Salon Finally Gets a Taste of Its Own Outrage

There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 832,000 internet think pieces written last week attempting to examine or comment on the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. One of the columns that got a lot of traction was posted at Salon, as part of its Flight 370-level coverage of the now infamous Jaime-Cersei rape scene, and was written by Dustin Rowles. Dustin is the founder and editor of Pajiba.com, a really terrific pop culture review site, and the piece in question was originally published there but was cross-posted at Salon as part of a deal the two sites have had over the past several months to share some of Pajiba’s content.

Dustin’s original piece for Pajiba was titled “Walter White, Jamie Lannister, and How We Morally Process Murder and Rape Differently,” and its admirable intention was to dissect what it is about the onscreen act of rape that can turn an anti-hero character into someone the audience stops rooting for and starts genuinely loathing. Decent enough idea, right? The piece itself may not have been the greatest thing Dustin’s ever done, but I personally tend to give him the benefit of the doubt because A) I think he’s a damn good writer, B) he generally approaches a topic in good faith and not from a place of wanting to offend anyone, and C) I consider him a friend, given that he was among the very first people to reach out to me and offer kind words when I started blogging eight years ago and the community he’s developed at Pajiba — to say nothing of the stable of excellent talent — is sincerely one of the best the internet has to offer.

But Dustin’s Game of Thrones piece was pored over at Salon and ripped to shreds both in the comment section there and by outsiders, including our own Virginia Pelley. I could never quite understand what Pajiba got from being cross-posted at Salon or, really, what Salon would want from Pajiba, being that Salon all but gave up on thoughtful pop culture analysis years ago in favor of howling at the moon over every little fucking perceived outrage in the name of traffic. Salon sucks these days — period. I’ve made no secret of my views on that subject. And a piece published yesterday at Pajiba commenting on the reaction to the cross-posted piece from last week would seem to indicate that right now Dustin isn’t exactly a huge fan of Salon either. In fact, he’s chosen to end Pajiba’s deal with the people at Salon — largely because of what they did to his piece when they posted it.

Essentially, and to the surprise of no one, they “Salonized” it.

From Dustin’s post yesterday, titled, “How Salon.com Rewrote My Headline and Turned Me Into an Internet Troll”:

We have an arrangement with Salon of dubious value. They post select pieces of ours, and in exchange, we get a trickle of page views in return and some exposure. The other trade-off is that they reheadline our pieces. Headlines are meaningful. They turned my headline — Walter White, Jamie Lannister, and How We Morally Process Murder and Rape Differently — into this headline: Why the “Game of Thrones” rape scene caused fans to respond in the worst possible way. As of this writing, it’s the most read piece on Salon.

That’s quite a different take. Salon took a minor throwaway point that I was making about how we would HAVE to ignore the rape IN ORDER to accept his redemption, and turned it into a headline that suggested it was wrong for the Game of Thrones viewers to become outraged by the scene.

Now, when I saw that headline, I didn’t even realize it was my piece at first, and I was pissed before I’d even read it. I was like, “Who the fuck are you to tell me how I’m supposed to react to a television scene?” Then I saw my name, and I was like, ‘Wut?” I suspect a lot of people felt the same way, and that many of those people barely read the piece, misinterpreted it, and/or interpreted to fit the narrative that the headline had created in their minds, i.e., that the Internet shouldn’t have gotten outraged about a rape scene.

THAT WAS NOT WHAT I WAS SAYING.

I’ve written before about how Salon can take even a measured, thoughtful piece of journalism or commentary and turn it into the ridiculous outrage porn the site is now known for, simply by slapping an amped-up troll-bating headline on it, one that belies the true meaning of the article itself. They’ve done it many, many times. But this is the first time I think we’ve seen someone actually complain about it and call the site out for distorting his or her intentions and opinions. Normally, when Salon isn’t publishing its own staffers, who can’t exactly make a stink about what the bosses are doing, it’s working either with people who have a similarly strident political opinion or with barely-there freelance writers who probably just like the exposure and page-views. This time, though, they screwed with somebody who doesn’t really care about being published in Salon because he doesn’t stand in awe of the site, doesn’t share its values as a rule, and isn’t really getting much out of the deal anyway.

I’ve turned complaining about Salon into a contact sport over the past couple of years, but that won’t negatively impact the site even a little. Patton Oswalt has both shamed and mocked Salon, and that also won’t make a damn bit of difference. But what Dustin Rowles just did is important. Like all the other criticism, it may not make a difference when it comes to Salon’s bottom line, but in calling the site out for its tawdry, cynical click-baiting — from the perspective of someone whose own work was misrepresented — he’s proven better than I or any outsider ever could that Salon has become an embarrassment to journalism and commentary. And it obviously doesn’t care one bit about that.

