Ezra Butler wonders whether allowing a vacuous smut merchant to dominate Gawker is smart long-term thinking, offering an anatomy of Brian Moylan’s recent hate campaign against a hotel chain. Does Moylan’s toxic brand of polemical blogging indicate where the site is headed?
With the advent of simplified online publishing platforms, we were warned by ‘experts’ like Jeff Jarvis that traditional journalism would decline, largely because with modern innovation anyone can become a ‘journalist’.
But after numerous dastardly experimentations in ‘citizen journalism’ and ‘blogging’, the masses have now taken their place as ‘curators’ on sites like Tumblr, Reddit and, everyone’s new favourite darling, Pinterest. People have realised that they do not enjoy ‘content creation’: it is too time-consuming and difficult. Commenting on other people’s content is much simpler.
At the same time, large blogging sites, from tech to gossip, are arriving at a sad (and, most tragic of all, wrong-headed) realisation they can only hope for profitability by demanding a constant stream of drivel from their writers. Friends in the industry have lamented to me, in confidence, how much they feel like a modern-day coal worker, churning out page-view grabbing stories from morning ’til night for a pittance.
Recently, the staff at Gawker decided to try something new. As their ranks overflow with English graduates, they initiated a practice where one staff writer a day writes as many ‘traffic-whoring’ pieces as possible, and the rest are able to focus on their respective fortes.
The results are horrifying. Just yesterday, Hamilton Nolan was seen to publish everything from rants by dogs to ugly baby photos, freeing up the writer pool to report on the liberal political leanings of Muppets and how Vassar accidentally accepted 76 applicants.
For the most part, I enjoy this experiment. It is honest, and even entertaining.
The Washington Post announced in 2010 a project called ‘Top Secret America’. It had secretly been funding an arm of investigative journalists who would have access to a database culled from public records and the freedom to research and expose misdoings at will.
When reading the depth and analysis in the various pieces, one cannot but wonder how a writer paid per post would ever be able to match the level of research and analysis. It seems Gawker has opted out of even asking the question. Indeed, things seem to be going off the rails at Gawker. Let me explain.
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Received wisdom tells us that the inability to discern the differences between ‘investigative journalism’, ‘debate’, ‘news’, ‘opinion’, ‘yellow journalism’, ‘sensationalism’ and ‘polemic’ is now widespread, partly owing to failings in the educations system. The old adage, ‘if it’s on the Internet, it must be true,’ is alarmingly comfortable to some.
When reading a polemic, one usually learns more about the writer and his beliefs than anything of substance about the subject. In a sense, it is the worst of all worlds: absent even the cursory content of a TechCrunch post, polemics on the big blogs serve no purpose beyond aggrandising their authors.
This is the unhappy position Gawker now finds itself in: specifically, with the curious character of Brian Moylan.
There are a few characteristics typical to the genre of polemic, including unjustified nitpicking of minutiae. In this particular brand of literature, conjecture is heralded, and external proof in the form of an anonymous source, real or imagined, is all that is needed to make any case.
When new data comes to light, the polemicist will not change his opinion or issue corrections: rather, he will automatically convey that previously unknown information in a negative light, questioning its veracity and the motives of the messenger.
The writer will include numerous personal exhortations and viewpoints, sandwiched between only semi-pertinent incontrovertible fact. He will repeat generalisations and truisms to establish a point; when the generalisations prove true, he will tout himself as ‘clairvoyant’.
To better understand this practice, one need not look any further than Mr Moylan’s ‘gay rage’ concerning the still-unbuilt ‘OUT NYC’ hotel. Readers will forgive this diversion into obscure homosexual culture, as it is instructive.
Over the past two months, Mr Moylan has converted his soapbox at Gawker into a platform to spew five vitriolic and egregious blog posts, based solely on conjecture and his over-active sexual imagination.
The ‘OUT NYC’ advertises itself as gay, but ‘heterofriendly’. In other words, any guest would feel comfortable staying at any of the chain’s hotels in hot spots like Berlin, Barcelona and Buenos Aires, but a homosexual guest would feel especially so.
Without any apparent provocation and absent any troublesome facts, Moylan’s initial post was written on the imagined premise that the cost of the rooms is ‘probably too expensive for [the average gay reader of Gawker]‘. His asinine suggestions of cheaper accommodations for a young gay visiting New York include a youth hostel, a bathhouse, Central Park, impromptu (or arranged) anonymous sex at a local resident’s domicile, or simply not sleeping.
