by Lana Swartz
Last Spring, Cat Marnell left her post at xoJane.com. Although her job title had been “Beauty and Health Director,” her posts had increasingly been devoted to her own drug addiction, which seemed to be spiraling out of control. xoJane’s parent company required that Marnell go into rehab or resign, and Marnell did not want to go to rehab. Marnell was hired almost immediately by Vice.com as a “Drugs Correspondent” and given her own column. Although the move by Vice was controversial, it was, in a way, good business sense: Marnell was the most-read and most-commented-upon writer on xoJane, and her self-destructive behavior only served to produce more traffic. In an industry supported by advertising pageviews, Vice was eager to bank on what I call the “schadenfreude economy” and absorb the revenue Marnell’s meltdown would generate.
Cat Marnell Gives Beauty Advice
Many independent bloggers seem to have to made the same calculation as Vice. For example, Heather Armstrong, who blogs on Dooce.com, has been labeled both “queen of the mommy bloggers” and “world’s most hated blogger.” Armstrong claims to have 100,000 readers a day, but it is difficult to say how many think of her as the latter and are motivated to read her intensely personal posts out of disdain. Happy to cash-in on the schadenfreude (and to send a kiss-off message to these detractors), Armstrong has created a “Monetizing the Hate” section on her site. Covered with banner ads, the page features hundreds of examples of her most vicious hate mail and comments– which she receives quite regularly.
Dooce “Monetizes the Hate”
The bloggers and forum members on GetOffMyInternets.com (or GOMI, for short) know this “schandenfreude economy” well. The site is devoted to mocking fashion, food, lifestyle, and parenting bloggers. The implied thesis of GOMI is that those who desire to publicly display and monetize every detail of their personal lives are likely to be, to put it bluntly, horrible human beings. Indeed, these bloggers provide plenty of fodder: endless humblebrags, plenty of racist and sexist gaffes, frequent barely-veiled pro-anorexia innuendo, and many pictures of offspring looking miserable after long photoshoots. GOMI is also interested in the often cut-throat meta-processes of the personal blogging business, and it chronicles dust-ups between bloggers and their commenters, sponsors, affiliate programs, and host platforms. Although it is unrelentingly snarky and sometimes even cruel, GOMI seems to have the conscience of a satirist: it targets not the most embarrassing or most vulnerable bloggers, but the most successful and smug, that is, those deemed to do the most violence to fellow women.
Caption: GOMI on Appropriateness and Politics
GOMI members are aware that by reading the blogs they hate, they are contributing to their financial support. But by reading the GOMI blog instead, they can still follow the “highlights” of their least favorite blogs without supplying them with page views. Recently, GOMI members decided to push the concept further. First, a group of posters decided to collectively support each other to quit reading widely-loathed blogger Kath of Kath Eats Real Food (or Kerf, as they called her), whom they felt was “smart enough to figure out where her traffic comes from” and therefore intentionally “baited haters.” Unable to completely “detoxify,” one forum member began posting humorous recaps of Kerf’s posts. In part justified as a political boycott because Kerf accepts sponsorship from an insurance company that was alleged to deny coverage to women with breast cancer, the recapper began her own GOMI-affiliated blog, Smugnom.com. For over 100 days and counting, Smugnom has featured thorough, brutal recaps of each of Kerf’s daily posts.
Smugnom Mocks Kerf’s Pancake
It’s not surprising that GOMI has received plenty of cease-and-desist letters from bloggers whose words and images it quotes. In some cases, GOMI has appeared to have removed some content, but for the most part, they have not backed down. The disclaimer for Smugnom is illustrative:
“Disclaimer: Smugnom contains copyrighted material, like pictures of scuffins and junk, the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of female American members of the Healthy Living Church of Blog, in Chia’s name, amen, to discuss why for goodness sake you’d spraypaint while pregnant, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.”
Fair use or otherwise, GOMI itself has a business to protect…
GOMI Loves Pageview$ Too!