What happened to The Superficial? It was a celebrity gossip site. Then it became a ghost. Now… it is a legend.
Posts consisted of unflattering celebrity photos coupled with hilarious explanations by The Superficial writer, now revealed to be Mike Redmond of Pennsylvania. He’d include stories about Anne Hathaway and her billionaire boyfriend discarding Lamborghinis like used condoms. Oftentimes he would make up unflattering dialogue for Gwyneth Paltrow to say. No one had better coverage of Lindsey Lohan’s Firecrotch. I included some of his choice words in this article about The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Where other celebrity gossip outlets were pandering, The Superficial seemed to say, “This is garbage. You know it. I know it. Embrace it.” Think E!’s The Soup, but blog. The Superficial Writer and his companion Photoboy represented themselves like this:
The soup simultaneously mocked and celebrated the ridiculousness of celebrity culture. The Superficial dared to present fake news as actually fake news. Come for the nip slips. Stay for the commentary.
The Superficial inspired me to start this blog, and to keep all my old content, no matter how ratchet.
Some years ago, the Superficial morphed. Now, editor in chief Mike Redmond gives a scathing account of The Superficial’s demise, wrought with corporate greed, Internet fuckery, hilarious metaphors and the birth of two babies. He tells a touching story of camaraderie for Photo Boy. He details the inner workings of Internet media companies, and the drones who run them.
Mike, if you’re reading this, I feel you. I had similar (albeit much smaller scale) problems when I tried monetizing this site.
Mike, I feel you are a good person. Readers, I feel you are good people. I feel we all deserve better than clickbait and fake news.
Mike Redmond now writes for Medium and a few other sources. Here is his three- part tale, reprinted here in case Medium goes the way of The Superficial.
What Happened To The Superficial? Pt. 1 Batshit Begins
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become Barstool Sports.
If you’re actually reading this and not just staring at Britney Spears being trotted out like a bear on a unicycle, you’re obviously curious about what the hell happened to The Superficial that caused our two-man creative team/future common-law marriage to abandon ship, sparking a chain of events that ended with the site being wiped clean from the internet.
(Okay, technically it still exists on the Wayback Machine, but I could tape old posts to the back of a turtle and send them to you faster. Which I will. I have time.)
So, I’m going to attempt to tell the tale of our dumb blog’s Ragnarok, and the marginally interesting battle that was fought to save its soul. However, I should probably be upfront that this whole endeavor is almost entirely a giant ego stroke that will do way more for me than it will for you. Think of it as the digital equivalent of Al Bundy talking about scoring four touchdowns in a single game. And as you can tell by that reference, I’m still very much in touch with today’s youth. I’ve got my finger right on their pulse, which is apparently frowned upon at Starbucks. Alright, I’m going.
But first, let me temper some expectations before we kick off this part-obituary, part-shameless self-promotion.
- I‘m not going to launch a crusade against CPXi/Digital Remedy for what happened to The Superficial. Sure, I’ll probably fling some snark their way, but it wasn’t CPXi’s fault that the site ended up in a fire sale or that prior corporate neglect (along with Google’s puritanical grip on ad revenue) had kneecapped its profitability. I never expected this job to make it past the first week, let alone 10 years, and there was always going to come a point when wedging social commentary with a dick joke candy shell between Kim Kardashian’s butt cheeks would end. Also, if you’ve been paying attention to the state of digital media, then you know that sites are straight-up vanishing or teetering over a cliff. The Onion, Gizmodo, Uproxx, shit, even the platform you’re reading this on right now. Basically, the internet pooped out its butt, and no one knows if it’s going back in. Will Jeff Bezos make it all better? I don’t know. I’m just a boob blogger.
