What the hell were we thinking with that banner?
And just like that, a decade passed.
Exactly ten years and one day ago, Lorenzo burst into our loft apartment, stormed over to Tom’s desk (where he was staring at the non-ringing phone, awash in the delusion that he could will it to ring and that a potential client with a hugely lucrative project would be on the other end), threw down his gym bag and – flush with endorphins and Powerade – shouted, ” I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY WE’RE STARTING A BLOG!”
It was such a 2006 kind of thing to say.
We’ve told this story more than a couple of times (including in today’s podcast), so we’ll skip past Tom’s eye-rolling at Lorenzo’s idea and go straight to the part where he finally gave in with a warning: “Just get it out of your head right now that anyone will read it or that we’ll ever make money off it.” This was a period, after all, when it seemed like every other day, you were hearing about some mom or some college student or some political activist or some unemployed jack-or-jill-of-all-trades who found lightning-bolt success, fame and fortune by starting a humble blog. In the time just before the rise of social media, anyone who had anything to say or express on the internet – and just enough self-determination and/or self-absorption to do the work involved – started a blog. In fact, we can’t truly say we were part of the first wave of blogging. We were the bandwagon-jumpers, not the pioneers. Hence, Tom’s caution to Lorenzo, who has a tendency to be grandiose in his thinking. Tom knew his man well enough to know that there were dollar signs and book deals swimming around in Lorenzo’s brain, even before the first post was written. Even before we knew what we’d be writing about.
Exactly ten years and two days ago, we had been together ten years as a couple, we had both quit our jobs in advertising and academia a couple years earlier (because we were both burnt out completely), and we’d started a consulting business that kept us busy, if not exactly flush with cash. We were also in the middle of what would be one of the darkest and most difficult periods of our lives. The reasons don’t matter. We all have problems and ours at the time were not in any way interesting. But we’ve found over the years, in talking to other successful bloggers, that “hard times” is a very common denominator in the origin tales of their respective endeavors. Again: this is what people who had something to say or were missing something in their lives did before they had Facebook or Twitter or Instagram as their standard options for self-expression and ranting.
The truth of the matter is, when we look back at the very earliest posts we wrote, we can feel the tenseness and anxiety behind them. That sort of emotional state can often spur on creativity, but we think in the case of a blog launch it’s just as likely to be the main driver behind the constant slog of producing content. Blogging – daily, multiple times a day blogging – is less about the creative spark (to be perfectly blunt) and FAR more about having the stamina to keep producing content. Every successful independent blogger became one not just because they had something to say, but because they had an insane drive to keep finding ways to say it. For some, that drive was purely mercenary; a career ambition right from the outset. But in our observation, a far greater number of successful independent bloggers – and by that we mean people who independently own their sites and provide the content for them as their primary income and career, over several years’ time – were going through something serious at the time they launched and that, more than anything else explained their success. It certainly explained ours. We are in no way presenting ourselves as people who have figured life out, but we can say with certainty on this one point that bad shit can sometimes produce good results in the long run, if you can find a way to weather it and channel it.
(This is beginning to sound a bit more grandiose than we intended.)
Exactly ten years ago today, we settled on an idea:
“How about Project Runway? We love the show and hardly anyone is writing about it.”
“An entire blog about a reality TV show? Who would read that?”
“We could make it funny. We just have to find an original way of doing it.”
“You remember that Fug Yourself blog I showed you, right? I really like how those girls can straddle that line between being bitchy and being fun without being nasty. We should do something like that. Only gayer.”
“And about Project Runway.”
“Fine. And about Project Runway.”
Please feel free to cast Chris Pine and Gael Garcia Bernal in the inevitable Oscar-winning biopic version of the above scene. We did, one time when we were drunk and telling this story.
Now, this could be the part where we insert a whole bunch of self-congratulatory stuff and try to present a series of bumbles and guesses as the fulfillment of a personal destiny. Let’s not. Long story short: We turned to blogspot, as so many did in 2006, launched a little dog-and-pony show we called “Project RunGay,” (a name that, truth be told, we found clumsy and awkward practically from the get-go) lucked into an immediate audience and a little press (because the summer of 2006 was probably the high point of Project Runway‘s pop culture standing), and just kept on going from there, because of the aforementioned insane drive to shout something, anything into the void. It wasn’t the stuff of legends, by any means. We were flying by the seat of our pants and it was literally another five years before we realized we had a potential career on our hands. It would be great to cast our beginnings as some culmination of our unique and exciting talent and our fresh and inspirational voices, but starting our blog and having it take off isn’t really something we go around bragging about because so much of it came down to luck, happenstance, and a light bout of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Which isn’t to say we’re not proud of a few things, and we’re going to take the occasion to indulge ourselves by listing them. We’re proud of (and supremely thankful for) the many readers and fans who have supported us. We’re pleased, and sure, a little proud of some of the fabulously fun events we’ve been lucky enough to attend, from premieres to fashion shows. We’re happy and thankful to have had the opportunity to meet an array of chic and interesting (and yes, sometimes vapid and venal) movers and shakers in the fashion and celebrity worlds. And way near the top of the list, we are proud, grateful and humbled to have had the chance to realize a life-long dream and become authors – and to have the opportunity to continue that work on our second book. But we have to be honest, as proud and happy as the aforementioned things make us feel, none of it has made us so proud as this very day.
