The End of Innocence and Making It Big: The NYTimes spins yet another lost girl tale of innocence, regret and discreetly hot sex

10 years ago

Despite the provocative photo (and the big ass tattoo), the cover essay in the Sunday New York Times Magazine starts sweetly enough. Like a proper miss in a Jane Austen novel, editor and writer Emily Gould describes how back in 2006, she is happy in her cozy circle in Brooklyn, dreaming big dreams in a little world and blogging sweet stories of puppies and unicorns (okay, not really).

“Back in 2006, when I was 24, my life was cozy and safe. I had just been promoted to associate editor at the publishing house where I’d been working since I graduated from college, and I was living with my boyfriend, Henry, and two cats in a grubby but spacious two-bedroom apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn,” Gould writes, but the rest of her story, all 8,000 words of it, is a drawn out and oddly detailed story of her ascent to success as the co-editor at Gawker, the immensely popular pop culture and snark blog that seems a strange and somewhat sensationalistic choice for the NYTimes Magazine.

You see, the game in this story, like it so often is in the media, is shame and repentance, with the pretty maid, lower lip trembling, visibly upset. By 2007, you see, things were not so rosy. As Gould tells it, while she was experiencing great visibility and perhaps success at Gawker, she also began to experience an uncomfortable degree of anxiety and even panic attacks as she, ever more visible, pandered to the crowd by playing on her sexuality, whoring out her dating life, and transforming herself into an ambitious snark-mistress hottie/link whore.

Enter regret, soon to be followed by remorse.

You see, while the innocent reader might think Gould was trying to trade on her notoriety and success in the form of a TV show, book deal, editorship or some other of the spoils that previous Nick-Denton-touched writers like Jessica Coen, Elizabeth Spiers, and Choire Sicha had achieved, she’s writing this long article and painstakingly detailed article to share the reality that her own behavior—what she dubbed “oversharing”--was making her literally sick. Sick to her stomach, sick of writing, sick of life.

Writing about the end of this era, when she’d left Gawker, but was still trading on her personal life to get attention, and yet growing increasingly uncomfortable with her ways, Gould writes: “I slumped to the kitchen floor and lay there in the fetal position. I didn’t want to exist. I had made my existence so public in such a strange way, and I wanted to take it all back, but in order to do that I’d have to destroy the entire Internet. If only I could! Google, YouTube, Gawker, Facebook, WordPress, all gone. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed for an electromagnetic storm that would cancel out every mistake I’d ever made. “

Poor Emily Gould! And lucky New York Times Magazine!

Is there truly any less foolproof way to sell the Sunday issue that to get huge viral buzz from a damsel in distress story played out in that most modern of locales, the blogsphere?

Call it cynical on my part, but I can just see current NYTMag editor Gerald Marzorati looking back over the upper-middle class waif stories (and media sensations) of Joyce Maynard and later Elizabeth Wurtzel and wondering if Emily Gould’s sob story of error and reform would generate the same page views and buzz those two highly manufactured heroines achieved.

While much of the media criticism and the consumer comments have focused on Gould’s narcissism and opportunistic use of her beauty, sexuality and position, and the aggressive marketing of her subsequent prettily teared up regret, no one has talked much about the cold-blooded cynicism of the Times in assigning and publishing what is just the latest incarnation in an ongoing series of sensational stories by attractive young women who struggle.

Reading Gould’s accounts of trading online barbs with a former boyfriend (who outed their relationship in a much-discussed piece in the NYPost), I am reminded of nothing so much as articles the New York Times Magazine had previously published--notably Joyce Maynard’s revelations that she wrote to JD Salinger, went to his farmhouse and then spent some time as his much younger sweetie, and Elizabeth Wurtzel’s revelations of her life as a suicidally depressed Harvard hottie and girl about town.

As a blogger who has long been interested in issues of privacy and identity, and as a writer about sexuality and relationships who has sometimes had a difficult time managing privacy in talking about my own life (and respecting others’ desire not to be portrayed), there’s no way I can’t spark to this essay, and feel respect and compassion for Gould’s struggles. And yet, at the same time, as a person with some life experience and history, I also can’t help feeling that running this story amounts to some editor at the Times taking a calculated, sensationalistic assessment of Gould’s looks and persona and deciding to put that kettle to boil as a way to make the paper of record seem hipper, more relevant, and a place where buzz happens (yellow journalism be damned.)

