Friday, November 19, 2010


An Open Letter to Tavi Gevinson and Jane Pratt

Dear Tavi and Jane,

First I just wanted to say the same thing that I imagine hundreds if not thousands of people have already said, which is that I am a big fan of both of yours. I've admired the way that Tavi has gracefully handled a lot of flak from jealous haters, and I've admired Jane since I was younger than Tavi is now. Sassy and, later, Jane got into my brain when it was at its most malleable; these magazines were such a profound influence on the way my tastes in books, magazines, bands, cute boys, and first-person writing developed that I hear their editorial voice in my head at the oddest moments, for example recently I was doing my laundry and I remembered a Jane tip about how you can use, and I think I quote? "like, half the amount of detergent" you're currently using. I remember whole blocks of text from "Tiffani-Amber Thiessen: Something Does Not Compute." I became the kind of writer and person I am in part because of these magazines. They also made me think I wanted to work at a magazine, or, later, some kind of magazine-type publication, the way people a generation younger than me might have grown up wanting to be in a band. And that's the problem.

When I was eight or nine years older than Tavi is now, I moved to New York and worked at some magazines and magazine-type publications. I read books about the histories of the magazines I liked, and I watched (and worked at a vaguely media-oriented gossip blog) while many of the magazines I liked changed and died. I quit that job and became a freelance writer. I spent a lot of time thinking about questions like, "Does it devalue curated, edited writing that so many people are writing so much online for free?" While I was thinking about that, I read and wrote and edited millions and millions of words' worth of empty, disposable "content" — content that existed to fill column inches, to increase SEO, to keep on a publicist's good side, to provoke controversy that would spike pageviews or "uniques." I wrote other stuff, but content paid my rent.

I also read good stuff, but people started seeming less and less interested in reading anything that was harder to metabolize than that soothing predigested content candy. People would get enthusiastic about something good and reblog their favorite line of it and then forget it a day later and a few month later you would see a watered-down iteration of the same idea on some other blog.

It became impossible to imagine any publication having an impact in some meaningful way beyond being a commercial success by appealing successfully to the lowest common denominator. It became impossible to imagine anyone creating an aesthetic. An editor at one of the most successful online magazines told me I should write a different kind of piece for them: "That kind of piece does really well for us." Why was I supposed to care how well anything did for them? What was the point of any of this? People younger than I am will inherit this world and take for granted that it was always like this, but for me it'll always be weird.

Tavi, I know this is an annoying thing to hear, but it's hard to imagine working with someone who didn't experience this shift while it was happening. It's hard to imagine sending a submission and being subject to the approval or disapproval of someone who, though undoubtedly super talented and precocious and brilliant in a way that would be uncanny and kind of disturbing if it weren't so aligned with what I personally think is cool, is 14 years old. What I'm trying to say is that it creeps me out that everyone I know is sending you their resume because I want experience to count for something, and right now it seems like it has never counted for less. It seems like the most talented people I know have spent their working lives honing their skill at something that, for the most part, has ceased to exist. And as much as part of me wants desperately to be considered cool and smart enough to work with you guys, there is another part of me that just can't get past being annoyed that a generation of talented twenty- and thirty-somethings with years of working at dead magazines and newspapers under their belts are unemployed, quasi-employed, and spinning their wheels on Tumblr because the future belongs to people who have never not had an email address.

Also — and this is the last thing — from the perspective of a former "moody" and "wallflowerly" teenager, I now think most teenagers — even the ones who seem like mean bitches who have it all figured out — are actually "wallflowerly" inside, and the idea of having a weirder-than-thou club that excludes them does not appeal. Except for a few genuine sociopaths, everyone is working out the same shit during those years, and no one has it easy, even if it seems like they do, even if they take it out on you.


Emily Gould is working it out.

21 Comments / Post A Comment


Watching from the outside, living my professional life knowing that in our industry experience is a catch-22 and luck factors in greatly, it's hard to imagine that anyone who is already "in" would question any other "in" person's experience or skill or understanding of said industry -- I mean at least you aren't all working in Corp Comm, amiright? But as Emily points out, I suppose there is a really messed up element of feeling in constant competition to be MORE disenfranchised, MORE wallflowerly, MORE part of the angsty writers club, and if you are 14, you sorta win by default since you can't even drive, and so right now it's just that much more obvious that experience is irrelevant, and I guess the lesson from this is everyone, no matter how "in" or "out" or "flyover state" will be dissatisfied by the way this industry is run at some point. By the way, so excited to see Gould’s name on the Hairpin!

sorry your heinous

I read this and was so very, very confused. I didn't understand how Jane and Tavi related to any of the (really excellent) meat of the piece. Then I realized the first line was a link that I should probably click and now it is much more clear. I'm so outside that world I have nothing to really add, except that as a consumer I am very tired of disposable content. Hopefully quality (which should come with experience) will win out. This seems like a strange transitional time.


