What Happened To The Superficial? Pt. 3 The Wipening
One day in the eighth grade, my teacher told us about Robert O’Donnell. If you already know who that is, don’t panic. I’m fine. Everything’s cool. There’s a point to this, but maybe don’t quote me on that. For those of you who don’t know, O’Donnell is the paramedic who climbed down a claustrophobic hell-pipe (twice) and heroically emerged cradling Jessica McClure, the famous baby who had fallen down a well in October 1987. As for how something like that even happens, you have to understand that parenting in the ’80s was a very loose and care-free time where you could get let your kids wander loose for hours, if not days on end, and no one gave a shit. It was pretty magical provided you overlook the occasional child in a well and never, ever Google the story behind America’s Most Wanted. Seriously, don’t do that.
Anyway, Baby Jessica was fucking huge. Think the cave rescue of the soccer team in Thailand, except nothing like it had ever been televised before. According to The New York Times, goddamn Nancy Reagan was in the hospital finding out she had breast cancer, and she made the biopsy team wait until she saw if little Jessica made it out of the well. As cliche as this sounds, it was a turning point in American news coverage.
But like everything in America, shit got dark real fast, and the baby in the well became a case study on the perils of strapping people to the instant celebrity rocket. While O’Donnell was lauded as a hero in the aftermath — the image of him reaching the surface with Baby Jessica won a Pulitzer Prize — America moved on to the next shiny thing, as we do. O’Donnell did not handle that transition well, and he committed suicide after years of trying to cope with the jarring return to obscurity. (If you read the NYT link above, O’Donnell’s story is actually more nuanced than that and a poignant cautionary tale on how guns mixed with unchecked mental illness and toxic masculinity is a recipe for disaster. Every time.)
On account of my attention span having exactly two speeds: “Shit, Was Someone Talking?” and “The Inside of My Mind is the Only Thing That Exists! Wheee!”, I can’t for the life of me explain why our teacher decided to tell a room full of tweens about a guy who killed himself because he was on TV for a little while and then wasn’t. (In that amount of detail.) But, I can tell you that it’s a memory that repeatedly surfaced after my time at The Superficial ended with an eerily quiet “poof.”
So, now that I’ve spent three paragraphs using a very awkward and possibly offensive example to hint at emotions that I’m terrified to get into later, we return to our story about what happened to some penis jokes on the internet.
Not Without My Photo Boy
In the last, and I promise final cliffhanger, Photo Boy had put in his two weeks notice, which started the ball rolling on both of us abandoning ship. The situation was even more of a mind-fuck because despite CPXi being Lucy with the football to our hapless Charlie Brown when it came to making us full-time employees, they actually had given us space to let Photo Boy write more, which was a diamond in this shit tornado for me.
Even though Photo Boy has a girl’s name, I’m going to use it in this paragraph: Carmen is a fucking comedic force. There were numerous times when I read his posts and was goddamn green with envy. I’m talking he could have easily usurped me, so I probably should have been looking up how to poison a co-worker more often. To keep things on brand, it’s like catching a glimpse of your buddy in the locker room and realizing you have no business letting another person see you naked. (For women, I’m assuming it’s something along the lines of, “Damn, check out the mons pubis on Carol.”)
However, you needed a machete to cut through the ads, so we could’ve been crafting the Mona Lisa of Johnny Depp burns, and it wouldn’t have mattered. What I also didn’t know at the time is that Photo Boy’s wife was pregnant. And if you’re thinking to yourself, wait, didn’t he just have a baby in Part One? Yes. Yes, he did. And I will testify under oath that his children were born five days apart. (It’s actually four, but I’m a friend like that.) So, when he switched from full-time at SpinMedia to freelance at CPXi, that was a palpable kick in the teeth when it comes to taxes, and my sweet boy had enough. After an email exchange with HR, it became clear that the carrot had no intention of leaving the stick — Never trust anything orange.— so he put in his two weeks.
CPXi made no attempt to keep him. Even after I had spent the past 90 days painstakingly quantifying the amount of pageviews that Photo Boy delivered, which were a goddamn lot. There was also a noticeable lack of concern over whether or not I was going to stay. These were not good signs, and the omens were stacking up.
The Conjoined Twin Porn Iceberg
It’s Friday, Mar. 17, 2017. Photo Boy has six days left before he’s gone, and I’m trying to figure out what the fuck to do. In my delusions, a conversation will occur where CPXi wants to put a ring on me and I concede whatever amount of my salary it takes to keep Photo Boy and I together forever. We might even kiss finally. Instead, I was asked to join a conference call where I stared directly into The Superficial’s coffin.
