Might as well get THIS one out of the way: the Sex/ Internet/ Microfame story of the week comes to us courtesy of Kat Stoeffel at the New York Observer, who introduces us to 21 year-old college student and occasional writer-about-sex on the internet "Marie Calloway" (a pseudonym). Sometimes Marie writes about sex, on Tumblr, or on Thought Catalog. Does this make her "the model for literary seductresses" in the "internet age?" No. It just makes her a girl, with a Tumblr.
Marie Calloway was an 18 year-old writer who wrote about sex on Tumblr. She also wrote a long, pseudonymous true story about coming to New York and sleeping with an older writer here referred to as "Adrian Brody." He had a girlfriend. Marie Calloway gained a degree of micro-notoriety for this. Eventually she became uncomfortable with the attention and deleted her Tumblr. (Though a couple of her stories are still up on Thought Catalog.) Blah blah blah. It's a case of internet oversharing-turned-emotionally-hurtful not seen since... I dunno, yesterday probably, when some overeager teenager somewhere sent sexy photos to some more famous man upon whom she had developed a crush. It will happen again, somewhere else, tomorrow.
There is a certain mechanism by which people are turned into microfameballs, finding their lives forever altered. Marie Calloway has now been set on that path. We can argue over whether or not these people were "asking for it"—in many cases, yes, they were practically begging to be exploited, though often they find that they hate this sort of fame once they receive it. Let us call this what it is: entertainment. A soap opera, for people smart enough to read the New York Observer (or Gawker). Likewise, let us be clear about what a teenage girl's sexual gossip and self-exploratory essays about sex that, at one time, would have been personal diary entries are definitively not: a symbol of something Important For Our Age. Here, you see—the point at which we writers decide to make something deep out of these timeless human foibles—is where we lose the plot.
Although [Emily] Gould told The Observer she was ethically and aesthetically "horrified" by elements of "Adrien Brody," she thinks that horror is worth investigating. "Why do women who aren't afraid to humiliate themselves appall us so much, and why do we rush to find superficial reasons to dismiss them (‘she's crazy' ‘she's a narcissist' ‘she's young' ‘she's a famewhore')?" Ms. Gould wrote The Observer in an e-mail.
"I think in part because they pose a threat to the social order, which relies on women's embarrassment to keep them either silent or writing in socially accepted modes."
Ms. Calloway agreed. She said that she writes to give meaning and permanence to female subjectivity.
I disagree. I would suggest that Marie Calloway's first-person stories of losing her virginity and having sex for cash in London and coming to New York to sleep with some writer are just that—first-person stories, the same sorts of stories which are published by the dozen on a weekly basis on Thought Catalog and Slate and Salon and the New York Times Modern Love section, and by the thousand on thousands of blogs. Stories about sex are no more or less significant or deep or worthwhile than other stories. I suspect (though I am no psychiatrist, or expert person of any sort) that people flock to sex stories for roughly the same reason that people watch pornography: because people like sex. There is nothing inherently noble, or brave, or feminist about relentlessly focusing on one's own sex life to the exclusion of other topics. We all like sex. Most of us like reading about sex. But it does no favors to young female writers to convince them that they are courageous voices in the wilderness for dedicating their talents to writing stories that are received as lurid, not literary.
More broadly, this is the peril of writing about oneself or oversharing online, particularly for younger writers without a large catalogue of work to establish them as something more complex than a single personal story. It invites people to judge you, and judge you they will. And if you're very, very unlucky, they might even turn you into a symbol of our age. That's a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone.
Let's all shut up more in 2012.