For many, the personal essay industry reaped something darker. The web magazine xoJane, founded by Jane Pratt (formerly of Sassy and Jane), was one of the first to tap into this energy. Pratt, whose guiding ethos seemed to be “the more personal and vulnerable a writer is, the better,” encouraged her staff and freelancers to write that way online. The result was a slew of essays, like those that make up the wildly successful “It Happened to Me” series, ranging from “I Became Celibate to Heal From Sexual Abuse” to “My Baby Daughter Died at Two Weeks Old.”
Cat Marnell was central to this trend. She was ostensibly xoJane’s beauty editor, but her posts — usually written while high, in the early hours of the morning — gradually morphed into a diary of addiction. A meditation on Whitney Houston’s overdose went viral; so did a video of Marnell snorting fancy bath salts. Marnell became a New York media celebrity, got fired/quit xoJane when her drug use — the very thing that made her such a lucrative writer — became worrisome to H.R. She started writing a drugs column for Vice, and became a late-night, strung-out, makeup-smeared fixture of Alphabet City. She eventually disappeared into her own addiction — but not before selling her memoir.
It took three years, the threat of a ghostwriter and several trips to rehab, but Marnell’s final product, “How to Murder Your Life,” is far more than the sum of her collected columns. She traces her life story in a manner that manages to be at once sensational and matter-of-fact: the general negligence of her well-to-do parents, the fantasy of boarding school and the brutal reality, the addiction to Adderall and boys and the dedication to bodily perfection that gradually spirals her into a second-trimester abortion and expulsion six weeks from graduation.
Marnell treads a knife edge between glamorizing her own despair and rendering it with savage honesty. Several sections read like the drug-fueled interludes of “The Goldfinch”: queasy-making stuff far more effective than a “scared straight” narrative. She propels the reader through what could seem like repetitiveness (drugs, binges, bad mistakes, sprawling parties) with the skill of a pulp novelist. In the introduction, she frankly admits, “If you are grossed out by ‘white girl privilege’ (who isn’t?), you might want to bail now,” before averring, “There’s nothing I can do about that. Believe me, I have tried to cut this chapter out twice! My editor keeps making me put it back in.”
The exclamation points, the name-dropping, the absence of social media, the obsession with print culture and “downtown kids” and Manhattan (the word “Brooklyn” barely appears in the book) — “How to Murder Your Life” feels like an artifact from a previous New York, previous internet, previous calculus of celebrity. The book’s success stems from the wobbliness with which Marnell renders those worlds: Are they gross or sexy? Does she hate her body and run it toward destruction, or does she simply understand how female suffering has been rendered erotic?
In “All the Lives I Want:Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers,” Alana Massey teases similar tensions. Massey shares several broad characteristics with Marnell: an obsession with New York, oscillation between ambition and addiction, frankness about disordered eating and drug use. Massey is three years younger than Marnell — enough time, in internet years, to make her part of a new generation of personal internet essayists, more circumspect and savvy about how to exploit their own narratives.
Massey has excavated major parts of herself online — one of her first forays into online writing was a piece for xoJane entitled “I’ve Never Had an Orgasm and I’m the Only Person That Doesn’t Care” — and has fought the “pink ghettoization” of writing about women’s issues, arguing that such work is just “part of the familiar hazing ritual that many women go through when we aren’t ushered into media through more respectable channels.”
With “All the Lives I Want,” Massey continues to tell stories of herself, this time through analysis of celebrity women. In 15 brief essays covering a couple of dozen female celebrities and fictional characters, she makes claims like “Courtney Love, you see, is a witch.” Each meditation reads much like an online essay: trenchant in places but in need of a ruthless edit, loosely researched, with individual lines ripe for tweetability and a stomach punch of a kicker.
Massey is best when she pinpoints the particular viscousness of living under patriarchy. An essay on Fiona Apple and Lana Del Rey observes that both women attract “men who can smell the blood on the places where a woman is breaking”; elsewhere, she intermingles the narrative of how Britney Spears’s body became public property with the way men call her body “perfect” only when it’s below a healthy weight. But many of Massey’s best points are swallowed by their extension to too many celebrities in too little space. As a result, she does a lot of telling the audience, in finely wrought, declarative sentences, how female celebrities have been mistreated by the world that venerated them — but does very little showing how that came to pass.
Showing, after all, is the heart of the personal essay: People are enthralled less by the conclusions the author makes about her life than by the details that allow readers to come to their own. Which isn’t to suggest there’s no place for women to write analysis, or fiction, or whatever they please — just that Massey’s particular voice, like Marnell’s, works best when sharpened to a point, tilling the raw ground of the personal.
There’s danger there, of course: If you’ve murdered your own life, either in practice or through the act of flattening it on paper, what’s left to live? But I think Marnell and Massey are working toward something different: They figured out their words can build fires, and they’re learning how to torch the ground, rather than themselves.Continue reading the main story
Fairy Tales: Reflection of Societal Dysfunction Essay
1420 Words6 Pages
When people talk about fairy tales, in their mind, they will automatically think about fantasy element such as princess, princes, and fairy and of course the happy ending at the end of every fairy tale. They give us a place for freedom of thinking and relaxing. Moreover, in some way, we used fairy tales to teach a child's moral lessons about how to behavior. Do fairy tales only offer the freedom of thinking and moral lesson fairy tales to people? We use to think that the fantasy in the fairy tales has no impact on their society, and it's merely the element to get the stories in fairy tales gloomier and more attracted to the reader. No, fairy tales still hold one more important function. In one aspect, fairy tales reflect the bad side of…show more content…
When people talk about fairy tales, in their mind, they will automatically think about fantasy element such as princess, princes, and fairy and of course the happy ending at the end of every fairy tale. They give us a place for freedom of thinking and relaxing. Moreover, in some way, we used fairy tales to teach a child's moral lessons about how to behavior. Do fairy tales only offer the freedom of thinking and moral lesson fairy tales to people? We use to think that the fantasy in the fairy tales has no impact on their society, and it's merely the element to get the stories in fairy tales gloomier and more attracted to the reader. No, fairy tales still hold one more important function. In one aspect, fairy tales reflect the bad side of society. Like in a movie Pan’s Labyrinth, there is a relation between the fantasy world in the fairy tales and her living society. Thus, even the fantasy is part of our imagination about a better world, but it has a significant role in transforming imagining into politics because it acts as a tool to reflect the dysfunction of society. Using imagery to create the fantasy world as a way to escape, people represent they disagree with the existing order. In many fairy tales, the fantasy exit as a tool to rescue the sick person. Look at Cinderella, the fantasy part of the story is the appearing of the fairy godmother who use her magic power to help Cinderella go to ball part and meet the prince. We also know that if she doesn’t cry the fairy