Is Anna Gaca the Worst Writer Ever?

To read a piece of needlessly hostile “journalism” is to be a victim of circumstance — of unimaginative hyperbole, petty music nerd hatred completely disproportionate to, oh say, Trump’s racist speech last night, and other mediums where faux sophistication is derived from an outrageous sentiment, and does this fucking sentence ever end, and are there even copy editors at Spin to confiscate the endless clauses and the glaringly atrocious syntax, and is this even a sentence or a question. Spin regrets the error.

I could spend the rest of this essay thoroughly satirizing Anna Gaca’s hate-infested piece on Imagine Dragons. It’s easy as hell. But I won’t.

You probably came here for a hit piece. You came to follow the rabbit hole. You came to fritter away your time, perhaps seeking an inconsequential expression of enmity to make you feel superior to other people. Especially famous ones.

Well, I’d like you to consider instead a strain of Internet vitriol that you may very well be participating in, recently seen in a warped attack on the band Imagine Dragons.

Now I like Imagine Dragons. I’m far from a hardcore fan. Imagine Dragons is never my first or even my ninety-eighth choice when listening to music. But I have performed their song “Whatever It Takes” at karaoke to appreciative audiences. Imagine Dragons is a completely mainstream but perfectly respectable pop rock band. What was the band’s crime against humanity? To be successful and thus played everywhere. In supermarkets. On Lyft rides. On radio stations. I once heard “Radioactive” on the telephone while I was on hold. The band’s offense is to be inoffensive. Ubiquitously inoffensive.

So when the band bombed on Monday night during a college football halftime show in Santa Clara, California, the Internet pounced on Imagine Dragons and singer Dan Reynolds as if the new Nickelback had at long last emerged from some demonic realm beneath the earth. It was aided and abetted by Ms. Gaca’s Spin article, which gave many license to hate further upon a band that had done nothing wrong other than perform a bad set and have its music played over speakers seemingly against the public’s will. Or, as Ms. Gaca herself phrased it:

Since 2012’s breakthrough “Radioactive,” dynamics have been their blunt-force instrument of choice, each new single crashing through the hyperreality of pop radio to pound another bland hook into a powerless public.

The hyperbole here, driven by words like “blunt-force,” “crashing,” “pound,” and “powerless,” is truly ridiculous. First off, the public is not “powerless.” They can choose to not listen to Imagine Dragons. They can refuse to buy Imagine Dragons’s albums or see them live. They can politely ask the Lyft driver to turn the radio off if Imagine Dragons comes “crashing through.” I’ve done this myself with other bands. It neither impacted my Lyft rating nor did it result in acrimony. Furthermore, what could be more pedestrian and quotidian than pop radio? There is nothing “hyperreal” whatsoever about listening to Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” for the fifty-seventh time while grocery shopping. It is far from surreal and it is about as normal as you can get. To summon this bizarre level of rage and to suggest that there has been some violent imposition comparable to being viciously attacked in the streets by a thug are the telltale marks of a writer incapable of conveying a reasonable opinion.

Every band has an off gig. Every person has an off day. There isn’t a human being walking this earth who hasn’t made a mistake. And if you’re the kind of person who is just waiting for someone you despise to screw up, what does this say about you? Wouldn’t that time be better spent creating or making something? Or perhaps basking in culture that you enjoy or hanging out with friends that you do like?

I can’t imagine the level of pressure on someone like Dan Reynolds to be flawless at all times. But I really warmed up to the guy after seeing his Instagram videos:

X

A post shared by Daniel Coulter Reynolds (@danreynolds) on

View this post on Instagram

O

A post shared by Daniel Coulter Reynolds (@danreynolds) on

In these three videos, Reynolds is honest, sensitive, kind, strong, and objectively decent. How could you hate the guy? Even if you don’t like Imagine Dragons. He is, in short, a human being.

As for Anna Gaca, I don’t hate her at all. But I now know who she is and how she writes. And if I ever see her byline on an article, I’m not going to read it.

But I will still listen to Imagine Dragons.

1/10/2019 UPDATE: Hyperbole would appear to beget hyperbole. Writer Ed Burmilia has actually compared Anna Gaca’s hit piece to H.L. Mencken’s famous obituary of William Jennings Bryan.

I realize that Burmilia is nobly sticking up for a fellow media colleague. But there is a salient difference between the two writers. Mencken used tangible examples to uphold his opinion, such as Bryan’s waffling on Prohibition, whereas Gaca invents bizarre conspiracies such as the “‘recognizable young rock band’ benefits plan.” (And the original version of Gaca’s piece contained a prominent factual error about the Grammy Awards, which was later corrected by Spin.) Imagine Dragons, much like anything, is fair game for criticism. The question here is why the band requires such an extraordinarily aggro response completely disproportionate to its professed sins.

Mencken: “But what of his life? Did he accomplish any useful thing? Was he, in his day, of any dignity as a man, and of any value to his fellow-men? I doubt it. Bryan, at his best, was simply a magnificent job-seeker. The issues that he bawled about usually meant nothing to him. He was ready to abandon them whenever he could make votes by doing so, and to take up new ones at a moment’s notice. For years he evaded Prohibition as dangerous; then he embraced it as profitable. At the Democratic National Convention last year he was on both sides, and distrusted by both. In his last great battle there was only a baleful and ridiculous malignancy. If he was pathetic, he was also disgusting.”