- Whatever lingering anger I do have is aimed squarely at SpinMedia while under the direction of Stephen Blackwell from late 2014 to Dec. 2016. (Although, in fairness, an earlier CEO had blown a sizable hole in the ship by nearly ramping the entire company into bankruptcy less than nine months into the job. It was terrifying.) Granted, Stephen’s story ended in a moral victory, that doesn’t reverse the large number of talented and hard-working people getting thrown to the wind in the shittiest way possible when his tenure brought the company down in flames. But again, in fairness, that’s all part of a larger narrative about venture capital-backed media companies frantically eschewing sustainability to pursue the illusion of “growth.” (Plot Twist: The boob blogger knew business stuff the whole time.) At the end of the day, even a guy like me who somehow brought in millions of users was just grist for the mill.
- I‘m not here to get anyone’s hopes up about bringing The Superficial back. Yes, I think about it every second of every day, and yes, I might still have conversations about it. But those conversations generally bump up against the reality that my kids need food to go into their mouths. They’re weird like that. Another thing that a lot of people don’t understand is that I never owned the site. It has always been somebody else’s ride. I was just the lucky bastard who woke up every morning and got to drive the shit out of it for your amusement. Unfortunately, that relationship required trusting the owners to lock down sponsorships and keep the wheels from falling off. And for a very long time that was done smoothly and professionally by people who I’m extremely humbled to have worked with. But then things were done not so smoothly, and I found myself watching the tires almost get replaced with conjoined twin porn. (Not even a joke.)
And that’s where our story begins…
Merry Christmas! You’re Fired
Dec. 22, 2016 should have been unremarkable. We were three days shy of Christmas — Photo Boy’s first with his infant son — and the holidays meant tossing up “Best Of” galleries with some light posting. For a couple of days, the relentless grind of celebrity horseshit was about to become a dull roar. What could go wrong?
This email. This company-wide email that our benevolent CEO dropped at 1:00 PM EST is what went wrong.
I am writing to announce that this morning a majority of SpinMedia was acquired.
We were hopeful that this announcement could have been made prior to the holiday break however, the timing would not allow for that.
You will be hearing more from me and your supervisors immediately on next steps and all of your questions will be answered.
Now, despite the fact that I can count the number of times we’ve interacted on one hand, my “supervisor” did get on the phone quickly to tell me what the hell was going on. Essentially, most of the SpinMedia music sites, along with Death and Taxes (RIP), were being purchased by Billboard. As for The Superficial, The Frisky (RIP), and Celebuzz? We were tentatively being purchased by CPXi. Emphasis on tentatively. (What was being unsaid in all of this is that both sales were being rushed to completion so SpinMedia’s investors could get a nice tax write-off for flushing our lives down the drain.) Anyway, after relaying the bare minimum of information, my “supervisor” informed me that in a few hours he’d be an employee of Billboard, so none of this was his problem anymore. But don’t worry, CPXi will totally call you today. Byee!
CPXi did not call me that day.
What did happen that day is the last two remaining officers of SpinMedia scrambled to secure severance agreements that basically fired the whole company effective Dec. 23. Which means everyone not only signed away our jobs, and were shafted with a COBRA that dissolved in three months, but now we had to wait until the next day to find out if we just jumped without a parachute. And a lot of people did! Including Photo Boy, who if you’ve been paying attention, had a baby right before this little Christmas massacre. The pants, they were being shit in.
But none of it should’ve surprised us by that point.
Oh, Are You On Vacation? We Need To Sell The Site Right Now — J/K NVM!
Jump back to September 2015, not even 48 hours into my first vacation in 18 months, so I was pretty alarmed to get a call from my “supervisor,” who again, I barely spoke to. Also, he just got married the day before. I’m talking this guy was literally on the first day of his honeymoon in Hawaii. His voicemail said he had some “exciting” news about the site, and it will only be a short call that would be really great for me. It was not.
Turns out SpinMedia was trying to sell The Superficial, and for some reason, they desperately needed me to be onboard with it right fucking now. (I would later learn that they had been secretly courting buyers for a while. What changed this time? I’ll never know.) So for the next two days, I took calls from our board and a guy who was facilitating the sale where the general gist was, “If you want to make it through this, you need to help us sugarcoat the hole we fucked in the numbers by forcing through a company-wide redesign.” Even better, I had to explain to them what The Superficial even does. They had no clue outside of, “So, you post like nip-slips and stuff?” They didn’t even know Photo Boy worked there. Just extremely encouraging stuff all around.
