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Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday

Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, is openly gay but only revealed this to his close family and friends. In 2007, a gossip blog network then known as Gawker “outed” him in blazing fashion. Gawker believed that anything was in play to post, share, and blog about online, even including someone’s personal and private life details. Being that Thiel is a billionaire and invested in a variety of ventures, what would happen if this news would affect any of his dealings? Remember that this is 2007, in which the national and international tone regarding same-sex marriage is drastically different from todays. Thiel concocted “a conspiracy” against Gawker to take it down and put it out of business.

In America, First Amendment laws make it very difficult to go after someone for speech found offensive or even invasive. Thiel (a non-practicing lawyer) ruled out a direct lawsuit against Gawker on those grounds as well as the option of simply buying the company outright or from stockholdings and simply changing the nature and direction of the organization. How would Thiel then accomplish this mission of his?

Along came a gift to Thiel in 2015. Terry Bollea, a resident of Clearwater Florida, was secretly video-recorded saying and doing unmentionable things. The video was sold to Gawker, which it posted and received millions of views. It received millions of views because Bollea is Hulk Hogan. Thiel jumps into this situation by financially backing Bollea’s lawsuit against Gawker. Thiel had several degrees of separation in this setup, making his true identity unknown as the lawyers continued to be paid and told they have unlimited funds and resources at their disposal from a private interest.

What follows is a thorough analysis of what it takes to commit a conspiracy. Holiday is a well-read individual and heavily quotes Machiavelli, war generals, and other titans of industry in telling what it takes to keep a secret, guard your emotions, and see a task finished to the end. These skills can be used maliciously and in poor taste, but Holiday doesn’t see it or offer it that way.

I was moved by the 360-view of this conspiracy. At times it mainly focuses on Thiel, Bollea, and other figureheads at Gawker. But the lawsuits would affect the daytime staff and their families, the custodians, and other minutiae that the big headlines miss. I found myself writing down a lot of the quotes from this book in my journal to revisit later and think more on.

You can find this book in the New Adult Nonfiction section.

I, Tonya

By the time Tonya Harding was in the 1994 Winter Olympics I would have been 7 years old. I do not remember her skating but I definitely remember her name, Nancy Kerrigan, and the scandal that ensued between them. While this movie is a comedy, it definitely has a strong connection to the actual histories involved. Harding is poor and from Oregon, making her own skating outfits by hand. Her mom is the brutally vocal parent on the sidelines of a youth sporting event. As Harding grows up in a physically abusive home, she chooses to get married and becomes part of a new physically abusive home. It’s a miracle she could get out on the ice merely to practice, much less compete at the absolute highest echelons of the sport. The more we learn about her life, the more it becomes sadly clear that the odds were always stacked against her.

Tonya Harding was doomed never to receive an enthusiastic embrace from the figure skating elite because she and her mother didn’t fit their superficial, socioeconomic ideals. Harding struggled to look the part of the pristine ice queen–something Kerrigan achieved effortlessly. Even though Harding was an extraordinarily athletic female skater–one of a rare few to this day to land a triple axel cleanly in competition–U.S. judges often didn’t give her the scores she deserved because she didn’t adhere to the image they wanted to project. At two points in the movie Tonya confronted the judges and asked why she couldn’t be scored based on her skating.

What I found important about this film is the nuance in presenting the pivotal events. It doesn’t strong arm you into believing Tonya definitely did (or didn’t) know about the scandal. It gives the viewer a lot to consider and think about, coming away with the needed nuance in any human circumstance. Do appearances matter more than skills?

You can find this movie in the New $1 DVD section.

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Vince Giordano has been the director of the Juniata County Library since 2015.

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