The sin of the then-unnamed hotel appeared at this juncture to be that it was aimed toward ‘old rich gays who have things like savings accounts and real jobs’ and not ‘hot young boys just rolling into Port Authority with only a cowboy hat and a dream’.
When I visited the Axel Hotel chain website for a hypothetical trip for two to Barcelona (Axel used to own the OUT NYC), I learned that it would actually cost less than €50 per person per day, for a six day trip. A very reasonable price for a hotel aimed toward a niche market.
After the hotel website was launched and the name revealed, Moylan declared the newly announced ‘gay hotel in New York [to be] an utter embarrassment to those of us that live here.’ That sentiment was partially due to the silly name ‘The OUT NYC’. According to Moylan, no self-respecting New Yorker actually calls their home ‘NYC’, as opposed to Angelenos who refer to their city as ‘LA’.
I attempted to find similar rhetoric against either ‘The London NYC’ or ‘The MAve NYC’ hotels, to no avail. In their years of existence, no one has thought to publish a post, article or comment condemning their seemingly idiotic choice of moniker.
(Incidentally, the simple explanation, for locals not referring to New York as ‘NYC’ is because they either refer to Manhattan as ‘the City’ or say the two syllable ‘New York’ as opposed to the three syllable ‘NYC’.)
Moylan evidently then took offence at the artistic renderings at the hotel, annoyed that the courtyard depiction did not include svelte lesbians. Heaven forfend. A brief perusal of the website shows other images do, in fact, include women, but leaving them out enabled Mr Moylan to paint the hotel as a foetal misogynist.
In his penultimate paragraph, Brian shared an unfortunate personal aside about the club. As a member of the New York queer elite, he prognosticated how he would ‘find [himself] at some fundraiser here in the coming months’ but, fret not, because he will be ‘rolling [his] eyes the whole time’. His selfless and charitable nature overwhelms me.
Moylan weaves the themes of previous posts into new ones, conceitedly imagining his readers are loyal enough to notice. Having established his thesis, when mentioning the OUT NYC hotel in subsequent articles, he chose to affix ‘the embarrassment’, and a link to his own previous work. He created a universe of apparently supportive links to justify his own psychoses about the horrors that the seedy sex-crazed underworld The OUT NYC will unleash.
This is apparently what passes for campaigning journalism at Gawker.
As stated earlier, one of the signs of a polemic is how the writer responds when new information arises. The shocking premise of the next instalment in Moylan’s exposé was the revelation that The OUT NYC will actually offer some hostel-style rooming options, for a very fair rate. The reader is immediately assured by Moylan that any magnanimity will be for purely nefarious purposes.
Young men will be ‘sussed’ out and offered this cheaper rate and room only if they are ‘comely’. This will happen either at the front desk, or by employing sneaky social media snooping. It seems, at least, that Mr Moylan’s former fear of ‘hot young boys in cowboy hats’ being unable to find a place to stay is allayed by the hotel.
The reader is presented with a now-common practice in the hotel industry, viz., offering special deals to visitors with high social capital, and is furthermore educated how the intent of the target of derision is actually more vile than previously thought.
The only issue is, Moylan feverishly imagines that these men will be used as items of sexual favour. The article’s coda revisits his oft-mentioned theme, namely how The OUT NYC will be a ‘glorified bathhouse’, aimed to peddle sex to the rich and not-so-attractive.
As a product of Moylan’s over-excited id, such a viewpoint is not shocking. One of his highest viewed posts in recent months was a list of ‘The Secrets Gay Men Don’t Want Straight People to Know’. The seventh secret revealed was that gays have sex wherever and whenever they want. For informational purposes, he mentions ten different places a heterosexual may have not known gays cruise for sex.
Another recent published work, which dovetails with that one, was entitled ‘Who I Would Fuck in the NFL Playoffs Tomorrow’. I must warn that reading the list of 29 players (to be fair, Mr Moylan is only attracted to 27 of them) may be too sordid for readers of a respectable magazine.
Cursory linguistic analyses of Moylan’s works reveal some unsettling things about his psychopathology. When writing about his informant, he refers to him as a ‘mole’. When describing how he entered the hotel’s ‘Friends & Family’ launch party, the verb he employs is ‘weaseled’. It is not recorded whether or not he ended up going pop.
