The Sex Lives of Your Neighbors

In ancient Rome, handwritten copies of a daily gazette called the Acta Diurna were posted in prominent public locations to keep citizens informed on everything from military developments to the latest divorces—and you can bet which part was read most avidly. In colonial America, the New World’s first newspaper, published in 1690, made a splash by publicizing a rumor that the king of France had royally screwed his son’s wife.

Even as today’s newspapers have evolved into more somber, self-important bastions of fact-checked objectivity—and that’s just the funny pages—they continue to devote considerable column inches to divorce and infidelity. But do they really cover such matters thoroughly enough? The bedroom tragedies and farces of public figures attract their share of enterprise reporting, but how well informed are you about the sex lives of your neighbors, co-workers, and random strangers you cross paths with every day? Unless those lesser-knowns augment their crimes of the heart with major felonies or especially colorful misdemeanors, the news media generally leaves them to Jerry Springer and his brethren.

But while Springer applies Sisyphean vigor to his trade, even he can’t showcase every three-timing cheat and floozy in America. And that’s why websites like Dontdatehimgirl.com and Cheaternews.com are such a valuable addition to the journalistic firmament. Here, you will find spurned lovers posting unsparing accounts of the “dumpster dawgs” who’ve crapped all over their hearts and chewed up their self-esteem. You will find seething jilted women determined to expose the gummy seductresses who led their boyfriends and husbands astray.

“This loser cannot hold a job and all he does is waste his money on roids. He takes so many drugs that his penis shriveled up and it is the size and width of a woman’s thumb. ATTENTION, LADIES STAY AWAY!” advises a correspondent at DDHG. “I dated Shrek for 3 years,” writes another contributor to the site. “Hes a CONTROLLING FREAK & a SERIAL CHEATER! He gave me HPV which led to cervical cancer & now i’m unable to have children! He contracted it from the TOOTHLESS TOWN WHORE named Cheryl.”

Now that’s news you can use, especially since the most detailed dispatches include full names, photos, cell-phone numbers, email addresses, places of employment, and favorite hangouts of the alleged man-tramps and hussies. But while the mostly anonymous muckrakers who file such exposés provide some of the web’s most incendiary investigative reporting, they rarely receive praise for their journalistic enterprise.

 

It’s an interesting irony. On the Internet, anyone can be a reporter, and millions of enthusiastic amateurs now give us even more news to ignore while we hunt for old Love Boat clips on YouTube. Not surprisingly, the citizen journalists who’ve received the most attention from the traditional media are those who insist they’re going to make the traditional media obsolete. Except for matters of style, however, most of these supposed pioneers aren’t all that different from those they hope to replace. They cover the same subjects. They employ the same basic journalistic conventions. Meanwhile, true innovators, like the contributors to DDHG and Cheaternews.com, are mostly ignored by the media mavens who spend their days pondering journalism’s future.

In part, this is probably because they generally offer nothing more than their word as proof of their claims. But it’s also a question of scope. As with l’amour, so with journalism: Size matters. As Nicholas Lemann explained recently in the New Yorker, “Most citizen journalism reaches very small and specialized audiences and is proudly minor in its concerns.”

Indeed, while most women aren’t very interested in which tattooed homewrecker has been eye-humping their husbands at the local bar, they do care deeply about which foreign nation the U.S. is currently screwing, or vice versa. Unless they’re not professional journalists, that is. Then, it’s usually the other way around—which is why newspapers have been hemorrhaging readers for the last fifty years.

Outside the world of professional journalists and political bloggers, for example, few inquiring minds want to fact-check Tony Snow’s ass, or even know who Tony Snow is. But how many would like to humiliate their lying, cheating exes?

The market for vengeance journalism has no limit, and it goes far beyond matters of the heart. Thanks to Platewire.com, chronic tailgaters, aggressive lane-changers, and jerks who treat school zones like NASCAR finish lines receive a more permanent rebuttal than the traditional one-fingered salute. Facsimiles of their license plates are posted, along with descriptions of their vehicles and a summary of their vehicular transgressions. At Ratemyteachers.com and Ratemyprofessors.com, students turn the tables on the classroom tyrants who make their lives a living hell.