At this point, I want to make something clear that people don’t always grasp when it comes to why the site isn’t around anymore. No matter how funny readers thought I was, or even if the site had a healthy audience, the sole purpose of The Superficial was to make money. (Or make a media company look like it could make lots of money.) At the end of the day, I was a vehicle for advertisement. Granted, I had an almost comical amount of creative freedom for literally the entire time, I always knew that it could end in a heartbeat if the money stopped.
This call was the defibrillator charging.
The long and short of it is The Superficial wasn’t making tons of money. A big reason for that is numerous photo galleries were being flagged as explicit content by Google who was growing increasingly puritanical. But, I also got the impression that this had been an issue that SpinMedia started punting and hoped to dump in someone else’s lap. Going back to my race car switching owners analogy, Spin presumably left a live grenade under the hood and didn’t give a fuck if I was behind the wheel when it went off. Which it did.
So, here’s what was about to happen on this lovely Friday. The Superficial homepage was going to be diced into thumbnails featuring a mix of our posts with severely chopped off headlines that you can’t even read and some uncomfortably salacious PressRoomVIP content that I didn’t even know existed. Now, I know I’ve been teasing at conjoined twin porn, but what I actually saw was an article on conjoined twin sex — clearly, much classier — and then a bunch of articles that walked the tight rope of being about porn, but weren’t porn despite very suggestive banner pics. In a nutshell, a very clear signal was being sent that CPXi viewed The Superficial as nothing more than a smut machine, and they planned to lean very heavily into that aspect.
But wait, there’s more!
On top of all of that, there were plans to change the editorial layout to match CPXI’s other sites. At the time, this meant the user would be fed two sentences then they would have to click to the next page to get another two sentences. Fuck that.
As the word “GODDAMMIT!” played on loop in my head, I ended the call very sincerely when I said, “Hey, you guys need to make money. I get it. Do what you gotta do.” These people were just doing their jobs. But as eagle-eyed readers probably noticed, none of these changes ended up happening. (Save the thumbnail version of the homepage, which was tested over the weekend.) So, if the point of this call was to encourage me to quit, it worked. I could not in good conscience serve this shit to the readers who had kept me afloat for almost 10 years. There was no fucking way.
The Leaving Song Pt. II
That Sunday night, Photo Boy and I drafted our goodbye posts, and I didn’t even bother going to bed because I still couldn’t believe this was happening. I always assumed someone would realize, “Wait a minute, we’re actually paying this asshole?” and that would be the end of that. Never in a thousand years did I imagine I’d be the one pulling the trigger, and that thought was not conducive to sleeping.
Now, to CPXi’s credit, they were extremely generous in letting us post our goodbyes when we resigned Monday morning. They had every right to tell us to eat a dick and shut us completely out of the site on the spot. Essentially, we were announcing that everything people loved about The Superficial would be gone now. So, I absolutely do not blame them for hiding our goodbye posts from the homepage, yet still leaving the links active for the clicks. They attempted to thread the needle of being respectful to us and not entirely tanking the site they just bought three months ago, albeit very cheaply because thank you again, SpinMedia. Thank you so, so much.
Also, let me address a myth real quick. There were some commenters who thought the entire ordeal of The Superficial changing hands was because I “cashed out.” Which is obviously not the case because the site was sold in a fire sale and I owned zero equity in it. If you read Part One, I was thrown off of a roof when Spin went under, and they didn’t care if I hit the dumpster or the street. When I resigned, that was me turning off the spigot where my paycheck came from and saying, “Welp, guess I hate money now!”
As for the whole Randy Cappuccino business, here’s the thing: I honestly empathize with whoever that dude is. (Even though I have a probably wrong theory about who she really is. WhoooOOOaaa.) I went through the gauntlet of becoming The Superficial Writer in 2007, and it is brutal. There were times when I felt like I was finally getting it, and then a nasty comment would punch through and fuck me up for days. So, I have a world of sympathy for Mr. Cappuccino. — Seriously, that’s the name they went with for my replacement? Calm. I’m calm. Serenity…— And I’d never fault a writer who has a chance to insult the Kardashians for money. You jump on that shit.
That said, if you’re picking up that I peeked at Randy’s posts, clearly you forget that I wrote a celebrity gossip site and a river of pettiness runs through me. I am exactly the kind of catty bitch who will sit there going, “Damn, they trying to sound like me, but I wouldn’t have said it that way at all.”
So, let’s keep getting real.
