According to Vulture, there are three separate movies in the works about the downfall of the New York-based gossip blog Gawker. One is based on the book “Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue,” which was reviewed by the proprietor of this blog; it will be adapted by Oscar-winner Charles Randolph and produced by Francis Lawrence. Another, written by John Gary, is called “Gawker v. Thiel,” and Vulture’s Hunter Harris reported that Gary interviewed some of Gawker’s staff for the script. The final offering is “Just the Facts,” which, Harris says, takes former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio’s point of view of the trial.
As a fan of not only Hollywood doppelganging — the weird effect where projects with similar subjects come out at roughly the same time (think “Volcano” and “Dante’s Peak” in the ’90s; “The Illusionist” and “The Prestige” in the 2000s; and “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down” during this decade*) but also the intrigue surrounding Gawker’s demise, this is an exciting time to be alive. I just hope these films remember the Bollea in Bollea v. Gawker, the lawsuit that ended up bankrupting the Gawker empire.
To be clear, I haven’t read the scripts, and this is neither a critique of them nor the films on which they will be based. Films that, it needs to be emphasized, don’t exist yet. Which may never exist! It is, rather, a simple plea that the filmmakers working on these projects and the general public alike remember the victim in Bollea v. Gawker wasn’t the website that published an illicitly taped tryst between a man who had no idea he was being recorded and a woman married to the man’s supposed friend. The victim in this case was the man whose sexual act was splashed all over the Internet for everyone to gawk at.
Regardless of your feelings about Terry Bollea, better known as the legendary professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, and regardless of your distaste for the grotesque things he said about the thought of his daughter dating African Americans, common decency suggests one should feel some pity for the man who took to the stand to discuss the betrayal he felt upon learning of the publication of his most intimate moments.
The New York Times had this description of Bollea’s testimony at his trial:
When he learned that his friend’s voice could be heard at the end of the tape suggesting to his wife that they would be able to retire on the money they might make from selling the video, Mr. Bollea said, “my hands just started shaking.”
“He made me believe that he was my best friend and that he would never lie to me,” said Mr. Bollea, who noted that he often had difficulty establishing close friendships.
The human dimension here is startling, the sense of betrayal real and devastating. Written well, you’d have a juicy role for an actor who can channel rage and confusion into sadness and frustration. A deft actor’s touch could demonstrate the ways in which aggressive masculinity, combined with modern celebrity, culture can lead to crippling loneliness and depression.
I understand: The revelation that billionaire investor Peter Thiel was the one funding Bollea’s suit against Gawker has upended the narrative of this case. The First Amendment issues it presents are worthy of debate, if somewhat overstated. If you want to argue that one callous, disgusting mistake shouldn’t destroy a legitimate media enterprise, I’m totally with you.
But it is important to remember, at heart, that Bollea v. Gawker is a case about someone who tried to sell a sex tape recorded without the permission of at least one of the participants, a case that resonates in our age of paranoia about revenge porn, a case that should appeal to anyone concerned with privacy. It’s difficult to imagine a film being made about the hacking of celebrity iCloud accounts and the dissemination of nude photos of said celebrities that didn’t explicitly, pointedly take the side of the stars against the side of the hackers.
Terry Bollea isn’t a perfect man. He’s said horrible, racist things. He’s lived his life in public in a way that invites scrutiny and scorn. But on the issue of Gawker, he deserves our sympathy.
*For the record: “Volcano,” “The Prestige,” and “Olympus Has Fallen” were the best in each of those pairs, and by a wide margin.