Of course, not every maverick citizen journalist who’s set up shop on the web is seeking revenge. There are some who, in the benevolent tradition of service journalism, grandly aim to improve the lot of their fellow man via helpful how-to lists and instructional guides. At pick-up artist sites like Fastseduction.com, and Themysterymethod.com, Jedi Master groin wizards play Oprah to legions of would-be Lotharios, inspiring and empowering them to shed their “AFC” (average frustrated chump) status and learn the art of speedy, commitment-free seduction. In the old days, men had to make do with corny pick-up lines, a paralyzing splash of Brut, and the promise of free drinks. Today, a vast curriculum for subverting “chick logic” and “bitch shields” is at their fingertips, and it has all been extensively field-tested, debugged, and streamlined by thousands and thousands of research volunteers.

Naturally, a sort of arms race ensues. Thanks to the pick-up-artist citizen journalists, men get better and better at seducing and abandoning women. In response, the women create sites like DDHG and Cheaternews.com to throw new obstacles in their way. Like all wars, this one isn’t pretty. The correspondents who publish at these sites aren’t just looking to inform—they also want to punish and humiliate. “If you people dont want ur heart broken and ur bank cards stolen keep away from him,” writes one poster at Dontdatehimgirl.com, “my friend sharon tapped him once and he was putting on pantyhose and a dress.”

No doubt the exposés at Dontdatehimgirl.com and Cheaternews.com hamper the efforts of some serial Romeos, and keep some of their potential prey from making unwise choices. Ultimately, however, one has to wonder about the aggregate impact of such sites. In a more genteel era, public shaming was an effective means of behavior modification. Now, however, in the age of YouTube and MySpace, when we cultivate attention by any means necessary, it’s often the quickest path to your own reality show. Perhaps if all the dumpster dawgs who appear on these anti-dating sites were politicians, ministers, and CEOs, the site might come closer to achieving its stated goals. But the supposedly shamed subjects are not politicians and CEOs—they’re dumpster dawgs!

An appearance on Dontdatehimgirl.com or Cheaternews.com certifies their prowess as such, and thus, serves as an endorsement of sorts. Consider the photos of the jilters that the jilted post on these sites. Their faces bear none of the guilt or embarrassment or frustration of traditional mug shots. Usually, they’re just candid snapshots, swiped from dating-site profiles and MySpace pages: The men are smiling, preening, putting their best faces forward—and when juxtaposed with the stories of their alleged misdeeds, they only take on an even more confident, smirking, unflappable air.

Last year, a Pittsburgh lawyer sued DDHG, claiming that the site had published defamatory statements about him. DDHG’s creator, a Miami-based publicist named Tasha Joseph, told a Massachusetts newspaper that “men call us every day to be taken off [the site].” But bad boys (and bad girls) have their admirers too, and perhaps this is one reason why many of the cads these sites showcase do little to rebut the charges against them—the attention is getting them dates!

But even if such sites don’t always fulfill their journalistic mission, don’t expect them to go away any time soon. In fact, watch for mainstream publications to co-opt the concept. Case in point: the curious saga of Eric Schaeffer. This forty-five-year-old Manhattan-based filmmaker provides the gale-force gust of hot, self-actualized air behind IcantbelieveImstillsingle.com, a magnificently id-splattered chronicle of his search for a mate that measures up to his standards. Still, neither the site nor any other aspect of Schaeffer’s career was attracting much attention—until the gossip blog Gawker.com published an excerpt from ICBISS in which he explained why he only considers fertile women aged thirty-six or younger suitable spousal material.

In truth, Schaeffer didn’t seem any more picky or neurotic than the average Manhattanite who posts a Craigslist personal ad, but perhaps because his posts could be attached to a real, identifiable person, they struck a nerve. Suddenly, the man whose last feature film grossed less than ten thousand dollars was the toast of the town. Women he’d dated dished their horror stories to Gawker. The New York Post wanted an interview. Salon.com, which had pretty much ignored his work for the last decade, reviewing just one of the five movies he released in that time, made him the subject of a tedious, four-thousand-word hatchet job that read like the longest and most rambling (albeit best-punctuated) Dontdatehimgirl.com post ever.

Now, no doubt, Salon is busy searching for more nutty bachelors it can showcase in similar fashion. Faced with a choice between reading about Schaeffer’s exploits or important matters of state, its readers acted just like the Romans of 100 B.C. “[Salon’s] piece on how untalented, uninteresting and unattractive I am inspired 165 letters, all sent in by its readership,” Schaeffer gloated on his blog a few days after the story ran. “I don’t know what the final tally was, but by noon the other front page story, on [President] Bush, had gotten 29.”