Seems like every day social [media] darwinism, no? Gen Y is producing the best marketers in the world because they've grown up in a glut of content knowing that they they aren't interesting and succinct, they'll get passed over. What I don't understand is the backlash? Don't we all want to be as interesting and to-the-point as possible?


This makes me sad from the opposite side. As the mom of two girls (8 and 10), I hate that they may be 15 and feel not only like wallflowers, but like failures. Instead of having Sassy to comfort wallflower weirdness, my kids may have whatever this becomes as an example of how they failed to brand their weirdness and use it to get cool.


Just to be clear, I ain't hating. It would be great if this could turn into a community of wise, weird girls. But ... but.

justanother sarah

I don't think I get it.

At 25, and with little to no interest in the content that Tavi and Jane's magazine is likely to cover, I am pretty ambivalent about the venture---in many ways it feels like an unnecessary exercise in nostalgia with a hipster sheen that makes me just feel very tired. But more power to them for giving it a go, honestly. At the very least, I trust them both to deliver something of substance, and I look forward to seeing what happens.

But Emily's piece just confuses me. Am I supposed to take something from it other than the fact that she's very bitter that the world she was promised disappeared before she got to enjoy it and now it's being run by young folks who didn't put in the hard time? Because I understand that bitterness---it's very real, and very easy for tons of people (including me, to a certain extent) to sympathize with, I'm sure. But reading this I couldn't help but feel like, so what? I mean, I understand using a letter format as a rhetorical device, but taking the piece at face value, why should Tavi (because that's who this letter is really meant for, let's be real) care? Why should any of the young people who have simultaneously inherited and created this insane new media world we are living in give a shit that those who came before them feel screwed? Why is it their responsibility to account for hurt feelings and career struggles? They shouldn't and it's not.

Mostly what stands out to me here is why Emily doesn't stop to think that maybe she and her 20/30-something writer friends shouldn't be submitting their resumes to begin with. If it makes her uncomfortable to be trying to get work from a 14 year-old, maybe this is a sign that this project just isn't meant for folks like her. What gets me the most jazzed about a project like this is the potential for it to be something that is truly for and by teenagers. I'm not sure if Tavi and Jane will fully take it that way, but I sure hope they do.


Yes I am also very confused by this piece! Are we supposed to assume that its Tavi's fault people much older than her are submitting their resumes? And what is with the comment at the end about how everyone is a wallflower on the inside? Is that supposed to mean that you shouldn't make this magazine for wallflowers, because everyone is a wallflower? Wouldn't that just make it a magazine in theory for everyone?

I love you Emily, and I love your writing, but I am just very confused by this whole thing.

Rachel T.

Thanks for this. As someone who feels the exact same way, I'm not really confused.


I'm not confused so much as just bored to death by it.

"It seems like the most talented people I know have spent their working lives honing their skill at something that, for the most part, has ceased to exist."

Well no shit! But if you and all your friends are so talented, then you'll use those talents to reinvent yourselves. Say something interesting. Do something new. Stop crying about the past and move forward.

And for the record, I loved Sassy, but I'm not really excited about the new venture with Tavi and Jane Pratt. Sassy worked because it was the right magazine at the right time - this feels just like when sleazy old Hollywood goes desperately searching its back catalog for old films to remake. Yeah, because that's working so well...


Don't worry, content that is actually good will win in the end. But you and I, Emily, might miss the boat on that as well because of our age. It's still better to be a part of the solution than a part of the problem, which is what I think the Tavi-and-Jane experiment will be in a best-case scenario. I do feel your pain when it comes to this, but ultimately, your sentiment can be reduced to something as simple as "it's not fair." And you're right, it's not, but neither is anything else in life, unless by coincidence or human intervention. I think most of the world would look at my life and think that it isn't fair that I have the things I have, and I could look at the world and feel like it isn't fair that I don't have other things, but what's the point in that?