Or, to put it another way, as much as I am uncomfortable with the ways these writers describe how each of them acted in the pursuit of fame, fortune, audience and approval, I am more uncomfortable with the Times’ consistent publication of stories—like Emily Gould’s—that pretend to discuss high brow issues, but are really just sensationalist reads that give Sunday magazine readers a chance to be sexually titillated voyeurs.
Given that half the known universe has read this piece, what are your thoughts on it? In particular, can you please share your views on whether or not Gould is crying wolf one more time, whether you scorn her behavior or feel compassion as she regrets her mistakes, and whether you feel white middle class privilege is central here in that she’s pretty, privileged and talking about her love life?

Comments, please!

There’s a ton of commentary in the blogosphere on Gould’s piece, including the following, all worth a read. Here’s a bit to check out:

Gawker: We are all Emilys
Commentators Cassandra and TheDismal Science, elegantly debate whether Emily Gould’s self-obsession reflects her own personality or her entire generation’s narcissism.
“ And none of this is as bad as the fact that her writing, initially, seemed genuine, raw, and destined for something larger. Instead, she's already hooker her perpetual media motion device meager dark energy of her "persona" and doesn't seem to be concerned that, absent intervention, the height of her journalism career might be the time she dueled her ex-boyfriend's article with her own.

Huffington Post, Rachael Sklar, Emily Gould, New Gloss on an Old Story
“It's the NYT's call, to be sure, but I can't help thinking they got snowed; it's the third magazine piece on Gawker, and the second on the star-cross'd Gould-Stein hookup.”

Illuminea, Miriam Schwab: Emily Gould, Gawker, and privacy vs. publicity on the web
“Her piece is fascinating and disturbing, and raises a lot of questions about the boundaries we set up and break down between our real-life identities, and those of our online personas.”

sweet rickey: a line in the sand
“Can't we use the internet as a tool of our own self-defense, to build a presence and image that is under our control, rather than having it only be used as a weapon against us, to steal or manipulate our identities? Like it or not, privacy is being redefined in the 21st century, and having a controlled internet presence which represents you and can be referred to as a tool is one way to use the technology in a constructive, rather than destructive way.”

Erica Perez: Fish out of water--NYT story on blogging, overexposure and, well, the world today
“The comments were the most interesting part. By Wednesday evening when I read the story, it had more than 800 comments, 90% of which were scathing, criticizing Gould for being a narcissist, an idiot, a bad writer and a horrible person, and taking the NYT to task for running the story so prominently when, for example, people are suffering in China and Iraq.”

Megan’s minute
: Emily Gould: A Blogger More Than Exposed
“ But what I didn't get was a genuine sense of where she was in the world and what her aspirations might be based on the experiences in those ten pages.”

Megan McArdle, asymmetrical information: the saga of Emily gould
“Gawker both expanded her horizons and terribly limited them; from the perch of her overflowing inbox, she could see everything in the world (or at least Manhattan). Yet quickly enough she became the only thing she cared about within it. The entire city of New York mattered only insofar as it was a reflection of Emily.”

Green Sparrow Knits: If you have the strength….
“Why in the name of all that’s sacred, would a responsible adult, who has already damaged a relationship by blogging, do the very same thing over again? It’s refusing to learn, and that I do not have sympathy for, no matter how melodramatically it is phrased.”

Woman of experience: The online Hotel California
“The panic attacks became more frequent and the poor thing 'lost the will to blog' - a phrase for our self-obsessed times if ever there was one. Unfortunately she hadn't lost the will to write: somewhow this deeply damaged young woman, living on a knife edge, managed to come up with 8,000 words for the New York Times for which we can only admire her courage and fortitude.”

Cherries on Top:Emily Gould, SuperBlogger: A Cautionary Tale
“But I’d shrivel up with embarrassment if I knew that certain family members, co-workers, random acquaintances and any stray cyber stalkers had a direct line into my day-to-day life, loves, prejudices, foibles and spasmodic idiocy. I certainly wouldn’t e-mail a childhood classmate, as Emily Gould reportedly did, stating, I started a blog about my sexual exploits.”

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