An Open Letter to Tavi Gevinson and Jane Pratt
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.