The Lacy Clusterfuck: Anaylzing the Web’s Elite(ism) [Updated, 3 Effin' Times]

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[Disclaimer: Don't read this post. It was a waste of time then and it's a waste of time now. Oh, if you came here looking for pictures of Sarah Lacy's tits - you're not very bright are you?]

136144940_4f2d236941_m.jpgIf you’re reading this post, then there’s no need to encapsulate. So let’s get down to it, with two disclaimers: 1) I wasn’t there, but have watched the interview, and refuse to believe that this negates the validity of my opinion; 2) I am an academic, not an employee at a startup and thus, am not immersed in the ultra-competitive world of social media and new web app creation. I still feel, however, that my outsider status gives me some perspective others have lost.

So – the discussion seems to have revolved around whether or not the interview was bad, a debate which seems rather futile. Of course it was bad – that much I think is obvious. Lacy attempts to behave like Zuckerberg’s friend, rather than interviewer, and throws softball non-questions that the interviewee, muzzled as he is, can barely answer. To make matters worse, Lacy’s pandering to hecklers is an obvious no-no – once you acknowledge they have power, you’re done; an elementary school teacher knows that. All of which is to say, of course… that these concerns are completely irrelevant. The question is ‘what is the appropriate response when an interview goes bad or does not address the interests of the audience?’

The answer is that being a dick is not the proper one. Was heckling here some sort of resistance against oppression? A youthful rebellion against a tyrannical, corporate giant? No. It was against a half-assed interviewer (update: I now wish I had said ‘interview’ rather than ‘interviewer’) who didn’t ask two crucial questions: 1) “how can my audience make money from Facebook?”, or; 2) or “how can my audience’s startups follow where you’re going?”. There is a time and a place for rebellion, and a room full of privileged, affluent web 2.0 types was not it. This was not a rebellion but a petulant sense of entitlement gone bad, a group of content creators and commentators doing their best to prove every stereotype about bloggers/new media folks being juvenile idiots (thanks for that, by the way – ‘ppreciate it). A commenter on Mathew Ingram’s post says that it was “it was 80% poor interview, 20% mob”, which sounds rather like a child who, after being prodded, admits “well, I guess it was a little my fault the table lamp got broked”. Indeed, when Mashable’s Kristen Nicole suggested ” it turned into a real-life manifestation of a Digg revolt”, she inadvertently hit on what was so damn wrong and childish about the whole mess.

And in all of this, some serious questions need to be asked about the mentality behind the people leading the web revolution. One is the impossible to ignore reading of Lacy’s odd friendliness as flirtatiousness – how can one argue that this is not a retreat into sexism in which ingratiation is seen as a moral-sexual – and not professional – failing? Something no-one wants to talk about is that the technorati’s version of feminism essentially boils down to “women can be just as good men as men can”, a charming little throwback to the seventies that needs to be done away with. And perhaps all this has coloured my vision, but these sorts of blindspots also hit me as I read the usually inoffensive (and generally pretty great) Veronica Belmont talk about attending the web awards in which she indirectly claims knowledge of ‘the internet’. I know, it’s microscopic, but it’s also something Valley/Alley insiders talk about a lot – that they “know the ‘net”. If you ask me, this sounds suspiciously like other elites saying they “know culture” or “know music” or “know film” – which is to say that they know a very culturally specific slice of those areas and ignore the cultural production of the rest of the world, denying it the same status of ‘culture’. And this question of an elite being ‘the group who defines’ is crystallised by Dave McClure’s argument that things would have been better if ‘Sarah Lacy was a geek’. To wit, people need to conform to a particular, constructed identity in order to be seen as either legitimate participants or reflective of ‘other geeks’. Conformity much?

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the interview was bad – and that the reaction was worse. Like all movements, whatever egalitarian ideals new media started with, they’re dead now.

[Update]: Now that things – and I – have cooled off a bit, here are some thoughts:

1) I like hyperbole, and my last line was just that. 2) Anyone who cares has probably seen these, but: here’s Lacy’s reaction; an interview with her on PR 2.0; a Mashable piece on the open Q&A that Zuckerberg had today. 3) The elitism that bothers me is not that someone had the temerity to criticise a crappy interview. Rather, it was that: a) yelling out at an interview because you weren’t getting what you wanted smacks of entitlement and arrogance; b) the fact that the interviewer was a woman and was accused of being flirtatious made me wonder – would the same thing have happened if Waxy or Arrington were up there? It’s hard to ignore the issue of sexism. 4) Why did I previously condone what others called Gizmodo’s juvenile behaviour and condemn it here? There, at least the prank could be read as something interesting, as an attack on the inanity and futility of corporate presentations. Here it was an attack on an individual from a bunch of people already empowered, which to my mind was immature and classless. That may seem like a trite difference, but to me, it’s a big deal. Alright, now let’s move on.

[Update 2]: Please see the comments for my apology to Veronica Belmont.

[FINAL UPDATE 3]: Okay, this is getting stupid, but when you’re really embarrassed about a post and commenters have very politely and smartly disagreed, all you can do (if I’m to believe my own philosophy) is try and refine, re-try and apologise. So.

1) What I was circulating around and not actually saying is that the reaction to the event through the blogosphere was more troubling than the actual heckling itself. As has been pointed out, something very weird was going on in that room and, taking on faith the opinions of some who I really respect, it was not healthy. So, I’m sorry my analysis was not on point or wasn’t even relevant in certain aspects.

2) While I think my analysis here was ineffective and rambling (which I have apologised for in the comments), there is still something odd and disconcerting about the reaction, as if people were really out for blood. Okay, so there was a bad, uncomfortable interview that a lot of people were looking forward to. But why the vitriol? Why are people being so harsh? Why are people still, more than a week on, writing posts asking Lacy to apologise? Doesn’t that seem pretty unprecedented – or at least little weird? Sorta’ smacks of a witch-hunt, with the emphasis on ‘witch’. It bears thinking about honestly.

3) So, someone needs to be at least willing to acknowledge the idea that there is a disproportionate sense of entitlement here. And while this certainly wouldn’t be the first time a group of affluent business people were aggressive, it does suddenly paint the once-egalitarian ideals of Web 2.0 in a new light.

4) Finally, to my mind, it is difficult – and irresponsible – to evacuate sex and gender out of this equation. And it may seem trite, but I also think it’s fair to say self-consciously interject that ‘Sarah Lacy is good looking’. Keep in mind, I don’t mean that literally. So let’s not fall into some common traps, namely: that one’s response to the dynamics of sex and gender are conscious such that one can say “oh I didn’t mean that in a sexist way” and then expect that to be taken at face value; and that it is not also sexist to expect masculine, ‘sexually neutral’ behaviour from people. What is neutral is so often actually just the unnamed norm, in much the same way curry is ‘ethnic food’ but hamburgers are ‘just food’. The sheer anger and entitlement at the root of the demands for contrition are almost certainly bound up in the dynamics of sex and sexism, regardless of whether the person involved is a man or woman. Beyond the simple fact that there were unequivocally misogynistic comments on YouTube and blogs covering this, and beyond the usual ‘would this have happened if Lacy were a man’ questions, somebody needs to ask whether traditional masculinity and masculine behaviours aren’t being prioritised here. To wit, things are cool until you actually ‘act like a woman’, whatever the hell that nebulous phrase actually means.

5) I swear on whatever my version of the bible is (Derrida’s Of Grammatology, perhaps? ;)) that this is the last I will ever say of it. Until the next comment anyway…