Except nothing happened. Radio silence. Not a goddamn peep.
So not only was a hole blown in my vacation as I stressed over whether I had a job, a real treat for my wife and kids, there was absolutely no reason for it. And no one said a word to me otherwise. It wasn’t until I finally asked my “supervisor” in January — four months later — that I was told, “Oh, I guess we’re not trying to sell the site anymore.” (They were, but back to secretly and in the shadiest, most duplicitous ways possible.)
But it’s not entirely true that nothing happened, and Jesus, now this thing is getting so long it’s launching spinoffs. During better days working with some great bosses who not only understood the site, but genuinely grasped everything we poured into it, I was tipped off that The Superficial is one of the first sites that the company will try to sell if things are starting to go south. It was low maintenance, high numbers, and before this industry became a turd sandwich, the site was a “shiny coin” that would be snatched up easily. Unfortunately, that required upper management not jamming through a redesign in early 2015 that turned The Superficial’s trademark look into generic pulp and started bleeding users. Whoops.
So now that we knew a sale was on the table, Photo Boy and I spent Fall 2015 cranking out a pitch for a new site, which actually landed us a meeting with another media company. But that’s a different tumble down the VC hole for another time.
Back To The Christmas Massacre
It’s the morning of Dec. 23, 2016. Photo Boy and I had signed away our jobs the night before, and now we’re waiting with gelatinous colons for a call from CPXi, who might not even be buying The Superficial. As I clumsily made clear in the previous section, SpinMedia spent the last two years trying to sell the site at an exorbitant asking price instead of staunching the knife wound that was bleeding users. Not to mention aggressive advertising and browser-crashing mobile phone malware wasn’t helping, but those were industry-wide headaches.
So we’re sitting on our bruised and battered ship that’s still bringing in north of a million users by sheer willpower — I warned you about the ego strokes. — and wondering if it’s even worth anything when I finally get the call from CPXi. They’re buying The Superficial. At this point, I’m so shell-shocked that it hasn’t even occurred to me yet that this is a fire sale. However, that reality quickly started to sink in when I was asked to send an email detailing what it is I even do on The Superficial. They had zero clue. About anything.
Despite the temptation to just write “EVERYTHING” in all caps — I had watched arrogance topple a former contemporary. And, dammit, that’s another spinoff seed. Sonofabitch. — I fired off a bullet-pointed email about what I do at the site, and then spent the entire day going through every level of emotion about what the hell is going to happen. I’m trying to keep a brave face for my kids and not ruin their Christmas, so naturally, just as we sit down for a family movie that night, I get a call from CPXi. However, this time there’s a decidedly different tone.
“After looking at your email, it’s obvious that Mike Redmond is The Superficial. You are the site, and we want to get you onboard right now—but as an independent contractor. But that’s only temporary.”
It was not temporary. But to CPXI’s credit, they matched my salary, and to this day, I don’t know why. So for a brief moment things were looking up. The site was being bought by a digital advertising company, so surely, they had a leg up in that department. Maybe this will actually be a good thing.
Oh, except, what’s that? Photo Boy did not get an offer, and they want to jam a bunch of random-ass posts onto the site on Christmas Eve?
What Happened To The Superficial? Pt. 2 The Desolation of Blog
[A note from the author: As you read this account of The Superficial’s final days, it’s going to be very easy to view CPXi as the villain, especially considering this is from my perspective. But, I hope it’s clear that they genuinely made an effort to work with us, and I believe those efforts were in good faith. At the end of the day, they’re a business whose goal is to make money, and I’m an opinionated asshole whose goal is to extract money for those opinions. Eventually, those agendas would clash, and the state of the industry did not help at all. It was like buying a house in the middle of a hurricane and then finding out that the previous owners had replaced all of the wiring with snakes. Don’t get me wrong, I loved snake house with all of my heart, but I wasn’t the one footing the snake mortgage.]
