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Gawker, the Right, and the Culture Wars, Continued
2016-08-24 14:25:08
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Gawker, the Right, and the Culture Wars, Continued

Received: 2016-08-24 14:25:08
August 24, 2016

Gawker, the Right, and the Culture Wars, Continued

Grumblegrumblegrumble. Over at the American Thinker, Taylor Lewis offers some world-champion misreading of one of last week’s posts, declaring that “if Geraghty thinks the sinking of Gawker augurs a Republican sweep in November, he should put a year’s salary up on and cash in, quick.” Of course, I didn’t say that, didn’t write that, didn’t imply that, and have been calling Donald Trump a near-sure loser from the moment he declared his candidacy. My closing sentences declared, “Notice this is almost entirely in the cultural realm, not the political one, far from the battles of the elections. But perhaps 2016 will be remembered as the year where the Left advanced a bridge too far.”

I guess Lewis didn’t read that far down, because the premise, “What looks like a cultural victory by the Right was really enabled by other factors,” doesn’t contradict the notion of the Left advancing a bridge too far.

Elsewhere in the piece, Lewis declares, “The new Ghostbusters sucked — that’s why it failed in theaters.” Yes, that’s precisely the point I made. Sony and the creative team behind the movie seemed to think that featuring female protagonists made the film inherently worthwhile and that the feminist aspect of it would obscure and overcome any flaws in the script, casting, lack of originality, et cetera. When the early response to the trailers was skepticism and groans, the Social Justice Warriors argued that only reflexive misogyny and disdain for female protagonists could explain the bad reception. (I suspect very few critics of the reboot detested Bridesmaids, Salt, the Sigourney Weaver Alien movies, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Kill Bill, or even Brave or Frozen.) The box-office returns suggest that appeals to feminism can’t get people to pay to watch a bad movie. Of course, a good movie doesn’t need appeals to feminism to get people to pay to watch it.

Lewis finds Gawker’s demise to be the most compelling of the evidence for my argument, but concludes, “Gawker didn’t go down because the public demanded its fall. Peter Thiel, the libertarian cofounder of PayPal, was generous — and bitter — enough to fund the legal battle that bankrupted the business.” True, but Hulk Hogan wasn’t filing a nuisance suit so that attorney’s fees would eat up the Gawker budget. What doomed Gawker was not its targeting of conservatives; the site’s Achilles’ Heel was the insane self-assurance that anything it did to drive traffic would be protected by the First Amendment — and that courts and juries would share that perspective.

In AdAge, Simon Dumenico writes what ought to be the definitive assessment of the web site’s rise and fall, and notes how it went from targeting the high and mighty, powerful elites who had earned some mockery and ridicule, to targeting just about anyone that irritated them, often in the most personal ways, for the most petty reasons:

On Sept. 27, 2007, Gawker published a post titled “Elijah Pollack Is Going To Be A Horror” — a hit job on a preschooler intended, apparently, to punish his father for being a writer Gawker hates. ([Author Neal] Pollack had blogged on Epicurious about how his precocious son had declared a cheese sample at grocery store to be “too boring for me.”)

. . . [In 2015]], it ran a notorious post about a non-famous, married New York publishing executive who, it seemed, was being blackmailed by an escort the executive had allegedly contacted. Failing to get what he wanted out of the executive, the escort went to Gawker, which dutifully published a sordid story. In publishing it, Gawker not only arbitrarily invaded the privacy of a random exec few people had ever heard of, but effectively aided and abetted the escort’s apparent blackmail scheme.

The gang at Gawker no doubt believed they were political and cultural progressives, and thus, the “good guys” — and that anyone they targeted had it coming. A jury didn’t see it that way. It’s a reminder of how Democratic voting elites increasingly see themselves as a progressive aristocracy, to be judged by different, more lenient rules and enjoy special privileges.

Speaking of the progressive aristocracy . . .

When Those Health-Industry Villains Are Just Part of the Family

For once, the Democratic complaints about greedy health-care company executives don’t seem exaggerated . . .

The pharmaceutical CEO whose company raised the price of EpiPens by more than 400% was rewarded with a 671% raise.

Heather Bresch and other executives at Mylan Pharmaceuticals have been criticized for increasing the price of the devices to prevent fatal allergy reactions from less than $100 for a pair in 2007 to more than $500 today.

Bresch, who was president in 2007 and has since become chief executive of the global pharma giant, went from making $2,453,456 nine years ago to $18,931,068 last year, according to filings from the company.

The pay increase, first reported by NBC News, came as Mylan repeatedly raised the price of the live-saving epinephrine device by increments of 5, 10 and 15%.

