Google-fucked. That’s what you are when a potential employer searches your name and discovers that you — you of the 4.0 GPA, you of the charity work, you of the magna cum laude education — are also the sluttiest person on campus. Or a raging drunk. Or just a pompous, crashing ass.
A few years ago, the scenario would have been unthinkable. College detours into nymphomania and hedonism were confined to campus, the shield of anonymity fostered by lack of technology. With the advent of (mostly) benign social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, people’s capacity to put themselves on display increased, of course, but this was still largely self-regulated — even the most homely lass, it seems, can manage to post a glamour shot of herself on her Facebook profile; even a moron can claim to love Proust.
This seems almost quaint, now that reputation can be defined and cyber-immortalized by self-appointed journalists. The seamy world of Gossip Girl has come to college campuses, and it’s turning campus nobodies into quasi-celebrities, snoopy students into paparazzi, and student journalists into gods who can make or break reputations.
Juicy Campus (juicycampus.com), whose mean mentality seems to hover somewhere around that of a 14-year-old loser, is the most egalitarian of these ventures, covering gossip at college campuses nationwide. (A current discussion: who’s the hottest dining-hall worker at Cal State Long Beach?) However, the Ivy League is leading the charge in terms of targeted gossip reporting, thanks in large part to three blogs: Sex and the Ivy (sexandtheivy.com), GossipGeek (gossipgeek.blogspot.com), and IvyGate (ivygateblog.com). They’re also the three blogs that have gotten the most publicity — stories in the New York Times, book proposals, the usual. Sex and the Ivy is written by Harvard’s Lena Chen; GossipGeek also chronicles social life at Harvard; and IvyGate takes on the trembling underbelly of the entire Ivy League.
Chris Beam, the affable, articulate son of the Boston Globe’s Alex Beam, founded IvyGate with fellow Columbia student Nick Summers in 2006. The Phoenix reached him at his Slate office, where he’s now a reporter. He explains the motivation of IvyGate as if he’s in a business meeting discussing the future of Google. “Every successful blog targets a niche in some way, and there’s this niche of college readers who didn’t really have campus blogs. And any time that there’s a collective identity — and Ivy Leaguers are a good example, obviously, because Ivy Leaguers are sort of self-interested. It boggles the mind to imagine how some of them got in. The culture of the Ivy League is people who have very high self-regard, the goal was to try to expose that a little bit, and to tear it down.”
Case in point: the Shakespearean downfall of Aleksey Vayner, the Yale student who applied for a job at an investment bank using a video of himself performing karate, discussing his close relationship with the Dalai Lama, and bench-pressing 495 pounds. IvyGate got hold of it, and they, well, ripped him a new one.
While Beam was based at Columbia (and the current editors are at Princeton), students from all the Ivies are able to report tips and anonymously chime in on campus pseudo-scandals. The current soap opera playing out in cyberspace involves the public break-up of an attractive gay Yale couple, one beloved, one deemed “obsessive.” It has all the makings of a made-for-TV-movie: character assassination, heartbreak, beauty. But just who are these people?
In some cases, Beam sees it as his mission to target “hyper-confident braggarts who lack self-awareness and end up getting nailed for it.” Beam didn’t set out to rip on vulnerable people, he says, but some students inject themselves into campus life — making themselves subject to scrutiny, just like stars in Hollywood.
“I’d say on a lot of campuses, there is this sort of — there are people who clearly want to be big men on campus,” says Beam. “The idea of campus celebrity has always been around, and this makes it slightly more public.”
Indeed. The site gets more than 10,000 unique visits a day from current students, “recent alumni bored at work,” and simple Middle Americans curious about the trials and travails of the educationally privileged.
It’s a frothy peek into an elite world, engineered by the very people it portrays. “If you broaden the scope too much, you lose the caché,” Beam says. “You need to have some sort of collective set of references that are going to work; we’re trying to create types and characters that people are gong to recognize.” Indeed, if the blog expanded, it would lose an element of delicious schadenfreude: college is a time to make mistakes, and even smart kids fuck up, too.
Chen, the authoress of Sex and the Ivy, agrees. On her blog, she chronicles her sexploits and dates, but she also writes thoughtfully about what it means to be young and navigating the landscape of love and intimacy for the first time. She is an intellectualized Carrie Bradshaw with less money and more self-awareness.