  • merl1

    I still read Alex Pareene at Salon but that’s about it.

  • M D Reese

    Just reading the reviews of this show makes me wonder why anyone would want to watch it. What is the fascination with sick minds.

    • Aaron Litz

      Because it’s a very good show, and having the antagonists in a story doing bad things that the protagonists have to stop has kind of been one of the main tropes in all of fiction ever since stories were first invented.

      Do all of you people really have a problem understanding that, or do you all just get off on feeling superior to the rest of us and our “fascination with sick sick minds?” Because having villains doing bad things like rape really isn’t a shocking or new idea; in fact it is quite old.

  • http://vermillionbrain.blogspot.com/ Vermillion

    Yeah, I figured you would have something to say on this, Chez, coming from both the history with Pajiba and the “Salon Outrage Machine” angle.

    When I read Pelley’s piece, and saw that name, I was like “WHO SAID WHAT, WHERE?”

  • Kim Williams

    As a rape survivor, this scene didn’t make me feel any different than when Jaime pushed Bran out of the window, trying to kill Him. I saw it more as more of Cersei & Jaime’s twisted dynamic, They are brother & sister after all.

    I made this comment on a (usually not too crazy feminist pop culture site that I frequent) and got totally hammered for it. People can get a bit crazy.

    • Schneibster

      I’m glad it wasn’t a trigger for you; that’s the only thing I’d worry about, besides careless adults letting little kids see it.

      • villemar

        Can we maybe not validate the concept of Triggers? Seriously, fuck that. There is no such thing.

        • Kim Williams

          I’ll not rule out triggers for others but I personally have never experienced one. I’ve always known that I did nothing wrong & have never felt traumatized or victimized over it. I hold more anger & dismay over the major stroke I had at 39. That ended my life as I knew it.

          • villemar

            In retrospect I might have been a little hasty in snapping at Schneibster for their empathic response; I just see the concept of Trigger Words to be part of the whole (paraphrasing Suey Park) Outrage Industrial Complex which accomplish exactly nothing. Sorry for that, and I hope things get better for you, and without having to deal with backlash at sites that reflexively go after you for placing things in context.

          • Schneibster

            Easy big guy. It’s not the words, it’s the scene they evoke. Some people react, some don’t. PTSD is funny that way.

          • Kim Williams

            I guess that’s what I was getting at. My stroke caused partial paralysis & a couple other issues. I’m still trying to get beyond the anger & fear from that. That’s the reason I won’t rule out rape triggers for others. Pre-stroke, I didn’t really believe in PTSD, now I understand.

          • Schneibster

            I got it from repeated heart attacks. Hugs.

        • JozefAL

          Sorry bud, but triggers DO exist. For the most part we tend to think of POSITIVE triggers–things like hearing a particular song reminds you of “the one that got away” or that very first slow dance at your prom or walking into your mom’s kitchen and smelling freshly made sticky buns and being transported to those long-gone days of childhood. A smell of diesel fuel and stale cigarette smoke reminds you of your dad or uncle who let you help him work on his truck.

          If there are things that trigger positive memories, then it only stands to reason that there are things that trigger negative memories. (Hell, I work at the Post Office and a couple of years ago, an employee basically lost it and pull a concealed handgun and started shooting. We’ve got employees still working who jump if there’s a sudden sharp noise–like a gun being fired. Is this not a “trigger?”)

          • villemar

            Oh absolutely there are trigger effects with regards to PTSD, but the idea that so-called “Trigger Words” exist in online or print journalism is pure nonsense.

          • Aaron Litz

            Yes there are Triggers for memory. Scent is one of the strongest, but anything can do it.

            Life is a Trigger.

            But if we attempted to label every possible word that could serve as a trigger, we would soon end up unable to say anything because any word could potentially trigger an unpleasant memory. We would also have to filter potentially harmful scents, colors, sounds, etc.

            And then, at what point would the Trigger warning themselves become the Triggers, because they cause people to start thinking about what the warnings could be hiding and work themselves up into an anxiety attack? Because that is exactly what would happen, just as the euphemisms that people create to shield themselves from offensive words soon become offensive themselves, requiring people to make euphemisms for the euphemisms, in the ridiculous never-ending treadmill.

            It is not simply implausible, it is actually impossible.