TEN YEARS, BITCHES. Over EIGHTEEN-THOUSAND posts. And in all that time, it’s always been just the two of us doing the work, building our audience up to the millions and keeping them there over many years. That is not a particularly common achievement. Please excuse a brief bout of strutting.
Okay, we’re done.
One final thing, before we stop talking about ourselves (this time): We find this milestone worth ruminating on because when you come up on a decade of something – especially something that changed your life – it’s hard not to look back over it and note the changes that occurred around it. The internet and pop culture landscape is very, very different from when we first hung out our blogging shingle. A big part of the reason we got out of reality TV blogging is because things like social media gave the audience a chance to fiercely rally around competitors in real time, in a way that wasn’t available to them in 2006. This led, quite naturally in retrospect, to much more fiercely debated arguments and fiercely held alliances among the fanbases of many reality TV shows. This had the dual effect of making a fan blog recap like ours less important to the viewership of the show while in turn making the readership of those recaps far more combative and argumentative. Obviously, we’re not talking about all reality show fans. But online fandom shifted after 2010 or so and when that shift happened for reality TV, we found we had much less to say about it. That’s neither a good or bad thing, just an observation of how things have changed.
Another: The next-morning TV recap is dying a slow death that has accelerated rapidly in the last year or so. We talk about this a bit in today’s podcast, but the gist of it is, both from our own observations and from watching what other TV reviewers and recappers have been doing and saying, there simply isn’t a big enough readership for them any more. People don’t get up en masse the morning after a show aired to find entertaining and incisive reviews and recaps the way they did as recently as three years ago. We don’t have “event TV” anymore and the majority of the online audience isn’t consuming their TV on an agreed-upon schedule. People watch TV whenever they want and they can sit through an entire season of a show in a weekend if they feel like it. They’re not stopping after each viewing to find a rundown of what just happened before they binge the next episode.
And why not, let’s keep going: It’s becoming increasingly obvious to us from our perch that independent blogging tends to only work in the long term when blogs keep their overhead as low as possible in this increasingly scary market. That means that the smaller a blog’s staff, the higher the likelihood of surviving over the long term. The internet graveyard is littered with more venture-capital-fueled content-providing startups than anyone wants to admit, but it’s also full of an increasingly large number of very good smaller sites that couldn’t sustain a staff or pay freelancers based on traditional revenue-generating models. How content-provision is going to pay for itself has always been an issue with the internet economy and it always will be, but this is a rare instance in business where the smaller a company is, the better a chance it has to weather economic shifts. This means that, for now, independent blogging succeeds when the people who own the blog are also the primary providers of content for the blog. It’s 2016 and even Gawker is struggling to keep the lights on.
Okay, sure. One more: We were wrong a year or two back when we said that people are going to start losing interest in the red carpet. We thought it was going to become greatly reduced in popularity as a celebrity or fashion topic. But it turns out once again that social media has thrown a curveball, because now it’s not just design houses tweeting out who’s wearing their stuff, it’s stylists and the stars themselves taking their fans through the styling process on Instagram. This has only led to an increase in demand for red carpet commentary, to our pleasant surprise. It has also led to the highest level of strict style conformity we’ve seen since we started writing commentary on the topic. Everyone is trying to dress just like everyone else. It’s more like sophomore year of high school than ever.
And finally, our super, for-reals last observation: If there’s any one thing we can attribute to our longevity it’s this: we paid attention when the culture shifted, each time it shifted. And believe us, it shifts rapidly online. We’re pretty sure we never used the term in our blogging, but ten years ago, we would have had to be told why “hot tranny mess” wasn’t some funny, bitchy gay witticism. We would have had to be told how it’s not cute to call a short skirt or a tight dress “slutty” when you’re writing about fashion. In fact, we were told. Just as we were told how to talk about people in a more respectful way while still providing some entertainment. Just as we were told that the fashion and entertainment journalism industries white-wash the definition of beauty and tend to render anyone who falls outside the limited scope of it invisible. Just as we were told what kind of language we can use and what kind we absolutely shouldn’t when talking about fashion for plus-sized women. Or hair style choices for black women. Or how so much fashion criticism is gender-based. Or how our culture gives itself permission to criticize the bodies of women. And we tailored our writing and tailored our coverage in each case, as the years went by. We listened to our readers and to various other voices, telling us how to do better.
Believe us, we love what we do, but we don’t have any illusions about what it is. We provide 5 minutes of distraction from someone’s day, sometimes several times a day, on matters that are mostly frivolous at best. And we’ve still got a long way to go in being the kind of inclusive and tolerant, but still fun and entertaining voices we want to be. But we lied to you just now. Hitting our ten-year blogging anniversary isn’t actually what we’re most proud of. This blog made us better people. THAT’S what we’re most proud of.
And thank you so, so much for your help in the matter.