“It’s just sooooo much better on coke, you just wouldn’t believe it, that’s how I prefer it, really, it’s so much better it almost isn’t worth doing it sober.” Though I remained professionally impassive behind my Prodesign 4360 eyeglasses, I was simply amazed at the story that my old high-school classmate was telling me over a few drinks. Back in 1986, she’d been just another quiet, reasonably pretty girl, and in the present day she’s a suburban housewife with the requisite $70,000 Toyota and the mandatory country club memberships. In between, however, she’d apparently done some pretty crazy stuff, including a couple of cocaine-laced three-way weekend throwdowns in Las Vegas. “You go to Vegas for your car thingies, don’t you?” she inquired, her nostrils flaring in Proustian sympathy.
“Er, not any more I don’t,” I hastily replied. Twenty minutes later I was quite deliberately out the door, heading home on my little Honda motorcycle, and feeling quite square. Not my kind, dear. I’ve never done cocaine. Never plan to. But it seems like every woman I meet nowadays has climbed a veritable Everest of the stuff. Was I missing something? To find out, I decided to ask my resident expert on kink, drugs, department-store clothes-shopping, and all other things vaguely disreputable.
“I suppose sex might be better on cocaine the first few times,” the infamous Vodka McBigbra told me as I knelt in my driveway, scrubbing bugs off my Boxster’s smudged 3M nose shield, “but every guy I ever saw who used coke to enhance sex ended up giving up the sex in order to focus more intently on the coke, you know? There’s just never enough of it, you understand? There are these great hits, but then there just isn’t enough. I don’t think you understand.”
Oh, sweetheart, but I do understand. After all, I’m an automotive journalist.
Our coke in the autojourno game is called “content”. When we start off in that game, most of us take the big hits, shots to the dome through a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill right off a stripper’s D-cups. I’m talking about the first time you come home and there’s a free $75,000 car in your driveway, or the first time you order room service at a press event, or the first time you see a massive, 50/50-blend-suit-wearing fellow standing at the bottom of the escalator at LAX, holding a sign with your name on it. Big hits, the heady rush, the whirlwind of faux importance, the VIP lifestyle. Good stuff, if you like that sort of thing. The content comes easily. It flows from your fingertips. You spend three days partying and write a thousand words.
A year or two later, you’re basically this guy. (Warning: NSFW due to language and violence) You’re under the gun to create content. You have readers numbering in the hundreds, thousands, or millions, and they want to read something right now. If you don’t have it, they will go somewhere else, and they might not come back. Yes, you have a big Mercedes press trip. That’s next week. You need a hit now. Son, it’s time to sell a cheeseburger — or get your knees dirty. Let’s walk down the alley and meet some fiends, shall we?
We’ll start with the absolutely staggering number of news outlets, ranging from bottom-feeding SEO-grinder Motor Authority all the way to the Huffington Post, that uncrticially reported on… a vinyl-wrapped Lamborghini Aventador for sale at Lamborghini Miami. “FIRST GOLD-PLATED LAMBORGHINI!” “FIRST GOLD-WRAPPED LAMBORGHINI!” “ONE OF THE FIRST GOLD-WRAPPED AVENTADORS IN THE GREATER MIAMI AREA!” “EXCLUSIVE VIDEO OF ONE OF THE FIRST GOLD-WRAPPED AVENTADORS IN A 200-FOOT RADIUS — DRIVING FAST! BEING PULLED OVER! JUST SITTING THERE PARKED!”
This is content-kerbcrawling at its absolute worst. It isn’t newsworthy. It isn’t interesting. It isn’t worth reading by anyone at all. It’s simply another piece of content for the mill. I expect this sort of thing from MotorAuthority, which is kind of the Tommy Hilfiger of automotive journalism in the William Gibson sense:
simulacra of simulacra of simulacra. A dilute tincture of Ralph Lauren, who had himself diluted the glory days of Brooks Brothers, who themselves had stepped on the product of Jermyn Street and Savile Row … There must be some Tommy Hilfiger event horizon, beyond which it is impossible to be more derivative, more removed from the source, more devoid of soul. — William Gibson, “Pattern Recognition”
Given that the phrase “gold-wrapped Lamborghini”, in quotes, has over 91,000 Google results at the time of this writing, however, one can safely assume that it wasn’t just the worst of the worst who defaced their WordPress interfaces with this “story”. (That, by the way, is six times as many hits as a random Alexander Pope quote — “What, that thing of silk?” — which I tossed in for contrast.) In a way, it’s a new low for the automotive media. We’ve been pawns of the manufacturers ever since the first “buff book” appeared. Now, we’re pawns of the dealers.
