Friday, July 25, 2008

A very long rant about social responsibility.

What is going on at Jezebel lately? Moe Tkacik, the features editor, has always been pretty controversial: her posts are smug, self-righteous and overwhelmingly sarcastic. She makes me angry, but at the same time, I love her. The way she writes is on the one hand effective -- rambling, complex, emotionally-stirring! -- and on the other, inflammatory. Over the past few months it has become pretty clear that Moe has some issues with alcohol and self-loathing and so masks them with a blasé, I'm-going-to-make-outrageous-statements-and-then-make-fun-of-myself-and-my-readers-for-not-getting-my-fucking-sarcasm-so-fuck-you-all attitude. It's all so very post-modern. Does she mean what she says, or is she making fun of societal conventions? She's a white girl who comes from an above average socioeconomic status (to my knowledge) and she makes fun of it constantly. To admit one's privilege is a touchy subject; it's often reconciled by being overwhelmingly apologetic, denying it or by ridiculing yourself and your equally-privileged peers for being completely myopic assholes.

The first of Moe's outbursts I can recall is when she said that Hillary only won a certain primary because she "cried", blaming women voters for being so stupidly emotional and empathetic that they voted for her because they "felt bad." The commenters were understandably pissed, but then Moe turned it around and said something like, "Obviously you all didn't understand my sarcasm, I'm making fun of female stereotypes! About how, of course Hillary cried, of course women like her, we're supposedly so very emotional! Fuck you guys for being so judgmental and missing the point!" (There is always either an explicit or implicit "fuck you" in her apologies.) In fact, you're not supposed to take anything she says seriously, and it usually takes me three or four times through a post to understand that she's being completely facetious.

In this case, Moe was clearly a big Obama fan; she didn't like Hillary and admitted that she didn't see much sexism in the way Hillary was portrayed. So was that whole rant really that sarcastic, when things were still painstakingly close between Obama and Hillary? Does anyone fucking know? Moe blames a lot of her faux pas on her ADD, which certainly may account for her rambling (but coherent) complex sentences, but doesn't seem to explain her tone. As I said before, she's amazing with prose and obviously intelligent. But why, oh why, is Moe so hostile to Jezebel readers? She doesn't call herself a feminist but jokes that's she's a "female supremacist." And when people disagree with what she says, it always comes back to the fact that (though she doesn't identify as a feminist), "feminism isn't a monolithic thing! It has multiple meanings, and the fact that it is so open to interpretation by different kinds of women is what makes it so female-empowering in the first place! Your ideas of fucked up attitudes are my words to live by!"

I think Moe and Tracie posts really started getting contentious after the whole "Thinking and Drinking" debacle. Moe recently announced that she would be moving over to Radar, scratch that, Gawker, which comes as a relief for many, but it seems like she intends to go out with a bang in the meantime.

And here's where I finally get to the real topic of this post. A few days ago (yesterday? I don't even know, though that link is so very close to my cursor!), Moe posted about how sex without condoms feels better and, for relevancy's sake!, loosely tied it to an NPR story about how condom-less sex is the new "engagement ring" (i.e., it represents that a couple is seriously devoted to being monogamous with one another.) The gist of Moe's post was that, yes, sex without a condom really DOES feel great, way better than regular ole safe sex, and it's not THAT risky, because the guys she sleeps with don't mind HPV, and she doesn't suspect that they have any scary diseases, either! In fact, telling a partner you have whatever STD is actually the worst part, but if you will it, it can make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside because of the memories of that special intimacy of the raw-dog sex you had, and how you can turn it into a funny story, because the guy you contracted whatever from was so hilarious! And those were good times, and actually, having an STD is a little like a welcome push down memory lane, because again, that guy was such a catch -- whatever happened to that guy?
There was a tiny little editor's note at the bottom saying "Use condoms!!!", but it was such a pathetic afterthought that I almost wish it wasn't even there.

People reacted angrily, and hours later she posted a typical confusing pseudo-apology about how sometimes the commenters on the site can make the editors feel unsafe to admit how they really feel about things. And then Moe blamed herself for her privilege, and said that "
the post also conveys something that's started to annoy me about myself: it's harder and harder to reconcile those Id-level truths with broader, more sober ones, such as, for starters 'Easy for me to say being as I am white.'" She then pointed out that statistically, only 17% of American women who contracted HIV last year were white.

And here's where it turns into typical Moe confusion. She expresses that she's unhappy with the fact that she has these casual attitudes about sex, but then backs it up, as if to say, "Hey! Maybe I DO have a point. Just look at those numbers, people!"

