they calculated the idiot readers wanted to read, and to do it for free? That this person had made a second fortune by bravely gambling that you could apply this model to the revolutionary idea that women might want to read about politics and fashion made it all the better, especially given that he is, going by all public evidence, a sexless freak highly interested in documenting his unimpressive personal-fitness regimen and distributing photos of his face run through filters that make him look alarmingly poreless. Here was Gawker clutched by the exact sort of person its staff had always disdained too much to loathe, a dull and rusty knife in the hands of a dumb fat baby. It was perfect—it is perfect. The site at its best always had the air of someone whose face was pressed up against the window at a fancy New York media party, looking inside at something they wouldn’t admit to wanting to be a part of; now it’s owned by someone who, I bet, thinks he can impress girls at those parties by telling them he owns it, and is too stupid to know that wouldn’t have worked when it was good. God’s creation is full of wonders.
As entertaining as it is on some level to know that this guy has hauled a dead body out from under the ground just to fuck it, though, actually watching him grunt and thrust is going to be a different thing. Goldberg isn’t just a resonant comic symbol of the grotesque stupidity of our new digital-media barons, after all, but an actual person, a shitbag dedicated to screwing over workers who thinks the homeless should be herded into concentration camps, and he is, you hear, now roaming New York flush with cash and promises. I’ve never been out to a drink with him to talk about his vision for the new Gawker and I haven’t talked to anyone who has, but I have a pretty good idea of what his pitch is. It’s going to be different than what he’s done before; it’s going to respect the legacy; it’s going to be artisanal; it’s going to be slow. He wants to put makeup on the corpse and pretty it up before he has its way with it. A thing that’s dead can’t die, but I hope someone finds a way to get it back in the coffin. — Tim Marchman