To be fair, however, there really is a gold-wrapped Aventador out there. It’s for sale at Lamborghini of Miami. Please feel free to contact them about it, and if you buy it, please feel free to delete this website from your bookmarks.
Our next group of crack fiends goes by the name of Limited Slip Blog. At the risk of being more unkind than is strictly necessary, I should point out that “LSB” has no reason to exist. There’s virtually no unique content, there isn’t any insight offered on any topic whatsoever, and there isn’t anything on the site that you couldn’t find on the aforementioned MotorAuthority, complete with higher-resolution photos. The entire purpose of LSB, as far as I can tell, is to get the “founders” some free cars and press trips.
In order to do that, they need clicks, which means they need… you know… content. Until very recently, a lot of their content came from a fellow named Brendon Davis. Mr. Davis, who did not return my request to be interviewed, is supposedly a former parole officer turned AutoZone employee who “track-rats” a 2008 BMW M3. He published multiple reviews of exciting cars like the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon and thus helped satisfy LSB’s growing content addiction.
There was one problem, however: Mr. Davis was plagiarizing content from other blogs, most notably Hooniverse. The CTS-V review? Taken, word for word, from Jeff Glucker’s review. Long-time TTAC readers will be pleased to hear, by the by, that Mr. Glucker has recovered from his slut-shaming by Michael Spinelli and has gone on to have many press cars, press trips, and a manufacturer-funded lifestyle the likes of which your humble author can only dream.
Some of the Brendon Davis “tests” aren’t even plagiarized from existing sources; they appear to be entirely false, created using eBay photographs and Mr. Davis’ own fertile imagination. This is assuming, of course, that Mr. Davis even exists himself. When Hooniverse cried foul, the “founders” immediately “fired” Mr. Davis and refused to provide his contact information to anyone. Mr. Davis’ Facebook and Twitter pages, frankly, look like the kind of thing the 4chan crowd gins up in its spare time for purposes of pranking other Facebook and Twitter users.
Perhaps the “founders” created Mr. Davis for the purposes of publishing plagiarized content, knowing they would eventually be discovered. The scandal, such as it is, has actually helped LSB and brought them readers. No such thing as bad publicity in this game, I suppose. Ironclad, wholly-reliable prediction: someone from Limited Slip Blog will take an overseas trip courtesy of a manufacturer before your humble author does.
It’s tough to fault the LSB guys, even if they knowingly faked everything on their site. Content’s hard to make nowadays. Everybody’s on their knees by the end of the news day. Want proof? Look no further than the lavishly-funded, fully-staffed pot of gold at the end of the Internet auto-rainbow. Under the leadership of editor Ray Wert, Jalopnik’s craving for “uniques” — prioritizing new visitors to the site over established readers — became harder to satisfy than Paul “Mr. P.C.” Chambers’ heroin addiction, and far less conducive to artistic or creative excellence.
This week, Matt Hardigree’s controversial piece gRACEful was attacked as “Gawker gay propaganda” in the comments. It’s hardly that — Mr. Underwood is about as straight as they come, so to speak — but the breathless prose Hardigree uses to describe the man verges on the homoerotic more times than it doesn’t. More to the point, the article represents content-grinding at its worst. Mr. Underwood was a quarter-midget racer in his youth before becoming a respected ballet dancer as an adult, which makes his inclusion in Jalopnik about as reasonable as it would have been for Sports Illustrated to do a profile on Lieutenant William Calley because he once played Little League baseball.
Why do the article? Simple: it’s content, and it got clicks, and it maybe even got unique clicks, presumably from that community of Internet users who closely follow both quarter-midget racing and ballet. Is it news? No. Was it relevant to most Jalops? No. In this case, the Wert Doctrine actually hurt the site, as it would have been more interesting to many readers to see an expanded story on a gold-wrapped Aventador. That wouldn’t be unique content, however, and it wouldn’t get “uniques”.
That’s the end of our tour through the Content Crack Ho Alley this week. Some readers might note that, by covering these items, your humble author is, himself, generating content for TTAC. Perhaps I’m here in more than an observational capacity, eh? It occurs to me that if everyone on this business could simply agree to stop this relentless, savage struggle to generate content, we could then all go forward to create the articles that people really want to see, devote more time to each high-quality feature, and make it more pleasant to be a “car guy” on the Internet. Don’t look for that to happen. Rather, the pressure to grind out the headlines will only increase. After all, as V. McB warned me, “once people start on that stuff, only the strong, or the crazy, ever know when, or even how, to stop.”