I remember back in the olden days when I first met Jezebel, the distaff online blog of the mighty Gawker empire. It was like stumbling into the best party ever. The women who wrote for it — Anna Holmes, Anna North, Tracie Egan Morrissey, Moe Tkacik (who worked with me at Philly Mag for a while) — were like the coolest girls ever, except they weren’t mean to other girls, only to the rest of the world. I loved their writing, and I loved what they wrote about (even, a couple of times, when they were writing angry stuff about me). Jezebel felt like home in a way no other website I knew of did.
That was then. This is now — last Saturday, to be specific, when I clicked on a story on the site that was headlined, “Indiana Man Raped and Tortured His Wife Under Forced ‘Slave Contract.’” Who reads stories like that on a lovely weekend afternoon? The sort of people who love Law & Order: SVU, which would be me. My excuse is that I’m interested in the human mind and criminal behavior and emotions and love and hate. Anyway, the write-up, by Isha Aran, was pretty much what the headline described — just your average Midwestern rape-and-torture-ordeal tale. What got to me — what made me send myself an email with a link and the all-caps subject line PLEASE WRITE ABOUT THIS — were the comments following the piece.
The first one read, simply, “And that terrifying statistic that you guys wrote about earlier comes to life.” Beneath which the reader had posted a big-ass photo of her dachshund lying on its back, rear legs splayed, one eye on the camera, with one more line of text:
My dachshund wants to give you happy thoughts in this dark time.
Under that was a second comment, with TWO photos of dachshunds — one in a baby stroller — with a single line of text:
Dachshund party time! Thank you auntie for the picture!
There was more! There was this comment, from a would-be fellow dachshund lover:
I want a weiner dog so bad. But I worry that they’re not coordinated enough to keep up with the active things that I like to do with my dogs. I hear that they get back injuries a lot.
And another, a photo of a cat wearing a turtle costume (yes, a cat wearing a turtle costume), beneath which the poster, Livmarie, had noted:
Cat-turtle is upset at this ridiculousness.
Which ridiculousness would that be, Livmarie? The dachshund photos? The rape and torture of the Indiana man’s wife? The idea of responding to a post about rape and torture with cute doggy pics?
This isn’t an isolated instance of Jezebel readers reacting to a sensitive story by figuratively sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “Puppies! Puppies! Puppies!” It happens all the time.
In June, a reader left a comment on the story “17 Dead Dogs Found in Kennel After Owner Claims They Ran Away” with a gif of Batman activating his jet-propulsion pack and zooming out of the frame, with the caption “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.” “Monster Who Drugged and Raped His Wife for Years” got a photo of a hedgehog in an egg cup. (Because, as the commenter noted, “I think we could all use a hedgehog in an egg cup.” Erin Gloria Ryan, the author of the post, thanked the commenter for this. Unironically.) The top-voted comment on “Husband of Pakistani Woman Stoned to Death Murdered His First Wife”? A gif from the animated Disney film Brave of a cartoon princess burying her head in her hands.
As so many Jezebel commenters say, “I can’t even.” I can’t even tell you how disgusted I am that a website intended to be “the sort of women’s magazine we’d read,” according to founder Holmes, has degenerated into the online equivalent of a petting zoo. Where’s the empowerment in readers who, rather than engage in genuine discussion of difficult topics, post anodyne photos of bunnies? What does it say about Jezebel’s millennial readers that this crap gets upvoted again and again?
Let’s see: Think about war, crime, misogyny and hatred, or look at puppies? Hmmm …
I don’t mind inanity (especially when it’s openly labeled “Inanity”) like this photo of a cupcake. I don’t mind the ranking of the best moments of the Brangelina wedding. Those are perfectly acceptable posts, moments of comic relief from the weightier issues of the world. But who the hell thinks an appropriate response to “Oklahoma City Cop Accused of Sexually Assaulting 7 Women While on Duty” is a puppy hugging a kitten?
What, the world is too much for you ladies? Your delicate sensibilities need sheltering from cold, hard reality? Thinking too much about the thorny stuff makes you need hugs? What the fuck is the matter with you? I don’t understand this avert-your-face instinct, this cuddle-me-please compulsion. What is the point of a website running horrific stories to which readers respond by needing succor from what they just read?
Last week, Jezebel writer Lindy West announced she was outta there (cue gifs of movie stars sobbing), as did Morrissey, who’d been with the site since the bitter beginning (Mariah Carey blowing kisses). I hope, hope, hope they left out of disillusionment with what the site has become, and the skewed vision it projects of contemporary women, who are, apparently, the vaginated equivalent of basement-dwelling male video-game players, only we don’t even play video games, we just read sordid crime tales and look at pictures of adorable pets.
And now, in case you need it: “Cat Serenely Naps With a Little Frog on Its Head.” Because this is just what Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer had in mind, I’m sure.
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