There is a belief (once shared by this author) that capitalism is value neutral. To paraphrase Deadwood and George Hearst within — our society’s great hope is that we organize to create commerce; that any person, black, white or otherwise, can transcend the boundaries of outward qualifiers to make a better, more prosperous world. It’s an intoxicating idea. Meritocracy-as-governance, organized around a common purpose.
It is, of course, complete and utter bullcrap. American history is littered with mathematical proofs detailing the lie. If it was true, then black Americans would’ve been sold groceries from white-owned stores; if it was true, women would be catered to in movies, books, and video games, where they make up a majority of those consumers.
But it isn’t. The dirty little non-secret that anyone who wasn’t born rich and powerful is that the most profitable things are not considered. Supposed emotionless decision-making, based on only facts and numbers, doesn’t exist, and never has — and the powerful have spent a long time trying to convince us otherwise.
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We’re reminded of this again, with the slow degradation of Deadspin and the abrupt firing of Barry Petchesky, Deadspin’s longtime Deputy Editor. It doesn’t matter that many of the most-viewed articles on Deadspin are either only tangentially related to sports, or not about sports at all.
Deadspin’s brand, from the second it launched, was about poking and prodding and telling those in power to go screw themselves (as they did with our current President). It’s what made them profitable, it’s what made them a powerful brand, and it’s what has allowed them to grow and grow in a tough media environment.
If the money spends, then the purchase of Deadspin by G/O Media from Univision wouldn’t have been a cause for alarm. If all that matters is making money, then they would’ve left the site to their own devices, and sat back and counted their cash. Instead, they’ve decided to gut the company, and they’ve done so in a way that suggests they know it’s a mistake.
Secret memos, underhanded surveys, and removal of senior staff supportive to the Deadspin mission have been their preferred method of change. They won’t come right out and say that they don’t want to be Deadspin: Question Everything and Everyone, because they know it’s foolish and shortsighted. Eventually, then, you ask yourself — why in the world would they do this? And you ask yourself the same thing Danny Bowes did.
The answer is, of course, that it’s both. The answer to both questions is that they don’t understand capitalism, and how it can fail, and why in the world they’ve made it far enough to have the kind of money to purchase a site like Deadspin.
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The most ruthless of people understand that economics, like all politics, is an expression of power. Money is a means to an end — it’s about making sure that they can never be told what to do, ever. So, in that sense, the purchase of Deadspin and its subsequent neutering tracks very well.
Jim Spanfeller and the rest of his crock-crap cronies believe that power is the most important thing, and because they have power, they are the most important people. They think that because sites like Deadspin hurt those in power, then that must be bad — therefore, getting rid of the parts that speak truth to power must be good. Forget logic, forget rationality, forget the numbers and screw what everyone is telling them — they’re powerful, so they must be right.
And when they’re wrong, it won’t matter. Deadspin will fall apart, they will still be rich, and they’ll move onto some other successful business to run into the ground. It’ll never be their fault, because the end goal is not success but pleasing themselves. If your only goal is to make yourself happy, then you never need to care about anyone else.
But what they’re misunderstanding is that they think they’re the top of the food chain, instead of just being the fastest prey. They’re headed for the last stop, not the ones conducting the train. Eventually, capitalism eats its way to the very top; eventually, someone will own all of the capital, or enough of it for it to be functionally true. And when nobody has anything else to spend, they’ll run out of income, and collapse, too.
But we’ll die, first. And that’s all they care about. A few more days — a little more power — just one more dollar. They’ll kill us all for the chance to stay in the freaking penthouse. Places like Deadspin and Splinter and Gawker and the Denver Post and the LA Weekly and local TV news (screw yourself, Sinclair, while we’re on the subject) have been or will be completely destroyed. They’re Sherman marching to the sea, unaware at the end of the road are their own goddamn beach houses.