Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘Gossip’ Category

Charlie Sheen’s UStream Adventure

Charlie Sheen’s inaugural vidcast may be the most effective anti-drug promotion ever filmed. Now we know the real reason Bree Olson bailed. She apparently saw the script in advance.

This video is an object lesson in celebrity failure, a cautionary tale for anyone who wants to follow Sheen into fame and fortune.

I don’t know where stardom starts, but it ends in Sheen’s Korner.

This is what it looks like when your family has abandoned you, all your real friends are gone, and there’s no one left to give you a reality check. You end up behind a desk in a seedy home office with nothing but your producer, your drug dealer, and your spare girlfriend to keep you company.

Everyone in that room was paid to be there. Watch the way they laugh at his jokes — the microsecond pause before each laugh — too loud, too long and too clear for the joke that preceded it. Watch the random, disconnected way everyone behaves, like they’ve been in Sheen’s orbit so long they don’t even have free will — stuck waiting for the next bit of random wordplay, as if the last one to laugh is going to have their allowance cut off.

This is what the end of the road looks like. This is the new face of #despair.

Sheen’s debut is particularly poignant because PUA philosopher Roissy had just finished anointing Sheen as the super-alpha, the gold standard by which all lesser men should be judged.

There’s no doubt that Sheen handled that interview like an alpha. But now, scriptless, directionless, surrounded by sycophants, all that manic energy is gone.

Sheen’s previous performance was a kind of combat, a kind of verbal judo, fought against an intimidated reporter who never stood a chance. But now, with no opponent in front of him, with no challenge to rise to, Sheen looks like what he is — a lonely old drug addict, sliding into middle age.

The sponsors will RUN, not walk away from him now, and his career is effectively over. He may still have an Ozzie-style comeback left in him, but that’s many years away, after he spends a long, painful stretch #winning rehab.

@charliesheen needs to send his next tweet from a hospital, and that gap-toothed enabler on his left needs to be in jail.

Written by Michael B. Duff

March 5, 2011 at 22:54

Posted in Gossip

My Rex Sorgatz fame clock

I can’t believe I missed this, the Spencer Morgan puff piece about Rex Sorgatz.

I latched onto Rex last year as a kind of reluctant champion for oversharing. I stuck with him because I see his progression as a kind of pseudo-underdog story.

Internet whiz kid who’s not really a kid anymore. Reconstructed nerd and unlikely ladies’ man tromping in from some godawful village in the Midwest? A self-confessed overshare addict with a history of self-indulgent blog posts?

New York should hate this man. New York should destroy this man. New York should chew this man up and leave nothing but hipster bones and a pair of black frames.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael B. Duff

March 12, 2009 at 13:27

Posted in Gossip

All the sad, young unemployed bloggers

Four of my favorite bloggers joined the ranks of the unemployed this month.

Alex Balk and Choire Sicha of Radar Online lost their jobs last Friday, as Radar Magazine folded its print operation and turned its web operation over to the editor of the National Enquirer.

Staffers were locked out of their computers and put out on the street so fast, they didn’t even have time to steal office supplies.

Ana Marie Cox lost her stipend for campaign coverage and started a pledge drive so she could continue on the trail with McCain.

Defamer’s video blogger Molly McAleer lost her job in the latest round of Gawker layoffs.

These are four of the best writers on the web. So why are they lounging around in their pajamas today, begging for donations and scrambling for freelance work?

Option 1 – Duff is wrong – Intellectual honesty demands that I start with this one. Maybe these writers that I love so much are only funny to me — only funny to a misanthropic microculture that only spends money on DVDs and frozen yogurt.

Option 2 – Everybody’s broke – Entertainment sites exist on the economic fringe, supported with “luxury surplus dollars” that are now being spent on mortgage payments and CEO severance packages. By the end of the year the only growth industries will be in medicine, law and canned food.

Option 3 – Advertisers haven’t figured out the web yet – The people who run companies are age 40 to 60. The people who visit these web sites are 18 to 34. Online sales professionals aren’t just facing a technology gap; they’re also facing a generation gap, trying to explain the relevance of ads that, to the uninitiated, are just pictures on a screen.

The generation gap also affects perception of content. Cutting-edge web sites are quirky, profane, intimate and mean — operating right on the legal edge. This writing style is likely to annoy, frighten, or soar over the heads of corporate advertisers, driving them to “safer” content, even if it is from the National Enquirer.

Option 4 – Bad management – As Nick Denton admitted in the Gawker layoff announcement, “Writers on all of our sites have done exactly what we asked them to: work harder than the competition and grow the audience. It’s my commercial judgment that’s been at fault.”

It’s easy to blame management for this. A lot of people resort to freshmen-level Marxism when they hear news like this. Denton and company make great villains, but I think it’s more useful to examine the fundamental assumptions that drive their business.

The Gawker sites introduced a controversial bonus system last year that tied blogger pay to popularity — granting bonuses based on the number of pageviews that their posts generated. Writers lost a chunk from their regular salaries but became eligible for big bonuses when one of their posts struck oil.