Wait, there’s more; the Los Angeles Times contends, “Mylan is one of the leading exploiters of the technique known as inversion, in which a U.S. company cuts its tax bill by acquiring a foreign firm and moving its tax domicile to the acquired company’s homeland.”

Looks like we have a living, breathing embodiment of the callous corporate greed that the Democrats have denounced for years! Where did this Heather Bresch character learn how to exploit people’s vulnerabilities and squeeze every last penny out of desperate people?

Alex Burns of the New York Times reminds us that Heather Bresch was formerly Heather Manchin . . . as in, she’s the daughter of Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat and former two-term governor of West Virginia. If the Senate Commerce Committee holds hearings about Bresch and the price hikes, the Democratic denunciations of her could get really awkward.

2016, Wild Palms, and Selling New Realities

In preparation for this week’s pop-culture podcast, my co-host asked our listeners which two films combined would tell the story of 2016. Idiocracy was one popular choice.

I’d go with any of the filmed versions of Brave New World — depicting a societal decline of natural reproduction, rampant drug use to numb the difficulty of daily life, citizens amusing themselves to death -- and the ABC miniseries from 1993, Wild Palms. (If we were branching out beyond films, 2016 could also be represented by Caleb Carr’s 2000 novel Killing Time, set in not-too-distant future where information and misinformation flow so freely, very few people know what is true and most have learned to not care.)

Wild Palms was a really intriguing, intricate idea that was executed about as well as could be hoped with a network television budget and the special effects at the time. It came out about a year after Twin Peaks aired on ABC and because of the title and sheer surreal weirdness, critics compared to the then-recently canceled cult hit David Lynch series, much to the irritation of screenwriter Bruce Wagner and executive producer Oliver Stone.

The miniseries was far from perfect. Viewers had to put up with a miscast James Belushi as the hapless, confused protagonist, Dana Delany playing the good wife, Kim Cattrall as the femme fatale, and Robert Loggia relentlessly chewing the scenery; a wildly complicated and convoluted plotline; surreal dream sequences; and key plot points glossed over in quick lines of dialogue. (“Boca Raton was a premeditated nuclear event that conferred special powers on the police.”)

It fits 2016 because one of the major storylines involves a powerful businessman who heads up a cult of personality, with a lot of power over the entertainment media, running for president and having his thuggish associates eliminate any potential rivals. Loggia’s nefarious villain is less like Donald Trump and more like L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, and the story is brimming with early-90s paranoia about technology and virtual reality and the fear that someone could hack our brains, altering our perceptions and leaving everyone never quite sure what is real and what represents propagandized “truth.”

What really makes the series feel like this twisted year is that Wild Palms is a story about a not-too-distant America finding itself having declined into a quiet authoritarianism, with fascism perhaps not too far around the next corner. The vast majority of the public doesn’t seem to notice or care; this is a semi-dystopian “future” of 2007, set in a sunny, cheerful Los Angeles that looks free and happy on the outside but isn’t. (Our protagonist drives by a man being beaten on his front lawn; a bunch of thugs grab someone out of a restaurant and all the patrons ignore it.) One of the major challenges for the heroes is convincing anyone that anything is wrong: “One day we’re going to find out that our country no longer belongs to us!” The general populace is happily sitting on their couches, enjoying the new three-dimensional television, and holograms that seem so real.

I know, I know, it’s ridiculous to think that a high-definition image could lull people into believing a completely false sense of reality.

The villain’s party is called the New Realists, but its agenda has little to do with national self-interest; it’s more about persuading or forcing the public to see a new, different reality as easily as they change the channels on their television. From the perspective of 2016, this is less outlandish than it sounds. We’re in a year where Bernie Sanders sold a reality of the federal government giving everyone free college education, Hillary Clinton contends we can expand entitlements without middle-class tax increases, Donald Trump insists he’ll get Mexico to pay for a great big beautiful new border wall, and Gary Johnson says we can beat ISIS in cyberspace while eliminating the National Security Agency. Every candidate is now selling a new, different, fanciful reality, without any trade-offs, compromises, costs or consequences.

Don't like the news? Insist it’s a lie. Choose your own alternate version of events. If Trump loses the election, an outcome that every major poll currently suggests, millions of Americans will “know” the election was stolen through massive voter fraud and illegal immigrants voting — just as millions of Democrats currently “know” there’s nothing wrong with what the Clinton Foundation’s been doing all these years.

A 2015 survey found only 30 percent of Americans think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; 65 percent think advertising “frequently” includes subliminal messages, 24 percent believe the 9/11 attacks “have a different explanation” and 14 percent think the moon landing was staged.

ADDENDA: As noted on Twitter and spotlighted by Twitchy . . .

The Clintons have an undying love, the kind that means they can never be compelled to testify against one another.

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