My Bryan Goldberg Problem, And Ours

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I couldn't even tell you what we had in mind when we founded The Classical, beyond wanting it to be good. I remember one warm early summer day when I walked all the way from my apartment to my job at a real estate agency run by weird-eyed evangelicals -- something like three miles, so something like 45 minutes -- talking to Shoals about what the site would be, who would be involved and how we would change things and all that. There was no discussion of how we would eventually become implausibly rich for having done all those things we talked about, in part because he had already worked with people and changed things and not become rich, and so knew what to expect. Also because the idea of doing this and cashing out like that never really occurred to me. The fact that the people who founded Bleacher Report had become wealthy for doing so seemed to prove the impossibility of that in some transitive sense -- do something like that, get that; do this, get something else.

What we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it, however (significantly!) different from what we wound up doing, just never seemed to me a thing that would result in that sort of outcome. We've been a success, I think, but in a different sense and on different terms. But you'd have to ask Bryan Goldberg, who has enjoyed a different sort of success, about how all that works.

Of course, if you were to do that, you'd need to be prepared for what happens when Bryan Goldberg answers those questions, which is a hilarious thing we've kind of obliquely dealt with. Goldberg, who remains wildly rich, utterly without insight and a hilarious doofus -- and, I suspect, probably also a nice enough person in a bunch of ways, as most people are -- is currently working on a lady-centered internet venture that has been generously funded by other doofy Bay Area wealth-dudes. There are a bunch of other options out there already when it comes to smart writing for women on the web, but this one will be different; Goldberg told the New Yorker's Lizzie Widdicombe will become "the biggest and most powerful women's publication in the world" through the sheer force of under-edited intern-shaped listicles about NBC's "The Voice" and shoes.

Unaware as ever, uninterested as ever, the guy who built Bleacher Report is hard at work on building a Sheacher Report. That is, slideshows on various trending topics, bubbly reheated advertorial and hamfisted aggregations of Serious Things That Today's Woman Also Cares About; Goldberg has a tendency to use "Syria" in interviews about the endeavor as if he thought the word was slang for "serious things." It is, as ever, animated by an abiding lack of faith in his readers, which in this case manifests as baffled Redditorial awe at The Things Girls Like.

Because he is Bryan Goldberg, he can't keep from peeing on his Skechers while promoting this venture. Goldberg holds forth a bit less confidently on What Women Want than he did in his blundering introduction of the site, but there's still a poignant anthropological formality to the way he talks and thinks about the humans who are both his target audience and his employees. 

So, yeah: he's a clown, and while Bleacher Report seems to want to get better -- they've hired some good people, and have also produced a number of Classical writers -- it pays its bills by being a swamp of under-vetted, wildly hackish, dead-eyed trolling and algorithm-surfing poop-spam. All of which you already know, if you're someone who cares enough about this sort of thing to have an opinion or read this.  

What you see at The Bustle -- witness their coverage of Miley Cyrus, for instance, including a B/R-worthy headline proclaiming that her VMA performance Took Cultural Misappropriation Way Too Far -- is what you see at Bleacher Report. It's  nice people chasing a shitty mission in the dark, without a map or much guidance or more importantly much sense that guidance would even be worth offering, all while Bryan Goldberg yells #disrupt-y fatuities at them from on high, or at least from a sweet place in Noe Valley. This is terrible, but it's also not new. So why this dude? What is it about this particular wealthy tech-mediocrity that makes people like me write things like this?

The most simple and frustrating answer is that he's winning -- Bleacher Report was born terrible and got worse, but it has made money even as it grows on the internet's reigning algorithms like mold on bread, first as a repellent, distorting coating and then finally consuming it to become the thing itself. Goldberg and his partners sold it at its most busily useless and (not coincidentally!) most profitable ebb, which was obviously good for them. Since Turner bought it, B/R has brought on a host of well-regarded writers as national columnists -- Howard Beck and Kevin Ding and Ethan Skolnick and D.J. Foster just this week, but also our own Bethlehem Shoals during our site's infancy.

They've had a bunch of these sorts of hires, actually, and all but the most recent of these have left, as Tom Ziller notes mostly because they didn't want to get their assignments from algorithms, and editing from no one in particular. They'll change or they won't, but if B/R gets better -- and we might as well hope it does, because there are a lot of good people working there and why should we want anything to be bad -- it will be because it becomes less like the thing that Goldberg made, and something less expressly focused on Google-gigging.

So there is that: all of us who grump and grouse about Goldberg's loutish grandiosity and frank, malaprop-y idiocy have been less successful -- if only in the one metric readily exchanged for goods and services -- than he. Of course we don't need to read Bleacher Report, and probably don't; it's easily ignored, and so there's no reason to feel anything about it at all.

It's just what it is, and Goldberg is just what he is. His site cracked the same code as and other uselessness traffic-vortices, and in so doing made a couple of lucky cynics rich. The result of this mucks up the internet, chokes it with disingenuous noise and nonsense and sad, flat-affect platitudes and bullshit, which is not good but also have you seen the rest of our culture? Have you seen television? Heard the radio? Everything that has risen in a century of innovation is converging on the same PiggyPoopBalls jpeg. This is what happens when you leave the people who are best at making money -- goony puffed-up babies like Bryan Goldberg and actual villains like our foremost television geniuses -- in charge. But who else would be in charge, really?

Which, it's tempting to say, is maybe just what this is  about-- another smug cretin sleeping blissfully on a big pile of money while poignantly optimistic serfs shovel shit far below because someone told them that's how they would succeed. What makes Goldberg's gambit with The Bustle worse and more loathsome than Bleacher Report -- and certainly what has animated the more widespread animus his new project has incurred -- is that Goldberg is now expecting half the humans in the English-speaking world (the women, who care about both accessories and Syria!) to buy into his fatuous totalizing disdain for the various strange and wild and surprising things that make reading and writing worthwhile. He has truly shown his ass in demonstrating how little he knows or thinks of women, but plenty of people -- all equally worth ignoring -- do this on the internet and elsewhere all the time. 

We know when Goldberg does it because of his narrow micro-infamy, and because there are a bunch of people on Twitter -- I am one of them, and count others as friends -- who get kind of gleefully vandalous whenever he embarrasses himself in this way. I can't speak for others, but I do this in part because his buffoonery is funny to me -- so bombastic and self-parodic and silly that it all plays in my head in Rob Riggle's voice -- and in part because I don't like how much that buffoonery reflects the broader self-parodic bombast of this rising cycle of young elites, presently lending each other money in a posh vacuum and creating apps to make it easier for each other to order Chipotle, but also warping a bunch of things for those of us outside greater Silicon Valley.

I hate, too, Goldberg's vision for the future of media -- no editors to speak of; saturation-bomb sorties of aggregation and half-assed content-extrusions; assignments by keyword; a glassy-eyed instrumentalism where editorial perspective should be; not so much developing writers or helping them get better or move up as extracting words from them for the minimum possible expense and then justifying it by pointing out that they chose that exploitation, even as various systems conspire quite rationally to make it inescapable. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that all the mockery came, at least in part, because I worry that he'll continue to win. Bryan Goldberg clearly doesn't think much of writers or readers, and I don't like that or agree with it. That's his problem, and mine, and not important. But how objectionable Goldberg and Goldbergism really are depends upon the extent to which he continues to be proven right in how little he thinks of all this, and us.

(A disclaimer worth noting: I work for SB Nation, which is a competitor of B/R's. None of these views are its views, or even those of other people who write or edit for The Classical.)

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