October 04, 2003

BlogWars, Day 2: The Attack of the Diaeresis

Why is it that Elizabeth Spiers is some kind of itch I can't stop scratching? I think it's something to do with snark, which is an attitude characterised principally by the assumption of superiority. I'm a huge fan of snark myself, but it's a dangerous game to play: a failed snark makes the snarker look petty, pathetic, and ripe for being taken down themselves. What's more, when the snarker is the recipient of acres of fawning press attention, any self-respecting contrarian will automatically tack in the other direction.

The weird thing is that I like Elizabeth Spiers, and as Choire so astutely notes, I seem to get embarrassingly remorseful the minute she takes offense at anything I say. (And no, Charles, this isn't a case of some inchoate crush revealing itself in viciousness.)

But I just can't look at something like yesterday's entries in The Kicker without wanting to, well, kick back. There are four in total, not including the unannotated links, and three of them are about Chloë Sevigny. The main object of the snarking is the presence of a diacritical mark in Chloë's name, which Elizabeth and her correspondents insist on calling an umlaut. Elizabeth makes it seem as though Chloë Sevigny is some kind of latter-day Mötley Crüe or Häagen Dazs, simply deciding on a Hollywood whim to add a "pretentious and phonetically inexplicable accent" to her name.

Pretentious, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, but phonetically inexplicable the accent is not. Elizabeth, as a regular reader of the New Yorker, should know this as well as anyone: what does she think the accent is when that magazine spells "coöoperate" so idiosyncratically?

As any of New York magazine's copy chiefs could have told her had she bothered to ask, the answer is that it's not an umlaut at all, it's a diaeresis. (Go on, look it up.) It's the same mark we occasionally see in "naïve", and it is placed over the second of two consecutive vowels to show the beginning of a new syllable. It's pretty rare these days, having largely been replaced by the hyphen: "re-elect" is a lot more common than "reëlect". But hyphens look Really Fucking Stupid in the middle of a name, hence Zoë rather than "Zo-e". Chloë, of course, is exactly the same.

Besides, is Chloë really the sort of person that The Kicker was invented to kick? Yes, she appears at a lot of parties, but so does Liev Schreiber, and he doesn't seem to be getting snarked at much. And this is a woman who's just given Vincent Gallo an endless on-screen blowjob: she's not exactly at the top of her fame, a balloon waiting to be pricked. And in any case, now is hardly the time to start attacking her diaeresis, which, even taking The Kicker at face value, has been around for six years already.

If Choire can grade Lloyd Grove, then I can grade Elizabeth Spiers, and I'm giving her a D+ for Friday. Must Do Better.

Posted by Felix at 05:31 PM GMT

The only place Ms. Spiers puts dots over Ms. Sevigny's name is over the o in chloe, and that, Felix, is an umlaut. It's not where the dots should be, granted, but that's not the tree you're barking up.

Having previously concluded on your own site that she is a blogging virtuoso, it would have been a lot more interesting to hear your reasons why this raw talent has not travelled well in the first two days (2 whole days!) of Spiers's career at New York Mag.

I'd let her settle in first. Then, you'd have to ask whether she is doing this full time, or whether NYM (hmm, like the Mets) has other uses for the soul she sold them.

Then I'd look at institutional issues. Gawker was/is the dapper dachshund nipping at the high heels of publishistas, NYM included. In the world of snark, context matters as much as content -- the same sentences you deride on The Kicker would arguably have tittilated you on Gawker. A yelp from Gawker sounds more like a growl coming from NYM. And so Ms. Spiers might need to adapt. Imagine if Tina Brown had a blog; Ms. Spiers's newfound establishment role might mean she needs to behave less like an exocet missile and more like the aircraft carrier Tina Brown is. I daresay it could be a rollicking read.

My own problem with The Kicker revolves solely around the design. I've told other institutions mulling the blog: If the first focus of the blog is not the blog, but the institution behind it trying to get traffic mileage, then the savvier readers will smell it a mile off. There is a blogger esthetic present on many sites (Gawker included) that draws the eye directly to the narrative. On Kicker, there is too much competition for the visitor's attention. Like, what's with the two, nay three differently styled horizontal menus aready? Where am I supposed to click? Help. Bye. Had The Kicker adopted, say, a New Yorker-ish template, you'd be reading till the umlauts fell off the o's.

Posted by: Stefan on October 4, 2003 09:47 PM

the only diaeresis worth drinking is Moet!!

Posted by: Philip Rose on October 6, 2003 09:04 AM

Umlat vs diaeresis - please wake me the dust has settled on that raging debate. On the other hand, re: Felix's observation 'a failed snark makes the snarker look petty, pathetic, and ripe for being taken down themselves' - Hey Felix, if the shoe fits.....

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