Empowered Powerlessness | Gimme Schalter №15
In the blink of an eye — or in the panicked flop-sweat of an incompetent rich man — decades of brilliant, stupid, funny, tragic, important, meaningless, original, and copy-pasted digital-media work was wiped off the Internet this week.
According to Gawker, G/O Media leadership (almost certainly CEO Jim Spanfeller) ordered the images be removed from nearly all articles on G/O Media sites (including The Onion, Deadspin, Kotaku, Jalopnik, etc.) that pre-dated the company’s purchase by private-equity firm Great Hill Partners. Everything from original art and illustrations done or commissioned by in-house staff to the raison d’etre of the legendary Deadspin post, “Butthole Eaten at Lions Tailgate,” gone.
The loss is practically incalculable, especially for writers and readers of a certain age. The current stable of G/O Media sites contains months, years, decades of full-time work from many of the best and brightest writers and editors of the Aughties and Aughtteens. Much of that work has now been degraded or destroyed.
The long tail of this is going to keep whipping and stinging for years; we’ll feel it every time we pull up some seminal piece of journalism (like Deadspin’s exposé of Manti Te’o’s fake dead girlfriend/real catfish) or legendary meme (Shirtless Biden Washes Trans-Am in White House Driveway) without the pictures that made them indelible.
As former Deadspin editor Tom Scocca pointed out, that this happened the day after Gawker reported BuzzFeed removed many of their own images seems unlikely to be a coincidence, meaning all of this work was digitally burned in a baseless snap-judgement by someone who knows nothing but money and fear:
The transition from paper archives to digital ones was supposed to fix this. Teachers and librarians alike constantly warned us 80s kids to take good care of the volumes we read — or eventually that knowledge, those stories, would be lost forever. But computers were coming! Once we digitized everything, we could make infinite byte-perfect copies of everything.
But it turns out that file formats change, server bills stop getting paid, and vulture capitalists buy valuable websites they don’t personally value. What’s getting preserved from the Aughties and Aughtteens, and what’s being lost, isn’t any more of a meritocracy than what got published in the first place. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine helps, but often the exact thing you’re looking for (a sound file, a Flash game) is exactly what it can’t back up.
Anyone who’s been playing the #content game for any length of time has been hit by this in some way. My 2013 study on how NFL players age differently depending on what position they play is just thousands of words describing charts that don’t exist. I accidentally let thelionsinwinter.com lapse years ago, and now the site of the blog that launched my writing career is some Indonesian website with stock photos, stock text, a stock theme, and an “About Us” page claiming to be about home interior products?
[Don’t worry, old friends: The Lions in Winter still exists; it’s just got an ugly .blogspot. in the URL (and all the internal links are broken).]
20-odd years after the internet empowered people to Overthrow The Gatekeepers, money and power again hold the keys to all of our information.
So, we’re back to where we started: Schools and libraries serving as a decentralized, distributed, expert-administrated backup system for our entire culture. Old and new physical texts being curated and cared for, a cornucopia of digital accesses and archives, and all the equipment needed to browse it all.
But they’re under attack, too.
A Texas State Representative trying to make a name for himself in the state Attorney General race has announced an investigation into school libraries across the state. He’s demanding all public school districts reference a list of about 850 books, and report if they have any copies, how many copies they have, and how much was spent to acquire them.
What books are on the list? Anything a Texas Republican trying to make a name for himself might not want kids to see. Everything from academic works on racial justice to a delightful little YA novel about a girl with an amusement-park summer job, a crush, and a best friend are on the list. It’s bizarrely exhaustive and particular in cataloging anything containing factual information about, or positive representation of, Black or queer identities in America:
It’s easy to see where it could go from here: already-overworked, public-school employees compiling lists, grandstanding about how many tax dollars were spent promoting “critical race theory” or “the gay agenda” to children, statewide bonfires of any book any marginalized kid might get just a little comfort or clarity from.
With a grassroots resistance effort from those local marginalized communities and school employees, plus liberal and progressive Texans lending their support, and some national funding and protest campaigns to back them up if need be, this specific effort probably won’t get any farther than the headlines. In fact, it might spawn a more interesting investigation into who ID’d all the books, and how they went about it. It’d make a pretty good reading list!