Her post then devolves into how Jezebel is growing in popularity, "bigger than any group of people I can expect to give me the benefit of the doubt or put what I say in ironic self-loathing context," and that maybe the writers need to watch what they say from now on.

But again, it goes back and forth. She follows her previous apologetic statement with,
"When it comes to sex we've generally been inclined to favor the fun and comedic and gross and mundane truths about it that don't get so much media attention, and I doubt that will change when I leave, but maybe by then you will all be getting more of it and will thus feel less compelled to unleash your ire on whatever poor slut ends up replacing me. Joke!"

The ambivalence Moe feels kind of reflects how I feel about the idea of censoring the editors' thoughts. I'd hate to think that Jezebel had to turn into an after-school special because of outside pressure to promote the "right" messages. Candid expression is what I love about the site, especially because it allows me to learn new truths, like the fact that a lot of women shit themselves during pregnancy. Women's magazines NEVER mention that! And I like that the writers are complicated, imperfect people. They have addictions and weaknesses and self-loathing thoughts, things that I have, too. Sometimes the comments, especially those about rape or family or illness, turn into one big therapy session, and it feels so good. I rarely participate, but just reading them makes me so hopeful for humanity. Finally!

But what's really tearing at my soul (Ha! That's a joke, I don't have one) is this question: does Jezebel have a duty to be socially responsible? People, often one-stop commenters, say that it's just a blog, people! It's only the INTERNET. "Get a fucking life, all you people who care too much about Moe and her reckless behavior." A more rational defense is that the current MO of the site allows women to voice their own honest opinions and that censoring them for the sake of any chance stupid, impressionable readers could lower the candor of their writing. And this is where I am so very torn. On the one hand, yes, it's only a blog: everyone has one, even I have one for god's sake, but then again, isn't blogging part of new media? In my media studies classes, we had to read all about how the reality of the internet can be rationalized into just as solid a reality as, well, "real life." (One day I'll tell you all about how I had to read about a character in an online RPG who was raped and how the person behind the character wanted to press real legal charges.) And this isn't Maureen Tkacik's personal blog. It's Jezebel, a key part of the Gawker Media empire. It's a corporation that relies on advertisers for income, just like any print publication. Nobody would put up with a national newspaper saying something like, "Well, we just think condom-less sex is really great, and we're gonna keep on having it, and y'all are just so uncool for being concerned about diseases. We want to die YOUNG, like all the greats! We never said we were admirable, people!" Even if it was on the opinion pages, that shit just would.not.fly.

Whether they like it or not, a lot of people look up to Moe and (especially) Tracie Egan, a.k.a. Slut Machine. She's the ultimate hipster: hot but full-figured (fuck you, patriarchy!), sex-positive, fashionable, and so very ironic! On her own blog, One D at a Time, a commenter wrote something like, "Tracy [sic], I just lost my virginity tonight. As I was doing it, I thought to myself, 'I hope this is like what Tracie experiences!' Just know that a 16-year-old girl halfway around the world idolizes you." And trust me, this isn't outside the norm. After every Pot Psychology post, inevitably tons of girls and women say "OMGGZZZZ I LOVE YOU TRACIE!" "your eyeliner and bangs are so hotttt~1!!!!", etc.

So even though Moe and Tracie may not have asked to be role models, they inevitably are to some people. (Even I was lured into Slut Machine's persona at first: "Oh...she's so hot! And she's BFFs with Rich from fourfour! He does the best ANTM recaps!") Does this mean they have to act accordingly? I guess it echoes that tired old issue that pop stars and athletes have faced for decades.

I have no idea what the answer is. On the one hand, Jezebel is not just a little blog: it's a huge media entity. I'm way too lazy to even look up the numbers, but Jezebel was (is?) Gawker's fastest growing new addition. It's only been around for a year and I'd guess it's even more well-known than Gawker itself. On the other hand, I hate the idea of censoring oneself for how the masses might misinterpret things. Like that New Yorker cover. You know what? Most people, even little ole Republican housewives from Mid-western flyover states, understood the irony of that cover. Since I don't agree with those that say it shouldn't have been published, how can I turn around and criticize Jezebel's writers for being frank?

I guess I'm mostly just disappointed and saddened that Moe and Tracie are so personally irresponsible. Regardless of their status as bloggers, why are they so nonchalant about STDS? I'm not advocating abstinence or anything, I don't even think you need to be in a relationship with someone to sleep with them. But the way they treat sex in an effort to be cool, third-wave, sex-positive feminists makes me shudder. The parts of "Thinking and Drinking" where Moe said she was date raped and didn't think that much of it were awful to watch. It obviously affected her, but she seemed so adamant to deny the fact that the guy was a complete and utter dick. She even stayed friends with him after it happened! Tracie once famously said that she didn't tell a long-term boyfriend she had herpes until they were well into their relationship, because who cares about that one, anyway? It's just a few bumps, and practically everyone has it, y'all! And now this, the fact that Moe doesn't worry about contracting anything from random guys because she's statistically less likely to get anything serious.

