Occasionally, on this very website, enlightening debate breaks out. In between the clusterfucks and the bodysnarking, talk about blogging, the internet, the effect of technology on relationships, and the Way We Live Now occurs. In that case, Emily Gould's just-online article in next Sunday's New York Times Magazine has done what it set out to do. We found it fitting to highlight a conversation between commenters Cassandra and A Dismal Science. Are we all Emily? Is nobody Emily? Should we stone her to death, as is the Internet's custom? "There is not one Emily. There are millions of Emilys." Read on...
Seeing all these heated opinions about Emily makes me just want to put a cold cloth on my forehead. We've heard it before, and it's senseless. I've had my share of frustrations with Emily's overshare too, but when I see comments criticizing Emily for media-whoring, I just have to wonder if anyone was paying any attention at all. It's like Lit Crit 101 — examine the author's work. Emily didn't engage in anything as a cynical exercise. She really cares about this stuff, about relationships and life and making sense of them as she finds her way in the world. She seems to really believe that other people must share her concern about the "HOW" of life — how to live right? How to handle relationships?
Like yea, I got kind of annoyed when her posts seemed to just be lazy and navel-gazing and thoroughly checked out. But you know, then we have to look at why our reaction is so strong and out of proportion to her crimes. Why you, me, we, the creative underclass or whatever, can't give this 26-year-old girl room to just develop and make mistakes and find her voice. Where our generosity went, and our willingness to see things from a different point of view. I wonder this about Gawker all the time — like, as we commenters criticize every bit of behavior and decisions that others make in their lives, how much of it is a weird way of putting pressure on others to conform and be just like us? To excise anything that makes them individual and interesting and themselves? And why are we threatened by that?
Emily put herself out there, but God bless her delusion, it's because she thinks she's contributing some perspective to how young people think and manage relationships, and these things that haven't been figured out. And you know, she has a point— have you figured it out? I haven't. So maybe we shut up and listen a bit and evaluate her argument and debate it and realize that even though Emily's writing is all about Emily, it's actually paradoxically also not about Emily at all.
So I don't know. The way Emily looks at the world, and picks it up, and examines it, and agonizes about it, seems to hint more at the natural instincts of a novelist than any of the pretentious fools she seems to like to date. I would say her only mistake is in taking second-billing to her boyfriends all the time. It's an identity issue. Her writing style is not elegant; it needs to be developed. But how's about we all maybe stand back, see her as a fellow traveler in our own struggles, and cut the bullshit in which we pretend we're better than her?
Plus she is a feminist and there are a lot of misogynistic mofos all up in here.
...I maintain that Emily's work is not about Emily. For two reasons: Emily's theme of "what the fuck am I doing with my life" applies to us all. And when you read her writing,you think of your problems. When you read Balk, you just think Balk is smart or funny. You don't think about you.
It's not that at all!
Commenting is a public, identity-driven feedback mechanism. It is a process whereby we establish personal brands in the course of analyzing the material - or, as threads progress, other comments. It is built not on conformity, but on conflict; typically it's the fastest way for people to disagree and find each other. In the course of this process, you often find groups forming together to shout down an opinion, but that's value-added; strong ideas achieve buy-in from the body politic. It's an expression of processes that used to be wrapped in circulation figures or sales, and it moves lightning-quick toward consensus. This could be mistaken for conformity, but it's really just a rapid information exchange.
Furthermore, the debate isn't about what we're doing to Emily. It's about what Emily provides us. She doesn't present a sports event, market movement, or important event for us to analyze; she presents us with her own life and attempts to establish its events as indicative of the world at large. There is a value in such things, but I'm afraid that all she's shown me so far is a stark desperation for material and cultural success, a modicum of writing talent, and a shameless disregard for other people's reputations.
Where do I see that ending? Psuedo-celebrity. Minor financial success. A body of inconsequential low-culture pieces about the froth of young men and women in a Machiavellian world of abuse and distrust. She furthers every aspect of what I find disdainful about internet culture toward no noble end whatsoever.
And none of this is as bad as the fact that her writing, initially, seemed genuine, raw, and destined for something larger. Instead, she's already hooker her perpetual media motion device meager dark energy of her "persona" and doesn't seem to be concerned that, absent intervention, the height of her journalism career might be the time she dueled her ex-boyfriend's article with her own. How sad.
The point is that Emily is self-obsessed in exactly to the degree to which her entire generation is self-obsessed. I used to think Emily was only interested in Emily, and that is partly true — but then if you think historically about other writers accused of being that, they actually end up being generational touchpoints. There is not one Emily. There are millions of Emilys, is what I'm saying.
@ADismalScience: Well-written, sir. I see what you're saying. Re: Emily, I would only argue that she is still in the stage where her raw talent really promises something bigger in the future. But we keep expecting her to advance slowly and quietly, and I think it's time to accept that our culture has changed forever, and that the author-as-personality is a permanent change. Emily's generation has some bizarre lack of filter and needs to be looked at. In another generation, she might have labored in obscurity, but that's impossible now. We've always celebrated young, attractive, self-obsessed writers. ALWAYS. But also, it's going to be like this, forever, because these are the people who are writing now. They are Gessens and Goulds and people who want to be famous.
As for commenter culture, I understand what you're saying about the marketplace of ideas, and I used to believe it, but I don't now. Beyond funny comments — which there are plenty of here — there is a rush to polarization on commenting boards that often has little relation in scale or impact with the actual subject at hand. People get crazy when they get on the Internet. There's an immense tear-down impulse that I think has gotten out of hand. It's like people want to differentiate themselves by what they hate. And so they have to hate more things.
And also, Emily is not the only one to have ever had a panic attack on the floor of the office bathroom.