Last Friday I deleted the 400+ to-read items from The Awl in my RSS so that I could start fresh and really stay with it. And before I did, one thing caught my attention that deserves a little bit of explanation. If ever there was one canonical example of the sheer brutal Strength of this particular little site, maybe this is it.
Okay, so here is the post: I Mean, Really, “J-Setting”? I Spent Half An Hour On Wikipedia Figuring Out What That Is. You’re going to want to read it before I go on, and you may want to click through to the “J-Setting Marmaduke Welfare Office Cat Fight Video Dance-Off” link in it, and watch both the videos. I don’t want you to get lost here. There’s going to be a quiz.
A little backstory: Choire Sicha is a guy primarily known for being the editor of Gawker a few years ago, and though he’s been published in all sorts of other publications (even in print!), his name redirects to the entry for Gawker on Wikipedia, just to give you some idea. (I just added “wtf?” to the discussion page for the discussion page of the redirect, so that’s your half-hearted attempt at making the internet more coherent for the day.) Alex Balk worked for Gawker too, tho him I’d never heard of before the two launched The Awl last April. The consensus (scroll to #2) is (a) the Awl is fucking great and (b) how the hell is it going to survive, if the people who are writing it are hoping to eventually/soon do it as a major source of their income and not as a hobby (and keeping in mind that they’re good at their fucking job and live in New York City so a salary of like $30,000 is not really what we’re talking about here), considering the state of the publishing world and the generally accepted suckiness of online advertising revenue.
So you could be forgiven for thinking at first blush that this post is pretty sincere — we’re trying to make money, can we please take it just a touch more seriously. And while I ponder that there may be a grain of that literal sentiment behind it, I presume that would be about all there is. It’s an inside-joke of a throw away-post, quickly typed up by a guy who’s got so many hilarious/great ideas going that he can just pull stuff like this out of his ass anytime he wants. (Or is it? Read on!)
OK now on to the post with the videos. I’ll save you the 30 minutes on Wikipedia and just tell you that J-Setting is the dance that Beyoncé does in that Single Ladies video. Watch carefully: The guy in the first video does it as he’s being escorted out the welfare office. And the dogs do it at the end of the Marmaduke trailer. They are both fucking upsetting. Furthermore, you will note that the pairing is pretty interesting and maybe even says Something Important about our culture, and that the headline “J-Setting Marmaduke Welfare Office Cat Fight Video Dance-Off,” is just about prefect (if smart-alecky, but of course smart-alecky is what sites like this use to make the medicine go down).
But there is more. Because, it is not enough that The Awl (I’m pretty sure I need to capitalize the “T” every time for the title to hold together) publishes 25 posts per day, at least a few of which run long. Also shockingly great are the comments, and sometimes indispensable. That fake Balk memo? Well take a look at this and try to not crap your pants. You probably know that Nick Denton is the wildly controversial head of Gawker Media (not just internet-controversial either, since the wider journalism world is afraid that his management model may be the way of the future for writers, and it’s not representative of a world in which they feel they can live), and as such Balk and Sicha’s former boss. And so yes, this is how “successful” blogs are run, and this is how successful blogs that are not run this way mock and poke fun at the ones that are, while simultaneously wondering what the future holds for them. And more to the point, this is how clever you have to be in 2010 to make it out here on the internet.