The model worked, increasing Gawker site traffic by 69% in a year. But advertising revenue didn’t keep pace with page views, forcing Denton to cut bonuses and raise base pay.

It seems like a simple formula: talent = pageviews = $$$. But now those rules are changing. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between popularity and revenue. Advertisers are running scared and site managers are struggling to keep up.

Option 5 – “Balk is a jerk” – Celebrity bloggers are a new phenomenon. Pop stars are manufactured by record companies and literary stars still work within a kind of guild system, but blogging isn’t a true art form yet. Bloggers have made great strides, but the Internet is still a media ghetto.

In a just world, bloggers like Balk and Sicha would be rock stars, but the powers that be don’t respect their medium yet. Mainstream pundits vacillate between contempt and hyperbole. They know the Internet is important, but they don’t understand why. Contempt for the Internet is so ingrained, even their Internet hype stories sound condescending.

This climate makes it hard for bloggers, even great ones, to charge what they’re worth.

Huffington Post vlogger Jason Linkins described Radar Online as “an island of misfit toys.” Brilliant people who didn’t really belong in traditional media found a home there. Radar picked up a handful of Gawker castoffs (alternately referred to as Gawker Exiles or Gawker Survivors) and hosted a little utopia online. And like most utopias, this one was short-lived. Ana Marie Cox calls this crew “the Typhoid Mary’s of media.”

Cox said, “We are not good employees. No one will hire us. The world is too square. We are a bunch of round things.”

Maybe these folks really are too quirky for corporate media. But I prefer to believe Option 6.

Option 6 – Superstar bloggers are ahead of their time – To paraphrase John Edwards, there are two Internets. First we have the mainstream, casual, prime-time Internet. These folks think of the Internet as a supplement to TV and radio. They get their news from CNN and the Today Show and visit web sites they see on TV.

They surf major news sites and circulate kitty pictures in email. They use Google to check movie times and look up trivial pursuit answers, but they don’t really belong to the Internet. Their tastes, their lifestyles and their media expectations froze in 1996.

The other group has adopted the Internet as a fundamental part of their lives. They host blogs, use RSS feeds and keep up with friends on Twitter. These people are connected 24/7. They send text messages while they sleep and check email before they put their pants on.

They are young, smart and upwardly-mobile, but there aren’t enough of them yet. They’re hyper-literate, hyper-critical and hyper-connected. These are true alpha consumers. They want to be first with a new gadget, first to review a great book, first to complain about a bad movie and the first to celebrate when an old brand does something new.

They’re sick of the old media paradigm and are desperate to see something new. The key to attracting this group is subversion. You can’t just sneak your commercial onto YouTube three days early and call it “viral.” You can’t just put your marketing copy on Twitter and pretend you’re 2.0.

You have to change the way you talk to them, and the quickest way to win them over is to slaughter a sacred cow. It’s not enough to put a young model in a hot new dress. You have to pan the camera over and show the ripped jeans that she changed out of.

You have to establish a context of subversion in your ads and on your web site, to prove you’re not taking yourself too seriously. The Internet generation rebels against anything that smacks of pretension or self-importance.

These people know all the standard PR tricks and are violently allergic to corporate boilerplate. That’s why sites like Gawker and Radar are so popular, even when they’re raw. Generation Y is sick of committee thinking and committee writing. Blogging is the antidote to this. In this context of subversion, sloppy links and strange word choices can actually work in your favor, adding to the raw, intimate appeal of your site.

This style goes against 50 years of advertising guidelines and a century of professional journalism.

I think these bloggers are suffering because they got it right too soon, giving Internet alpha consumers what they wanted before advertisers were ready to pay for it.

Our economy is contracting right now. Everybody is holding on to their cash, scaling back and preparing for the worst. But the downturn won’t last forever. Internet alphas may be turning to cheaper luxuries, but the fundamentals are still the same.

Maybe you’ll be selling frozen yogurt instead of iPods this year, but the cool kids still need their snark fix, and you can’t catch smart readers with lame writing.

I think this is where Denton went wrong, and where Radar is about to go wrong. Denton changed the focus of his site, alienating his core audience and casting a wider net. Gawker sites dominated the Internet alpha market and hit a ceiling. Denton’s consumers were high-loyalty and high-value, but there weren’t enough of them to keep his numbers up.

He tried to expand his appeal and bring in the TMZ crowd. It worked. Pageviews went crazy but these new visitors had no particular loyalty to Gawker or its community. They were just clicking on shiny things, killing time between Lolcats.

That’s what happens when you cast a wide net. You get more fish, but quality suffers. Gawker pageviews skyrocketed, but the quality of its product and the cachet of its brand went down.

I’m not trying to bash Denton here. Commercial blogs are not vanity projects and they are not charity. Publishers have to strike a balance between quality and quantity of users.

Focus too tight and the audience will be too small to support you. Cast the net too wide and your loyal readers will leave. It’s a delicate balance and no one has it right yet.