When we left our heroes in Part One, the board of investors for SpinMedia wanted a sweet tax write-off for 2016, so the quickest way to do that was to fire everyone two days before Christmas and sell off sites at bargain basement prices while giving zero fucks about what happened to the people behind them. Think A Christmas Carol if A Christmas Carol ended with Scrooge strangling Bob Cratchit with his cane so Tiny Tim wasn’t eligible for COBRA.
That was the shit. What happened next is the fan.
The Battle of Christmas Eve
It’s Dec. 24, I just got officially fired the day before, and CPXI, a company I’ve never even heard of, now owns The Superficial along with The Frisky and Celebuzz. So I’m in total free fall even though CPXi has offered me my job back — as an independent contractor. (Read: Hi, I’m now a freelancer who’s stupid easy to fire.) All of this is pitched as a temporary solution to bring me on as quickly as possible so there’s no disruption to the site, which is my biggest concern at this point. Sure, the money is great, but it’s going to dry up real quick if I’m left holding a deflated testicle for a site. And that was a very pressing concern with Photo Boy still out in the cold and getting radio silence about being hired. On top of that, I’m learning that there are plans to dump random content from PressRoomVIP onto The Superficial today. Christmas Eve. Do these people not sleep? Do they hate their families? Goddammit.
Without disparaging PressRoomVIP, even though it looks defunct, or getting into its content strategy, which will play a pivotal role later in our story, the editorial is decidedly different from The Superficial. Glaringly so. But at this point, the reasoning wasn’t about immediately harvesting clicks from our maimed bodies, but to make it look like The Superficial is still active and everything’s fine.
“We don’t like gaps in content,” is what I was told when I noticed random posts being built in WordPress without my knowledge that, if published, would be huge red flags that The Superficial is absolutely not fine. If I stayed on, I’d be wading into a goddamn shit show the day after Christmas, and keeping the site alive would go from an uphill battle to trying to walk up the side of a building. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not Spider-Man nor do webs shoot out of my ass. I’ve tried.
I’m also baffled by the rationale behind this decision because, essentially, it’s like waltzing into a McDonald’s and thinking you can just replace orders with Taco Bell. People are gonna notice, and they’re gonna be pretty pissed. Also, if someone had asked me, I would’ve gladly told them that The Superficialdoesn’t post on Christmas Eve. As far as the end user was concerned, everything was normal. This situation would get even more ridiculous when I later learned that all of the CPXi sites had “gaps in coverage.” Or in layman’s terms, they took the weekend and holidays off.
So,I don’t know why this became a pressing concern the fucking day before Christmas, but it prompted me to do something I’ve never done in my entire life: I pulled a power move.
Now, before anyone thinks that I’m any sort of badass, know that it was probably the most politely worded power move in the history of power moves, and I immediately ate 25 Pepto-Bismols after I sent it. (Motherfucking Rambo over here.) But long story short, I said if random content gets posted on The Superficial, I’m out. The site will start bleeding users who are now fully aware that the editorial has been compromised, and that’s not a nosedive that I’m going to sit in the pilot seat for.
(However, I also offered to explore ways to organically promote CPXi sites down the road because helping out sister sites has always been my jam. Working for a digital media company is like being strapped to the same bomb together, so if there’s anything I can do to spit the fuse out, holla at ya boy.)
Anyway, after receiving my extremely cordial, pillowy-soft threat to bounce, CPXi blinked. They deleted the content in WordPress, and we all agreed to let things sit until after Christmas. Even better, there was movement on bringing Photo Boy back into the fold. Thank fucking God.