Oh God, He’s Blasting Linkin Park
Before this becomes a fountain of tears for everyone who told me to “stick to tits” to drink from, let’s get Photo Boy out of the tree. He landed on his feet after The Superficial and is doing fine. We still text and/or tweet each other every day because we’re firm believers in leaving a paper trail for our wives’ inevitable divorce attorneys to follow. Also, every once in a while, we’ll send each other an Instagram link of some famous person’s butt that would’ve been perfect for a rant about baby jails and marvel in disbelief that we quit.
As for me? I was fucked up. Just a goddamn mess of doubt, second guessing, and regret. And I know that goes against the career culture that forces all of us to constantly front that we’re #CrushingIt or distill our work experiences into an assortment of bullshit buzzwords. (For example, my boring-ass LinkedIn.) But fuck a culture that can’t even call you back and say, “Hey, we’re going a different direction,” because you made a typo on your resume or you don’t have 10 years of experience while somehow also being fresh out of college. The way we treat people trying to find a job is a bag of assholes.
Even worse, I feel I’m being as whiny as the celebrities I mocked over the years when they found themselves on Dancing With The Stars wondering where it all went wrong. You see, there isn’t a guide for going from a captive audience of millions to being just some guy in random-ass Pennsylvania. I found myself thinking a lot about Robert O’Donnell who couldn’t cope with being a baby-saving hero one minute, and a forgotten footnote the next. Was losing the soapbox I clung to for years — and chose over several opportunities that I was now obsessively rehashing — going to dash me on the rocks, too? Did I completely screw my family by being too chickenshit to leave a steady paycheck and branch out? Would it be weird if I texted the site this late? Just to say “Hey.”
So, I did what anyone does after a bad breakup. I rebounded way too quickly. And like all rebounds the other party deserved much better than someone who was still spiraling. In this case, The Daily Banter, who are fucking fantastic. Unfortunately, I had pivoted from finishing one marathon to immediately starting another with zero time in the middle to get my shit together. So, when the dizzying highs that I was used to on The Superficial didn’t come rushing in — Like an egomaniacal dick, I thought the traffic would instantly spike just from my mere presence. — all it took was a pricy root canal to send me scurrying to a more factory-like freelance gig (which I was grateful for) out of panic that I’d set my family on a path to moving into my parents’ garage. So, I crawled under the internet’s fridge and stayed there.
What came next was an overwhelming feeling that I deserved this and karma had caught up with me. Every shitty mistake I’ve ever made played constantly through my head, and the list was long. Who the fuck did I think I was anyway? I’m not special. I’m not some insightful social commentator. I’m a celebrity butthole merchant. Living like a cockroach is where I belong.
But through all of that was the knowledge that The Superficial was still there for people to read. I could pick myself up at anytime, point to a years-long editorial endeavor, and get back out there. It’s not like CPXi was going to delete the entire site.
CPXi Deleted The Entire Site
At the start of Jan. 2018, Randy Cappuccino stopped updating The Superficial. (By this point, I had genuinely stopped paying attention to the site, but my Twitter mentions were starting to fill up with questions about what the hell was happening.) Two days into February, the homepage became a redirect to Celebuzz. While all of this looked pretty bad, I assumed CPXi would continue to milk old posts for SEO and reap the benefits of those clicks without the overhead of paying for editorial. It seemed like easy money, and that’s exactly what they did. For two months.
On Apr. 26, 2018, The Superficial ceased to exist. Every URL became a redirect to Celebuzz, essentially wiping 10 years of my life from the internet. (Did I receive a heads-up that this was about to happen? No. No, I did not.) And that was one hell of a mind-fuck. Every writer worth their salt suffers from impostor syndrome, so it was an amazing realization that I’d now have to convince future employers that, seriously, I swear to God I used to write a real website. It was there just a second ago!
However, watching the entirety of my creative output take a Thanos to the anos pushed me into the final stage of grief: acceptance. That specific version of The Superficial, of me, is gone. Could something new rise from its ashes? Maybe, even though I don’t like to view things through the prism of Ben Affleck’s back tattoos. (That’s a lie. I fucking love it.)
But an even bigger reason why I feel confident enough to pick my ass up and soldier on is because you folks showed up like goddamn gangbusters for this little endeavor. I expected to write through some shit and have it read by five people on Facebook if I was lucky. Instead, conversations are happening, and I’m not too proud to shamelessly ask to keep those coming. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like a celebrity butthole merchant who deserved to be left in a ditch, and I can’t thank you enough for it.