either ai will destroy me or barbie will
this is a blog about ambition, i promise
It’s the beginning of July and the Barbie PR machine has come fully to life, a gargantuan creature that only Mattel money could fund. To date, I have not been given the opportunity to interview either Margot Robbie, Greta Gerwig, or Ryan Gosling. I desperately attempted to get into the room, but the junket was in LA and they didn’t get back to me about virtual interviews.
I haven’t given up hope. But this leads to my first point about ambition. I want to be in that room. I want to interview these people. I want to write the big fuck-off profiles and in-depth features that make people scream, that make all the other fucking sites scramble to aggregate. I want to be That Writer. And I want to do it on my terms.
This isn’t just about my ambition. Margot Robbie, a talented woman who has absolutely landed bombshell status due in part to her charm, charisma, and, it has to be said, ethereal beauty, is also deeply, visibly, and palatably ambitious. Admirably ambitious. The kind of ambition that makes the world run out of bright pink paint in the lead-up to her movie.
Two Barbie-based profiles—one focused on Margot Robbie and the other on Ryan Gosling—were published within a few weeks of each other. There is nothing more delicious to me than spending some time comparing these two profiles, not only because I am currently obsessed with the Barbie narrative right now, but because these two profiles are in conversation. Like yes, obviously, but more than being about Barbie, or even about its stars, these two profiles are about ambition.
Kind of in a classic Barbie and Ken fashion, Robbie was featured in Vogue, her profile written by Abby Aguirre. Gosling in GQ, Zach Baron behind the screen. Robbie talks about her production company, her first roles, how she approached Mattel, and what she did to protect her vision. Greta Gerwig weighs in a little bit, but Robbie’s words take up most of the profile, and she is so focused, so direct, so wonderfully ambitious. She has money, means, the name, the credentials, the bona fides. She’s the real fucking deal and she knows it. She wields that knowledge, that power with a kind the kind of glee that comes from self-assurance. Superstardom isn’t just in her line of sight it’s already been scheduled. She’s boarded the rocketship and sitting back, sipping champagne as she awaits the July 21st liftoff.
Gosling talks (reluctantly) about his childhood, his leading man-ness (or lack thereof), and his family. There are some quotes from Emily Blount, a couple from Gerwig, and one from Harrison Ford. He also talks about Ken. But only a little. GQ is more of a discussion of his oeuvre, not really about Barbie. Is it the audience? Is it performance? Is it editing? or is Gosling really this reluctant to take the spotlight from the women who fought to make Barbie happen? God, I hope it’s a little bit of everything, to be honest.
The difference between these two profiles; one a picture of a woman with ambitions unrealized but well within her grasp, the other a picture of a man who has realized his ambitions have mostly been achieved, is reflected in the writing itself. Ambition is never mentioned, it’s not the focus, but it’s in every paragraph, in the lines, in the energy these two writers bring to their copy.
Margot Robbie has ambition. Ryan Gosling is happy to be along for the ride. Her passion for being The Most is in part because Robbie needs to be memorable. She can’t just be a name and a face she has to have a company, she has to have friends, she has to have connections and money and everything else to ensure that she can become her own god-damn brand else she might suffer the same kind of casting disaffection that many talented, beautiful Hollywood starlets suffer in their mid-30s.
As I was finishing this up, rambling about how much I admire this kind of ambition, the desire to make the absolute most out of everything, to say yes to big swings, to stand up to big companies, G/O Media announced that it would be experimenting with AI-generated content.
(A quick note: G/O Media is a collection of blogs that include Gizmodo, The Onion, Jezebel, Kotaku, Deadspin, A/V Club, and others. I write for io9, which I affectionately call the pop culture vertical at Gizmodo. It is currently owned by Great Hill Partners, a private equity firm. Private equity investments and journalism do not typically go hand in hand.)
So here’s the long and short of it; the execs at G/O Media who made this decision did not consult the writers, editors, or many of the editors-in-chief of the various companies about this decision, or even this announcement. The two unions at G/O Media - Gizmodo Media Group and The Onion Union, immediately organized and decried this email, and you can read the dozens of threads currently on Twitter about this.
The fact is that AI can’t do what I do, and the point of this decision is not to replace journalism, but to replace journalists with content farms, to turn our sites into SEO-catchers, and to sell as many ads as possible on the most pages. The investment into AI content is not an investment in journalism, newsrooms, or even news sites. It’s an exercise in greed, diminishing returns, and active disdain for the real concerns that writers have about the veracity, ecological impact, theft, copyright issues, and labor exploitation at the heart of AI-generated content.
So this is bullshit, basically.
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If this goes forward, it will not go unopposed. The writers at all the G/O sites deserve better, will demand better, and will fight to have our demands heard. Follow us. Keep an ear out for what you can do to support us as we defend one of the oldest digital media first news sites on the internet from the ambition of private equity investors.
I’ve got legacy media ambitions. I want to be an entertainment reporter. I want to be someone who gets to write those big fuck-off interviews in Vogue and GQ. I want to publish investigations. I want to count on making more enemies in this industry than friends because I want to deliver unflinching, critical, direct reporting. I love my job and I will be fighting to make sure that I, my colleagues, and future culture writers have a place in this industry. There will be so many more films, games, and books I want to talk about. I want to do it with my union.
I’ve got Barbie ambition; I want to make the world run out of pink paint.
I’m not going to do it alongside AI.
This is my first real post here! I’m going to do some other stuff as well, but I have a few caveats.
The first is that whatever I write here has to be stuff that io9 wouldn’t want and nobody else would pay me for. Very Personal Blog Vibes.
The second is that I’m going to try to balance promoting my writing on io9 and figuring out how to promote other people’s writing. I think I want to write more like this; responses to media critique and culture and small little notes on stuff that I either appreciated or did not appreciate.
Did not appreciate: Asteroid City
That was easy.
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Next time: Gen Con, awards, and what to do to keep up with my writing if/when Twitter dies.