A Quick Flirt With The Gaping Maw That’s Killing Online Writing Dead
It’s now two days after New Year’s, and Photo Boy and I technically have our jobs back. Again, we’re both freelancers, but with the promise of that only being a 30-day Band-Aid. (It wasn’t.) On this particular day, we’re scheduled for a video conference call, the pronged Satan’s dick of corporate communications. Joining us will be a few CPXi execs and the other SpinMedia refugees who survived the crash. What we didn’t know until we joined the call is how little of those refugees there are. I’m talking maybe six editorial staffers made it over, and that’s counting us. Even more alarming, the editors-in-chief of Celebuzz and The Frisky were not among that group, which was especially jarring in the case of Celebuzz. Michael Prieve ran a clean, professional, advertiser-friendly operation with phenomenal traffic, so from my vantage point, Celebuzz should’ve been the crown jewel. Christ, I would’ve backed it over The Superficial without hesitating. But somehow here we are learning about our new home while all of us looked shellshocked as fuck because have I mentioned that we all got fired over Christmas?
Now, I’m not going to get into the proprietary nature of CPXi’s editorial strategy, but I am going to address a non-specific gamification of clicks that is murdering this industry right in the face. I’m talking about writing for the sole purpose of servicing an algorithm. Which isn’t even writing. It’s placing a pre-calculated number of words into a random sequence that will hopefully catch the attention of a machine. Even more depressing, the blander that content is, the more financially rewarding it will be. If an AI ever goes rogue after crawling the internet, the biggest threat to humanity is that it will kill us all with boredom.
“Hello, human, I am going to tell you 25 secrets about Michael Dudikoff. Unusual. Your face appears to be melting.”
(P.S. I just wrote Westworld Season 3. You’re welcome, HBO.)
So that’s a generalized view of the meat grinder we were told our sites would be tossed into later that month. On top of that, we learned that CPXi used the not uncommon practice of paying “influencers” to drive traffic, which was new for us, and put The Superficial in a very awkward position because our entire editorial strategy was based on mocking said “influencers” whenever they acted like assholes. For example, certain knocked-up teenagers who went on to become anal porn Christian authors.
Except here’s the weirdest part, not a goddamn thing happened after that call. While we sat in an existential daze polishing our resumes for when The Superficial got micromanaged into a soft turd and/or told to go easy on reality stars with social media accounts for sale, CPXi apparently decided not to do any of that crazy stuff. Although, without bothering to tell us. Instead, they rebranded as Digital Remedy, and then eventually started having productive conversations with us about keeping the site running as is.
We made concessions. They made concessions. It was honestly refreshing after spending two years on an island where SpinMedia left us to die. Things actually seemed like they might work out.
And then they took the Facebook page.
Memes… Why Did It Have To Be Memes?
By January 2017, it should have been painfully obvious that Facebook was no longer the traffic driver it used to be. At that point, it had seduced enough publications to bring their users inside and had long since slapped the gate shut behind them. You want to let a few out? It’s gonna cost you.
And while that’s an oversimplification of a festering bullet wound to this entire industry, and America while I’m at it, The Superficial Facebook page was goddamn magical. My stupid words will never do that gorgeous community justice, which is why it was a kick in the teeth when blatantly off-brand posts starting appearing on the page. I’m talking random-ass memes with two word captions and/or emoji that I would never use if you put a gun to my head. Even worse, people thought I was posting them — or had been fired — because up until that point, I managed both the site and the Facebook page, so it was always on-brand. (Let me just stop for a second and say that I hate using the word “brand,” but in the context of social media management, it’s not an insignificant term.)
When I pushed back, I was told to let the social media team handle Facebook. There was apparently a lot of confusion about why I posted news stories or columns from sites that CPXi didn’t own just to start discussions? Was I actually interacting with these people instead of luring them in with memes and then spamming them with clicks? Haha, stupid boob blogger.
Eventually, I was allowed to start posting to Facebook again, but only once a day in the dead of night. Cool, cool. Also, there was some head-scratching over why I wanted to differentiate which posts were mine instead of letting users think that I say “it me” now or that I personally endorse links that literally only had two sentences per page so you had to go through 20 of them. (I’m trying real hard not to say clickbait.) These were not encouraging signs.
Nor was watching 30 days go by without our “temporary” freelance status being converted to full-time positions. And then another 30 days.
And, oh God, Photo Boy put in his notice…
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 Superficialhomepage 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 payingthis 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 Superficialdidn’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.