I don’t know much about Southern Belles (besides what I learned from watching Designing Women), but yesterday I wrote about a Preserve post titled “The Allure of Antebellum” (click here for a refresher). I called the piece tone deaf, but Gawker threw down a firmer approach, including clearly marked bracketed edits that referenced slavery and institutionalized white supremacy. Blake Lively and her lawyers took great offense to Gawker’s interpretation of its editorial about floppy hats and hoop skirts, so they fired off a letter demanding she take it down. As with every legal letter in the age of the internet, Gawker posted it and has not complied with the request. (Also everything lives forever anyways, so why bother?) You can read the entire thing here at Gawker.
So what was a short article on Preserve has now become an incident on Gawker. This is the problem with lawyer-ing up – the threats of “I’ll sue you unless you take it down” never really materialize, do they? The letter references false and defamatory statements, but the Gawker post doesn’t say anything about that era that isn’t true. Does it paint Preserve and Blake in a “false light”? Well that’s a matter of opinion and I’m not sure that Blake’s team can take it further than a letter, despite demanding that Gawker not only take down the post but also “cease and desist all further publication of this or any related piece.” That sounds overreaching and of course Gawker’s reaction has to be a giant f-ck you. They have a reputation to protect as much as Preserve does.
Team Preserve’s handling of this is, like the original article, tone deaf. Gawker has been in the game a long time and internet fighting is pretty much their specialty - there was absolutely zero chance they were going to cower down to a lawyer’s letter, so sending an empty threat is total amateur hour. Which I guess is fitting, since she is pretty much an amateur at running an online magazine.
If Blake wants to have a conversation about hoop skirts, she needs to be prepared for it to maybe turn into a conversation about slavery. Is that fair? Well when you call your post The Allure of Antebellum, I guess it is.
To live (and earn money) on the internet, you have to learn to play in the sandbox. Having a baby bump and baking the best cupcakes doesn’t make her immune to criticism (being a great writer doesn’t even make you immune to criticism). And it seems Blake was perhaps a little ill-prepared for the snark, despite the fact that Gwyneth/Goop (the closest thing to Preserve) are constant fodder for gleeful derision from bloggers. As far as we know, Goop has never sent a letter demanding people stop criticizing her for the things she writes about, from the benign (beauty treatments and travel) to the more controversial (cleanses, elimination diets, mommy wars). The attitude that the haters simply don’t “get it” is an effective one. Part of what I think what enrages people about Gwyneth is that she dismisses her critics so easily.
So should we chalk this whole mess (the original post and the letter to Gawker) up to a rookie mistake? Maybe this is a teaching moment for Blake: 1. Will she follow through with her threats? (Nothing makes a celebrity or an entrepreneur look weaker) and 2. Don’t romanticize the most deeply troubling era in US history.
(Lainey: and 3. Don’t let alliteration get you into trouble. I feel like they desperately wanted to pound out the “A” in Allure of Antebellum. And all this resulted because a junior writer can’t help her/himself with the flowery language.)
PS: A sharp reader called Lauren wrote me to point out a passage of the Preserve post The Allure of Antebellum that used some particular wording that was very similar to a post she saw on a website in 2012.
Here’s the Preserve paragraph:
The term "Southern Belle" came to fruition during the Antebellum period (prior to the Civil War), acknowledging women with an inherent social distinction who set the standards for style and appearance. These women epitomized Southern hospitality with a cultivation of beauty and grace, but even more with a captivating and magnetic sensibility. While at times depicted as coy, these belles of the ball, in actuality could command attention with the ease of a hummingbird relishing a pastoral bloom.
Here’s a paragraph from an article in the Examiner from 2012 titled “Southern belles: a beautiful part of southern culture”:
Southern belles were not considered chosen "items," such as the precious porcelain dolls that sometimes lined her parlor. She was smart, articulate, and very choosy on how things were to be handled in her home. From the cut of fine fabrics in the curtains in her living room to the smallest detail in her kitchen, the southern belle of the 1800's knew how to relegate authority and tasks with the ease of a hummingbird enjoying a rose bloom.
Coincidence or conspiracy?