But this appalling legislative overreach is just a funhouse-mirror version of the same conservative, censorious, authoritarian demands being made at school-board meetings all over the country. These attacks on teachers, children, journalists, researchers, and artists are happening literally everywhere — and if next-level book-banning like this succeeds in Texas, it’ll be coming to your state next.
If you ever doubt that words have power, or that representation matters, look no further than the lengths the rich and powerful will go to erase journalism, storytelling, or art that reveals the truth of the world as it is, or inspires people to make it better.
100 Five-Star Reviews for THREE & OUT?
This week, the great Peter King was kind enough to join my NFL podcast, Three & Out. My co-hosts, Michael Schottey and Samantha Bunten, joined me to ask Peter about Jon Gruden, Deshaun Watson, the Arizona Cardinals and lots lots more. As always, he had plenty of great info, opinions, and insight to share — like this musing on the Washington Football Team investigation:
We’ve been doing Three & Out for almost a year, and it’s really starting to grow. We’ve got some REALLY exciting projects in the works, and you’ll read about them here soon enough. But right now, our focus is on our upcoming 100th episode.
All of our iTunes/Apple Podcasts reviews are five stars, because the show is freaking sweet. But we’ve only got 37 of them, and we’d like to get to 100 before Episode 100 drops!
So please: If you’re reading this now, take a second and leave a five-star review. You can even listen to the Peter King episode, or subscribe, while you’re there! I’m not greedy! But please, at least help us out with a five-star review.
The phrase “cancel culture” has been talked so overwhelmingly to death that even the people who still use it unironically hardly ever use it.
But somehow, the voices of those actually doing the canceling — the fans who’ve abandoned creators over intolerable beliefs or behavior — have barely been heard. Grimes did an excellent job of centering the emotions of people who’ve cut out a part of their own identity because they felt they had no other choice.
October Gale is a gifted young artist (and also my daughter), and she has blessed the universe with her conception of those weirdly specific and heteronormative T-shirts, as they might exist inside the Dragon Ball story universe:
- “The 7 Best Games to Play in Laundromats When It’s Dad’s Custody Weekend,” by Dia Lacina for Paste Magazine
Speaking of working for Bleacher Report in the early-and-mid Aughtteens, this right here is a ranked-items listicle that proves the form can be every bit as well-crafted and creatively inspired as any other kind of short-form non-fiction.
Lacina, an outstanding games critic and journalist, wrote this with the sensibility and emotional resonance of a personal essay. I know exactly when my dad left my mom (Christmas Eve, 1982, I was 15 months old), and he never took me to a laundromat. But this intersection of society and technology — peak-divorce-rate America, post-crash arcade-machine ubiquity — created indelible moments for kids of a certain micro-generation.
Whether that’s your generation or not, you’ll enjoy this one.
- Emilie Kouatchou taking her bows after becoming the first Black woman to portray Christine Daaé in “Phantom of the Opera”
I’m sorry. This is a Tweet, of a video, screencapped from the one originally posted by the “Broadway Belters” Instagram account — because we live in a technological dreamland, but also a technological hellscape.
But the point is, joy. Delight:
I’ve tried this every couple of years since, like, 2009. The closest I’ve ever come to a “win” was in the spring of 2019, when I used Camp NaNoWriMo as a springboard to draft around 40,000 words of my currently-in-revision-limbo first draft of CODEX 17.
But I’ve got a revised outline for my new YA fantasy project, codenamed “A&A,” and a clear and obvious time window opening right now to get cracking on it. Here’s the working tagline:
He’s a moody human prince, sent away to Elf Camp to learn how to ride and shoot and hunt. She’s an immortal elf princess who’s better than him at everything, itching to get out of the woods and go on some real adventures.
Everyone’s telling them falling for each other would be a terrible idea — and everyone is absolutely right.
I’m actually going to shoot for a full draft, 70,000-plus words, but hopefully I at least get close to actually doing The Thing. Once this slapdash first draft is finished, I’ll have two book projects — and I can decide which one I push forward on.
[NOTE: In last week’s issue, I used an incorrect pronoun for Xiran Jay Xhao. I fixed it in the online edition, but could not un-send the emails. I deeply regret, and apologize for, the error.]