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 sportover the pastcouple 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.