I don't think Moe or Tracie are proud of what they've done in these cases, and they have admitted as much. But they initially, and sometimes subsequently, broadcast these attitudes without the humility that would soften the effect of their admissions. Tracie never apologizes, and Moe more often claims to have been misunderstood. The two are both so defensive, especially Tracie, and so very smug. I don't think less of them for their actions, but for how they choose to defend them in such a self-righteous, dare I say bitchy, manner.

Regarding these attitudes towards carefree sex,
when did it become cool to not worry about HIV? Transmission rates are on the rise, maybe because people stopped worrying about getting it. We've grown up in a generation that has watched Magic Johnson go from healthy to...still healthy, despite having HIV. The disease is now highly manageable (for about $600,000 per year), and I think that's sort of infiltrated people's consciousness. Coupled with the "It couldn't happen to me" ethos, this makes for a dangerous combination. I personally know tons of people who have had sex with strangers and didn't use any protection, neither birth control nor condoms. And that scares the shit out of me.

In conclusion, I blame abstinence-only education. Fuck you, Mr. Bush. (Sure, he didn't invent it, but he's kept abstinence-only ed nice and healthy by only funding schools that promote it.)

Your thoughts? Did anyone bother reading this? ...Bueller?

4 comments:

deexdeexdreamer said...

i'm very excited to read somewhere that lists heimstone and jezebel in one place (googling those respective interests got me here twice funnily)!

I'm no prude, but i used to ignore moe's flippant + sloppy posts, it really seemed there was this format of drudge news and a quasi-bigoted sweeping statement, and of late loong anecdotal bullshit.

Weirdly, i sort of started to like her after the thinking+drinking thing, cos even though she was awful('its like that holocaust poem...'), her personality gave some context to her style. Like she's one of those passive-agressive, rambling friends you might have who have issues and you apologise for, but are so super-earnest about their whole punk-rock philosphy it makes them kind of fluffier and less of a cold-blooded arse...

I think Trace might be leaving soon though

allison said...

I'm glad you found my blog!

I'm really with you about Moe. I think she's just so goddamn earnest in what she believes. She's so damaged, but it makes you feel like you're reading something that's pure honesty, like a diary.

Even though she pisses me off, I'm going to read her when she's at Gawker.

Tracie just seems so fucking too-cool-for-school about everything.

Anonymous said...

I agree and disagree with you on a few levels. I have to admit that I just started reading Jezebel daily even though I've know about it since last September. I actually got the chance to meet Moe when she came to my college and spoke, to women and men, about what she does on/for Jezebel. She was well aware that the site is a place of inspiration to young women and that some of the readers look up to her and take her word as the gospel, but she was quite clear (at least to me) that she doesn't see it that way and she continues to write and voice her opinion, even if it isn't popular. She doesn’t need to edit herself, but then that could lead to negative results. I took that sex without condoms article as a joke, since NRP made it seem like doing so means you're in a serious relationship and Moe turned their view around and took it somewhere else. Many of the comments on that post were joking too; “If having sex without a condom is the new engagement ring then I need to tell my bf we’re engaged!” and so on. And Tracie isn’t perfect either, but she admits that up front.

I don't know if we should force Moe and Tracie to be acceptable role models, because they aren't. They are real women and have ideas/beliefs that not everyone can stand behind, but that doesn't mean we should scold them and tell them to get in shape for the sake of others. I feel like Jezebel is a place to have fun and to discuss issues. I love Pot Psychology but I don't idolize Tracie or her lifestyle. It’s hilarious and should be seen as so. I don’t look at these women and think “Wow, one day I want to be just like them” but I do see how some readers are. So what do you do— do you edit the site with warnings and such telling readers that the writers at Jezebel aren’t perfect and shouldn’t be looked up to? Or do you just let it ride and hope that one day people will grow up and realize that Moe and Tracie have their own issues and problems just like everyone else. Personally, I'm old enough to read Jezebel, laugh, get angry, whatever, and then move on. What Moe and Tracie do is their job and their job isn't to preach about safe sex and other role model type topics, but I do see your concern.

allison said...

Thanks for your comments. I'm still conflicted about whether they should be responsible, since Jezebel is such a huge media site. And why do they have such fucked up attitudes in the first place?