Principessa Grassa

I totally understand where you're coming from on this, and I'm not confused in the slightest. And I get the sense that the people who ARE confused weren't fans of Sassy, and probably don't get why those of us who were/are fans feel so strongly about the magazine, and about this latest development.
Sassy gave a voice to those of us who genuinely didn't "fit in" with mainstream culture in the 90s, and I think a lot of people fail to understand that this was back before "alternative" was cool, or even acceptable. It was just … WEIRD, and not necessarily in a good way. This was before Hot Topic, before the Vans Warped Tour, back when thrift shopping was still seen as slightly shameful. Sassy was a voice of sanity in a sea of mainstream magazines filled with diet tips and articles about nail polish and how to get the boys to like you. There was no Internet, so Sassy was the only game in town for those of us who dressed weird and listened to Nine Inch Nails and didn't give a shit about nail polish unless it was black.
Plus, Sassy was accessible. Its writers were utterly human and had distinct personalities, and you got the sense that they had been messed-up outcasts as kids, just like you. And again–I can't emphasize this enough–Sassy was the ONLY magazine for teenage girls that let its writers have individual voices. Every other teen magazine out there had interchangeable writers writing interchangeable stories in a bland, generic, every-magazine style.
Sassy made those of us with writerly aspirations feel like maybe we could be true to ourselves and have careers too. And a lot of us went in that direction, and put in the time and effort to learn and study our style guides and get paid way too little for doing way too much work. The Internet has clearly been a publishing game-changer in a massive way, but you know what? There IS something to be said for experience, for putting in the time and learning the ropes, for knowing how a magazine works from the bottom up.
I think that saying this boils down to "it's not fair" is a gross oversimplification. No, it's not fair. But beyond that, this project just seems tired and sad to me. It reeks of a washed-up editor doing her damnedest to find the "next big weird thing." It feels like Pratt is trying like hell to re-create something that's not re-creatable. Who knows, maybe it'll be amazing. But as an experienced magazine editor, I'm not planning on lining up to check out the editorial vision of some 14-year-old kid, even if she has Jane Pratt's backing.
Maybe that sounds bitter. I don't really give a shit.


This this this this times a million.

It's a little embarrassing to be all "you girls today with your fancy text message internets don't know how good you have it" but seriously — the feeling for girls at the time of 'Sassy' was that you had two choices: assimilate or be a total outcast freak.

So, 'Sassy' was like… being the chunky bee girl who finally finds other other misfit bees (hi, all my references are old because I am old). And because of that, frankly, this new venture really kinda chaps my ass — I get the feeling this is just Jane Pratt trying to cash in on my stock of 'Sassy'-era good feelings I had for her.


And because of that, frankly, this new venture really kinda chaps my ass — I get the feeling this is just Jane Pratt trying to cash in on my stock of 'Sassy'-era good feelings I had for her....backless prom dresses

Amy Gentry

Having just missed Sassy's heyday (and never having been all that impressed by Jane), I've always felt kind of jealous of the girls who were raised on it. Frankly, I've been looking for an aesthetically pleasing, fashion-oriented, creative and feminist magazine since I was Tavi's age, and I would read one (and write for one) now as an adult. While I understand the bitterness of having witnessed a somewhat devastating change in the biz, Emily Gould's letter seems needlessly discouraging to young people who want to bring quality back to mainstream mags. We can only hope that Tavi's got the fresh voice and Jane's got the experience to create something really worthwhile. Best of luck to those ladies.

Liz Colville

The only real qualm I have with the Tavi/Jane op is that it isn't just a website. I mean, overhead! Hello.


As a fellow late thirty-something and former fan of Sassy I do not understand your charge that Tavi has no experience. She may not have experience working at an office job but she has a lot of fashion experience and her whole portfolio is posted on line in the form of her blog, documenting countless hours of reading, writing, research and curation (and more recently travel). Regardless of personal opinion about her taste, clearly it resonates with a large number of people.

She just happens to be precocious enough to have done all this at a very early age. This may be jealousy provoking but the fact is that there are many salary earning writers out there who don't have a fraction of Tavi's initiative, independence and fashion judgement. Her work speaks for itself.

Keir Bristol

i will say that i was not raised with sassy or jane. but i will also say that as a person who is studying to be a writer and who desperately wants to make a change in the content presented in magazine form to girls my age and younger, this seems sort of unfair to me. because it seems like what you are saying is that because i wasn't old enough to read sassy in it's prime, i don't deserve to have a magazine that i can relate to made by people my age.

and it seems like you are saying to tavi- none of your non-traditional experience counts, so you don't deserve to be involved in this project. it's a catch-22 you don't have enough experience and we sure as hell aren't going to give it to you this way.

not to mention that they said that it wouldn't be the next Sassy, or Sassy 2.0. It's a separate project, please treat it as such.

and as for 20 and 30-year-old's submitting their resumes to her... i think its great that people of all ages would want to contribute to this and be involved. if you don't like it, don't send in your resume. but please don't police what other people do.

i would rather have a magazine with younger people on it anyway- wouldn't they relate to me better? i'd think so...

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