            Expecting the world to filter itself for our own mental comfort is an exercise in futility and will only leave one twisted into a state of impotent frustration because it just isn’t going to happen. I’m not going to try to claim that Triggers aren’t real because they are, and I’ve personally experienced them (as has everyone else who has ever had something cause them to recall a memory, which means everyone with a correctly-functioning brain); I suffer from an anxiety disorder and have fairly frequent anxiety attacks, and sometimes there is no telling what will trigger them. I went through a period a few months ago where just thinking about having difficulty breathing, thinking about the vacuum of space, or even merely the idea of having something covering my mouth would send me into an attack of asthma, panic, and utter cosmic dread that would last for an hour or more, and the attacks were horrifying. (The thought of suffocation tied into much bigger existential issues and problems that were far beyond the concept of just having trouble breathing.)

            This happened at the time it started getting really cold out and around the time the movie Gravity came out, but I would have never expected everyone to stop wearing scarves in my presence, or tell them not to talk about the new movie that was really good. (I have no idea why my panic attacks started being triggered by the idea of suffocation, but I wasn’t going to make other people pay the price for my problem.) That triggering idea has passed (which they do, unless you constantly dwell on them, which is the real big problem some people have with them) and I plan on finally watching Gravity tonight.

            We can and do and should label scenes and images that graphically depict things which might be triggering, but expecting people to label every single word that could be triggering is an utterly ridiculous ridiculous Internet trend that I hope dies a painful death soon.

            By Nyarlathotep I miss the old Internet, even just ten years ago, when it was still mostly geeks and other intelligent people, and not full of whining attention whores out looking for any possible thing to be offended by and trolling for sympathy publicity.

        • http://www.osborneink.com/ OsborneInk

          The entire psychology profession disagrees with you. So do most trauma and PTSD survivors that I know.

          • villemar

            To clarify, there is no such thing as Trigger Words. The Manchurian Candidate was a work of fiction. Aaron articulated this way better than I did. It’s reductio ad absurdum…

          • http://www.osborneink.com/ OsborneInk

            I see what you did there now.

  • bwellerr

    No offense to your friend Dustin, but he doesn’t sound too bright. They re-did the headline, and “As of this writing, it’s the most read piece on Salon.” So WTF is the problem here? I mean, regardless of anything, Salon’s number 1 priority seems to be generating interest and they clearly did that. I might be able to understand the outrage if your friend didn’t agree to allow Salon to change the headlines… But the only reason to change a headline is to generate interest, and obviously that’s something your friend wanted. The line between a good title and misleading one is always extremely thin.

    • http://vermillionbrain.blogspot.com/ Vermillion

      So…even though they totally misrepresented his post to the point of almost inverting his whole point, and got him flamed from here to Istambul, he shouldn’t complain because pageviews.

      Is that what you are saying? Because it sounds like that is what you are saying.

      • Sean Richardson

        It does sound as if he specifically agreed to let them re-title the headlines, and the reason that he agreed to let Salon cross-post was because he wanted more views, so I’m not sure what exactly he expected if not for them to change the headlines in ways that would maximize the page-views.

        • Aaron Litz

          I would bet that he was expecting to not have his pieces misleadingly titled in such a way as to negate the entire meaning of what he wrote, and subsequently generate intense hatred of him from the majority of attention deficit people on the Internet who only read the headline and maybe two sentences before jumping to the comments section to spew their bile.

          You know, expecting to have his work portrayed accurately and treated with integrity, rather than as inflammatory click-bait.

        • http://vermillionbrain.blogspot.com/ Vermillion

          With that reasoning, it should be okay for, say, a CBO report saying that Obamacare will allow millions to leave the workforce because they can afford health insurance without extra income to be retitled “Obamacare Costs Millions of Jobs”. Oh wait…

          Changing a title for better SEO and more engagement is one thing, but to completely change the meaning of the piece to something that undermines the very point he was trying to make? No, that is not kosher. If anything, you should be wondering why Salon didn’t consider a title closer in tone and meaning to the piece. If they thought the title had to be changed that much in order to get people’s attention, why run it in the first place?

          • bwellerr

            As far as the example you provided: that’s for us to complain about. But for writers to complain? They’re supposed to come up with a title that generates the most amount of interest… They shouldn’t be complaining unless the title change is really egregious. A misleading title comes from the same place as a good title: the desire to generate views.

            You made a good point about people seeing the title and not reading the article… If that weren’t an issue, you wouldn’t have much of a leg to stand on. But the bottom line is: Salon became successful with it’s current strategy. So that’s why they ran the piece and changed the title. And I don’t read Salon, which may be the problem here because it’s possible there may have been mounting frustration that led to this issue with the writer.