Gaca: “And there’s hardly a safer way to hold market share than being traditional enough to capitalize on the Recording Academy’s ‘recognizable young rock band’ benefits plan (they were nominated for two more Grammys in 2018), yet flexible enough to bend wherever the whims of popularity dictate.”

Andrew Breitbart, Pillar of Hate and Distortion, Dead at 43

Shortly after the stroke of midnight, the last spasms of hate and homophobia flooded through a nasty man’s body. Or, to put it another way, Andrew Breitbart died of natural causes.

Breitbart was a malicious pontificator who liked to run websites which featured the word “big” — the three letter modifier existing in counterpoint to Breitbart’s small and shallow ideas. Big Hollywood, Big Government, Big Journalism, Big Peace. It was all bright and doddering fodder for Breitbart, who spent much of his career desperately seeking legitimacy from a mainstream media that enjoyed quietly pissing into his face. This was the only way to treat a man who was so subsumed with venom that, on the day Ted Kennedy died, Breitbart called him a “villain,” a “duplicitous bastard,” and a “prick.” This Tourette’s-like bile was appealing to a certain type of aggrieved and angry white male seeking a myopic demagogue during a time of political and economic uncertainty. Andrew Breitbart wasn’t terribly special. Yet if Breitbart did not exist, it would be necessary for Grover Norquist to create him.

The most frightening facet about Breitbart is that so many people believed in him. Did Breitbart ever have a nice thing to say about anybody? Why, yes. To Matt Drudge, the very man he sought to emulate. He liked to refer to himself as “Matt Drudge’s bitch.”

“I thought what he was doing was by far the coolest thing on the Internet. And I still do,” said Breitbart in a 2005 CNET interview. Yet Breitbart seemed confused about what real journalism entailed. “I guess I do a lot of new media,” said Breitbart during a 2009 C-SPAN appearance. “I have a website. Breitbart.com. Which is a news aggregation source. In all the years I’ve been on the Internet, all I’ve heard about is newswires. I figured out that that’s where the action is. When you watch CNN and FOX News, and somebody breaks in with a story and they act like somebody in that building actually discovered that story and reported on that story.”

Through such painfully simplistic observations, Breitbart erected a one man media empire devoted to loud eructations. He savaged political careers with unmitigated deception and selective editing — most notably, Anthony Weiner and Shirley Sherrod. With Sherrod, you could almost hear the self-satisfied swish of Breitbart hoisting his own private Confederate flag up a proud pole. In 2010, Breitbart posted two video clips of Sherrod, who was then the Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture.

The videos suggested that Sherrod had deliberately discriminated against a white farmer. Breitbart seized upon this apparent smoking gun with a theatrical glee comparable to William Shatner’s performance in Roger Corman’s The Intruder as a speaker who moves from town to town stirring up bigotry through lies. “Sherrod’s racist tale,” wrote Breitbart, “is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups’ racial tolerance.” The controversy forced Sherrod to resign. Yet the full video and the timeline reconstructed by Media Matters demonstrated that Sherrod was offering a far more complex take on race. The NAACP, White House officials, and the Secretary for Agriculture were forced to apologize with considerable embarrassment.

How could such a louche loudmouth, who enjoyed marinating his racism in the stew of libertarian entitlement, be taken so seriously? Because FOX News had him on all the time and because outfits funded in part by Richard Mellon Scaife were fond of giving Breitbart dubious honors such as the Accuracy in Media Award.

Yet when confronted with serious questions about what Breitbart’s “accuracy” entailed, Breitbert preferred fuming to reason. When James O’Keefe, the young man whose selective editing and faux undercover videos helped give one of Breitbart’s websites a big start, was revealed to be a racist and a white nationalist, Breitbart demonstrated that he wasn’t quite so courageous when it came to confronting the truth.

Journalist Max Blumenthal calmly asked Breitbart at the very same conference where he received the Accuracy in Media Award about all this. Breitbart fulminated back, “Accusing a person of racism is the worst thing that you can do in this country.”

Breitbart could not see the irony in his own remarks.

“Why are you so angry?” asked Blumenthal later in the video.

“Because you’re a punk!” sneered Breitbart. “You destroy people! Because you’re trying to destroy people’s lives through innuendo.”

Breitbart was so guided by deranged mania, so without reconsideration or nuance, that his unhinged homophobia would flow like an alcoholic’s stool sample from his Twitter account over the slightest emotion. When Dan Savage made a foolish remark on Real Time with Bill Maher and later apologized for it, Breitbart resorted again to his tired tactic of accusing the other side of the very thing he was practicing.

When he was dumped from ABC Election Night coverage in 2010, you almost wanted to send him a sympathetic fruit basket or a plate of fresh cookies. You figured that something would have to calm the man down — especially since the elephants couldn’t use the tranquilizer gun to put down one of their own. But then Breitbart would work himself into a lather and accuse the people who canned him of cowardice. And you realized he was beyond repair.

The American political kitchen is filled with pots that are fond of calling the kettles black. The American right is populated with leaders who not only refuse to compromise, but who refuse to understand that the beloved Republicans who came before them were forced to compromise to get things done. Andrew Breitbart represented the worst of them. Yet even as I write these words, this baleful pox is being lionized rather than lambasted, fondly remembered rather than coldly resented, even vaguely considered as a hero by the mainstream outlets. These lamentable results represent the nadir of present-day politics, but they also reveal why a gutless political fool placing bullying and spite before reason and might should be thoroughly denounced.