The imagery of a subterranean creature really highlights the image Moylan is, subconsciously, seeking to promote. The weasel is considered the bane of poultry farmers, because they burrow underground and eat whatever is being raised. Neither the mole nor the weasel builds or adds to society. They weaken and destroy.
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Writers in the genre of polemic employ what boxers call the ‘one-two punch’. As their sole purpose is to weaken the target of their derision, they magnify any and every imperfection. Either blow by itself is strong, but when coupled together, they can be debilitating.
As an almost immediate follow-up to his skewering of the hotel lounge opening party, Moylan highlighted the cardinal and unforgiveable offence of a typo on a VIP card distributed by the resident party promoter in a post titled ‘New York’s New Gay Disco Can’t Even Spell Its Own Name Right’. An everyday mistake is somehow turned into proof of a deeper incompetency in the system.
But it seems Moylan only takes accuracy so far. Interesting to readers is how, two days prior, Moylan (in his usual febrile attempt to garner page-views) published his Grindr profile on Gawker. His advertised age in that screenshot is 32.
Alas, Brian had some time before celebrated his 33rd birthday at a party playing host to an ‘attractive crowd’ and a gyrating moustached ‘stripping Hitler’, as the briefest of searches would have revealed. In his case, I trust the typo was made with intent.
After identifying a series of pieces to be insidious, the next step a reader must do is understand the root of the hatred.
While Moylan began his writing career working his way up for niche LGBT publications, he has installed himself as house gay at what is, arguably, one of the largest gossip blog networks in the world. His new niche seems to be ‘explaining’ gay culture to the heterosexual world. In this mission he seems not to be doing homosexuals any favours.
He cried foul when New York was not included in The Advocate’s ‘Gayest City in America’ list, disagreeing with the methodology. He has a definition of homosexual culture in which he is the only expert.
Perhaps Moylan is the totemic gay ‘weasel’, a la famed ethnologist and anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose isomorphic qualities include a penchant for underground culture, while surreptitiously feeding off other’s work. (One of the most telling qualities of the weasel, of course, is the whiskered face.)
He thus polemicises against a hotel which, for all intents and purposes, has done nothing real to raise his ire. All on the basis of imagined conjecture. All to maintain some ideal of gay life in New York that Mr Moylan feels the mere presence of the OUT NYC hotel threatens.
Can this simply be about page views? In which case, what is Gawker thinking? Is it to cement his already legitimised status among the queer elite in New York, to revenge some unmentioned wrongdoing or some other opprobrious end?
I am confident that many of Mr Moylan’s prophesies will come true. I am certain that consenting adults will meet in the courtyard, the lounge or in the pool area and decide to have consensual sex. I am sure that, at some point, a member of the staff will have an affair with a guest.
Because all those things occur every day in hotels, straight and gay, around the world. Mr Moylan will seize upon those happenings, maniacally blowing each episode out of proportion. These posts will provide fodder for future posts to link back to, resulting in more page views and more perceived authority.
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The polemicist does not have to prove fact, rather, he creates an overwhelming preponderance of doubt.
Over the span of five blog posts, Moylan has leapt from one issue to another, critiquing cost of hotel room, the hotel name, target hotel clientele, hotel lounge coolness factor, attractiveness of hotel staff, use of social media and technology within the hotel, effectiveness of the hotel party promoter’s spell-checker, the size of the dance floor, the gender of the fictitious characters in an early artistic mockup, the originality of the concept of a gay club, and the unique construction of the VIP room in the club, to name a few criticisms.
The reader is unable to point to any one specific ill, but subconsciously associates The OUT NYC with evil incarnate. As an arbiter of taste, Mr Moylan has proclaimed that The OUT NYC hotel, lounge and club ‘will never be cool’. Should we trust an individual who prefers dive bars and proudly sports a moustache? I don’t know. And in any case, that is an ad hominem attack on my part, and fodder for a future essay.
What seems remarkable from only this brief exegesis is that Gawker must do better to police its content if it wants to be more than an online curiosity. It ought to be reinventing journalism. But this, this is just worrisome drivel from an obnoxious human being who offends other homosexuals almost as much as he does everyone else.
The joke’s over. Nick Denton, Gawker’s founder, should step in.
Editor’s Note: a previous version of this article indicated that The OUT NYC was operated by the Axel hotel group. We understand that this is not the case.