          • http://vermillionbrain.blogspot.com/ Vermillion

            That is ridiculous. You mean to tell me if Random House suddenly re-titled “Green Eggs and Ham” into “The Dangers of Salmonella and Peer Pressure”, the Geisel estate can’t complain about it? Because one title would certainly get more eyeballs in the children’s book section more than the other? Or if “American Psycho” got renamed “Hey, Remember The 80s?”. We had a whole string of VH1 shows dedicated to the idea behind the latter title, so don’t say it wouldn’t get more interest.

            They shouldn’t be complaining unless the title change is really egregious.

            Changing the entire point of the piece to the point where people are flaming him for an opinion he never expressed in said piece is pretty damn egregious. I mean, if they hated the original title that much, why couldn’t they come up with a better one that the overly aggressive and completely antithetical to the author’s position crap they did? If the article simply wasn’t that interesting without the clickbait title, why run it at all?

            Regardless of how successful Salon’s strategy is, it doesn’t somehow make the misrepresentation right. Even if people did read the article after that title, they would assume that the author either a) has no idea what he is talking about (which is what happened with a lot of the reactions) or b) assume it is clickbait and be LESS inclined to read his material from then on. So yeah, it leads to a temporary boost in views, but it hurts the long-term standing of the author and his brand.

            I can’t believe that people are honestly arguing that a writer can’t complain that somebody else’s title of his work gives people the wrong idea. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

        • Lady Willpower

          He probably felt that there’s a difference between “re-titling my posts to get more page views” and “re-titling my posts to make me look like a rape apologist.”

    • Jezzer

      No offense to you, but you don’t sound very bright if you can’t understand the difference between making a snappier headline and making a headline that sends the exact opposite intended message.

  • Quack!

    Anyone else notice that in the several outrage pieces published on the rape scene, no one really seemed taken aback at the fact that it was a brother and sister fucking?

    • Jack Lewis

      I guess people familiar with GoT knew these two were fucking and had children so that outrage was probably pretty old by then.

    • Eve

      That wasn’t really important for this scene. Related or not, Jamie forced himself on Cersei. The incest is old news, in a way — that was shocking back in season one, and has been largely on the back burner, or in the background, since Jamie was taken prisoner on the show and he and Cersei haven’t been together in three seasons (not sure how many months/years on the show).

      • JozefAL

        Yeah, but in the first scene where we witnessed their sexplay back in Season 1, Jaime tried to kill a little boy who accidentally witnessed their “sin.”

        And the rape scene is supposed to be worse than attempted murder?

        And of course, where was the outrage when Theon Greyjoy was being tortured and was NEARLY RAPED before his torturer “saved” him? Or when Theon lost his, um, “little head?” I guess a penis being cut off isn’t as “shocking” as a rape (which, in the book, turned into consensual sex).

        • Eve

          I really think the problem is that people were getting to like Jamie, he seemed to be redeeming himself to an extent, and then he did this very bad thing. You’re right, other and arguably worse things have happened.

    • M D Reese

      That was the part that made me the most nauseated. I can’t even read reviews of the show. I don’t get it–anymore than I get the fascination with “Breaking Bad”.

      • Aaron Litz

        Because some despicable villain characters do despicable things you can’t understand why people like the show? Really?

        I assume you must only read or watch stories where every character is a morally outstanding hero, since the idea of villains do villainous things makes you so nauseous?

        • M D Reese

          I just wonder why people are so drawn to it. It’s sick for the sake of being sick. “24” was like that as well.

          • Aaron Litz

            Because it’s a beautifully costumed, extremely well-acted, and intriguing fantasy series, when things like that are few and far between?

            And it is hardly sick just for the sake of being sick. Describing people as being wicked and then showing them doing nothing more vile than short-changing merchants is hardly a satisfying way of making a story. The things done in the story because it is the kinds of things that were really done in the place and era of Earth that the setting emulates, and it is being realistic.

            But if you prefer Bowdlerized bad guys full of “darn it”s and “golly”s who’s evilness is limited to not holding the door open for old ladies, have at it and enjoy it. I surely don’t.

            24 was a different an animal entirely, and I didn’t watch it. Those kind of shows bore me.

          • Lady Willpower

            Because good is boring.

          • M D Reese

            Then I guess bore me to tears then.

          • Lady Willpower

            K.

  • jbszeus

    I really don’t know why this would surprise anyone. Salon cultivates the controversy in the spirit of “any traffic is good traffic.” It’s a marketing ploy, nothing more. No such thing as bad attention until the law or the IRS comes around.

  • Schneibster

    Josh did a lot of that too at TPM (the headline thing). Probably still does, I wouldn’t know.

  • Renegade Quark

    Salon is only read by self-loathing Liberals who have to whine in order to breathe. Having a piece published by them is more a pain in the ass than it is a feather in your cap. What a sad little subsidized rag it is.