E-mail from the Underground

Marcus Goldman Is Turning In His Grave


Andrew Leonard
June 24, 1996 12:58PM (UTC)

The story so far:

The hacker formerly known as Microworm, armed only with a loose hard drive and a wireless modem, has escaped the clutches of the Microsoft-AOL axis. Now lodged deep within the catacombs of San Francisco's China Basin Landing, and still in search of a new nom de hack, he has expanded the scope of his digital muckraking talents to include the entire incestuous corporate-computing capitalist universe. And just his luck -- an investment banker in New York, appalled at Wall Street's continuing infatuation with risky Internet-related stocks, leaks him a password to the e-mail server at Goldman, Sachs and Co. There, he discovers the following exchange between senior partner Joseph Benzene (who has apparently just returned from a lengthy Bahaman vacation) and associate F. Lunkey.

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From: benzene@gsco.com

To: f.lunkey@gsco.com
Subject: Turkey?

Lunkey, perhaps you can explain why my voice-mail box is jammed with clients jabbering on about the Wired deal? Why there's a copy of a New York Observer article on my desk that calls the IPO a "game of three-card monte?" Why even Newsweek and the New York Times are looking down their noses at us?

I just glanced over the S-1 filing and it's a mess. As senior partner of the company that handled the initial public offerings for great corporations like Sears and Ford, I must say I don't see how this can be considered a sensible investment. Why are we risking our reputation for a gaggle of pony-tailed Californians who specialize in "content with attitude?" Who authorized this?

From: f.lunkey@gsco.com 

To: benzene@gsco.com
Subject: Re: Turkey

Uh, sir, I believe you authorized this. After Netscape hit 170, remember, you said, "Get us some Internet IPOs." So we did, and Yahoo worked out nicely, didn't it? Most analysts agree: Wired's brand name is even more attractive than Yahoo's.

Don't worry about that Observer article. He got plenty wrong. Wired's much more than a "wise-cracking fanzine for the Internet." They're going to have a TV show, too. On cable!

From: benzene@gsco.com

To: f.lunkey@gsco.com
Subject: Re: Turkey

Don't talk to me about brand names. We're not selling goddamn soap detergent! Have you looked at the financials? $7 million operating loss for '95 and already projected to double that in '96! I've been in this business thirty years, and I have never seen an S-1 risk factor that says, and I quote, "the Company expects to continue to incur operating losses for the foreseeable future."

Foreseeable future! What the hell is that supposed to mean?!

From: f.lunkey@gsco.com

To: benzene@gsco.com
Subject: Re: Turkey

Oh sir, I'm sorry. Perhaps we should have included a glossary. You see, on the Internet, the future _isn't_ foreseeable. No one knows what's going to happen. New technological advances change _everything_ _all the time_. So, in Internet-speak, when someone says "foreseeable future" they're really just talking about next week. I wouldn't worry about that at all.

And please don't underestimate the power of a brand name. Do you have any idea what Wired T-shirts sell for in San Francisco's South Park?

From: benzene@gsco.com

To: f.lunkey@gsco.com
Subject: Re: Turkey

Well, I doubt it's enough to justify a valuation of $450 million dollars, but I see your point.

Glossary or not, I don't get this crap about "smart media for smart people" and being a "new kind" of media company. What's new? Either you sell ads or you don't.
My granddaughter showed me some of this online stuff and "smart" was not the first word that leapt to mind. Is "suck" supposed to be the kind of language smart people use these days? Our founder, Marcus Goldman, was one of the smartest people of the 19th century, and I'm sure he never, ever, used the word "suck" to describe anything. His clients would not have been amused.

From: f.lunkey@gsco.com

To: benzene@gsco.com
Subject: Re: Turkey

Oh, but you see sir, again, it's a problem of language. Contempory, dare I say "postmodern" media is all about irony, parody, and inverted meanings. Today's media consumers are far too clever to accept anything at face value -- they've been so besieged by media hype and relentless advertising that they're immune to traditional styles of promotion. They'll laugh in your face if you call something "a sublime work of art" or otherwise appeal to their intelligence. So media producers have to be clever, and they have to use dumb words like "suck."

The general rule is that opposites attract. For example, Wired magazine has a whole section named "Fetish." Now, as you know, Karl Marx appropriated the term fetish, with all of its addictive religious and sexual connotations, from anthropology, arguing that the capitalist entrepreneur "fetishized" commodities. This, in his mind, was a bad thing. But by baldly labelling a section "Fetish" -- a section that in any other magazine would immediately be considered a worthless advertising pullout -- Wired turned a "bad thing" into a "good thing."

I think that when you look at it this way, you can see the rationale that we're working under. If sucking is good, and fetishizing is better, then what's right is wrong and what's dumb is smart.

And a bad investment...

From: benzene@gsco.com

To: f.lunkey@gsco.com
Subject: re: Turkey

...becomes a good deal.
Sigh. Milken couldn't have said it better.
All right then, on to the next order of business. I have a few small quibbles about the Bianca's Smut Shack IPO...


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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