All I know is that a dozen of the best writers on the Internet are facing unemployment this month. The future of journalism is strung out in a series of New York apartments right now, ready to work for a fraction of what they’re worth.

What happened to all those obnoxious Internet millionaires? Does anybody have any money left?

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 29, 2008 at 14:42

Posted in Culture, Gawker, Gossip

My Wonkette Story

Still can’t sleep, so I’m going to tell my Wonkette story.

Technology has basically given me a new way to stalk Ana Marie Cox today, so this seems like a good time to recout my (fleeting and pathetic) brush with net.fame.

I like to tell people I almost interned for Wonkette.

I used to send in items from time to time, when Ana Marie ran the place. Dishing dirt on Libertarians, mostly. She linked me a couple times and I thought I was hot stuff. This is less impressive now that I know the reality of her working conditions.

She was working in a Nick Denton sweatshop at the time, struggling to fill a ridiculous daily quota. When I got my first link, I was beside myself with joy, assuming this had something to do with the cleverness of my pitch or the quality of my humor.

The truth is, catch a Wonkette editor during a slow news cycle and she’ll post pictures of your cat with a political caption underneath, if she thinks it’ll keep the lights on.

Ana put out a call for interns and asked them to prove their worth by composing a haiku about Al Gore.

I got her attention by ignoring the rules and offering…never mind what I offered. The point is, it worked and she told me I had made the first cut. I spent two hours in a joy/fear coma and started to seriously consider a move to DC.

I didn’t understand the mechanics of internships, of course. Jobs like this are not meant for hardworking Texans who pay their own bills. They’re meant for brats with trust funds, milking that last bit of parental goodwill as they run off to “find themselves” in New York or DC.

I was too old, too scared and too poor to chase a job meant for college kids, so I told Ana I was “just kidding” and wept into my pillow until my ambition faded to a more reasonable level.

Looking back on it, I wonder how many guys were in my position — frantically feeding links to Wonkette in hopes that Ana or someone like her would wave a magic wand and invite them into the big leagues.

Political geeks are a sad, desperate lot. It doesn’t take much to win our love, and it doesn’t take much to keep us going. One little sentence of encouragement was worth a dozen tips from me.

I don’t blame her for exploiting her appeal. Working for Nick Denton is like being in a prison movie from the 70s. Gawker editors will do awful things to keep the hits coming, if only to avoid the lash.

I was never very close to the world of high-stakes blogging, but I see Ana and Rachel eating cupcakes and I wonder what might have been.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 28, 2008 at 05:20

Posted in Gossip, Politics

Miss New Jersey blackmail pics revealed

The Internet is buzzing about Miss New Jersey this afternoon, and the strictly PG-rated blackmail pics that threatened to take her crown. Judges condemned her for acting “not in a ladylike manner” but ultimately decided she could keep her title.

Amy Polumbo was blackmailed by someone calling themselves The Committee to Save Miss America. They grabbed the photos off her semi-private Facebook site and clumsily tried to ruin her life. No evidence yet, but this stunt has “jilted stalker” written all over it.

Gossip blog TMZ has the pics. I've seen sexier stuff in a Sears catalog, but senior citizens and church deacons may wish to avoid them.

Written by Michael B. Duff

July 12, 2007 at 17:00

Posted in Gossip

Jack Nicholson and the Giant Sandwich

Take the word “Nicholson” out of that headline and it would look like a children's book title. Imagine you're the most powerful actor in Hollywood. You've made a hundred movies, made millions of dollars, and dated the most beautiful women of your generation. When all the debauchery is said and done, what would you do?

Personally, I would sail down to France and eat a giant sandwich. Jack Nicholson apparently had the same idea.

Notice the progression here: sandwich, beer, cigarette. That's how a man enjoys a sandwich.

Jack, for boldly being yourself, enjoying your sandwich in the sun, without regard for critics, sunburns, or clicking shutters, we salute you.

P.S. Hey Karen, what's the etiquette for eating sandwiches on a boat? Is there a dress code?

P.P.S. Thanks to Jason Rhode for bringing this vital issue to my attention.

Written by Michael B. Duff

July 12, 2007 at 10:41

Posted in Gossip

Paris Hilton's new outfit

So, what should we talk about today? Deep-linked essays about foreign policy and unrest in the Middle East? Lucid commentary about the Democratic presidential debate? The latest/greatest toy from Microsoft? Our slow, certain demise from global warming?

Nice try. There's only one thing that matters on the Internet right now, and it ain't just a city in France. Paris Hilton is going to jail.

Not since Martha Stewart put up a pair of designer curtains in a West Virginia prison cell has a celebrity incarceration been so newsworthy, or so throughly enjoyed.

The gang at Defamer is positively gleeful; Sarah Silverman is taking cheap shots; Paris's mug shot is #6 on Google Trends; and TMZ has the video.

And if you think all this is too trivial, remember, choosey terrorists choose Google! When it absolutely, positively has to blow up overnight.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 4, 2007 at 13:54

Posted in Gossip