If you lived in my greater extended literary world – and that mostly means “getting snarky forwards over email” – you’d have heard about the Elizabeth Wurtzel piece over at NYMag that has had tongues a-waggin’. You can read it in its entirety here, although like most things in modern life, you can have an opinion about it without even experiencing the original.
Wurtzel is most famous for Prozac Nation and a host of other confessionals that were famously called the “woe is me, me, me” memoir genre by an early adopter of the blood sport of Wurtzel-bashing. She was also a contributor to the Next book, which is when I met her. We wound up having a smattering of debauched group nights on the town when a few of our common circles briefly merged in the undulating throng of a pre-sorority East Village.
(As an aside, don’t you think it usually sounds a little desperate when someone says “full disclosure: I know this person” in an article? I know the journalistic reasons, but it always comes off a little smarmy.)
me at the Purple House around that time, early ’90s
Anyway, there has been practically nobody easier for other writers to hate, perhaps in the recent history of Lower Manhattan. She doesn’t make it easy for herself, often mistaking incendiary proclamations for genuine insight, and including details of her life guaranteed to make you roll your eyes and say “oh please…”
This last essay has proven to be a high-water mark for Wurtzel-based invective as a glance at Twitter or Slate makes clear. No doubt the seven or so of you who read it will have your own opinions.
But let me just add three thoughts, which may or may not be related to the issue at hand:
1. E. Wurtzel remains a good writer. I’ve heard all the rumors, know all the stories, and I don’t give a shit. She has a thing, and it’s better than most of ’em out there.
2. Criticism this cruel and virulent absolutely must be viewed through the prism of sexism. If a guy were writing the same stuff, he’d be lauded for his tender honesty, and his harsher passages would be construed as a romantic yawp. I don’t think anyone, not even chicks, have an understanding of how EASY it is to HATE women showing any power.
3. Lastly, we all suffer from the worst kind of hipster Puritanism. We have no trouble complaining about our first-world problems, but try to absolve ourselves by heaping insult on anyone else who is honest about their tastes and privilege. I find myself deliberately not mentioning things here because it’s impossible to get across without looking like a fluffy dilettante dandy.
We all feel this subconscious, powerful guilt about living in a country with so much largesse, when there’s unbelievable suffering in the rest of the world. So we’re fine with bitching about slow wifi speeds on an airplane, but when Elizabeth Wurtzel mentions Harvard, croissants or a Hermès bag, we cry foul.
This leads us all to create façades of who we are, rather than the real picture, because if any of you got the real details, you’d likely be horrified. Social media has only made it worse; now you can curate this idea of yourself in real time, through little snippets, updates and pictures. Hell, I’ve been a caricature of myself on this blog for more than ten years!
You may not find Wurtzel trenchant, or tasteful, or even interesting, but there are other venues you can go for that. If you want an uncut closed-circuit feed into someone’s psyche, however, you can’t be surprised at the mess.