Monday, August 13, 2012

Cat Marnell Is All Over The Internet

Lately, I've been rubbernecking really hard at Cat Marnell, but I get the sense that she doesn't really mind. She's the recently-disgraced xoJane Beauty Editor, the one who got canned from Lucky and hired at Vice, all because of her prodigious, unapologetic drug use. She is skinny, blonde, dirty, coked-out, writes like Hunter S. Thompson on his laziest days, and has a rabid crowd of fans who proclaim that anyone who criticizes her writing style or drug use are haters of the highest degree. Marnell is well-placed (profiles in New York magazine and Page Six) and she enrages readers by being not very good at her actual writing jobs while being very good at talking about her drug use. Most of her articles, which skate between fiction and memoir, start with a description of what she's wearing; something is always stained. She is instantly recognizable as the one who is wasting her potential.

When I was younger, I would have admired Marnell's in-your-face fucked-up-ness. I was drawn to women who were brazenly, openly vocal about their horrible addictions: mine were so secret and poisonous that the girls who had the balls to even acknowledge theirs in public where automatic heroines. Bonus points if you could make me feel like I was missing out by not taking handfuls of illicit prescription drugs and burying myself in a duvet for days on end, emerging only to have exquisitely unsatisfying sex with graffiti writers and to cadge free drinks off unsuspecting tourists who had mistakenly read desire in my glassy come-down eyes.

Marnell's life, which at xoJane was presented in the guise of beauty product reviews that were mainly a forum for her to talk about how many drugs she was doing and how much she hated being "fat" (oh, to be fat at 102 pounds!), does have a dirty sheen of glam. At Vice, she's dropped the beauty-review pretence and focused mostly on her addiction. It's River Phoenix, it's Linsday Lohan, it's Courtney Love - one died, one slurrily denies her addiction, and one, maybe worst, became a bloated, rambling addict who swoops between the highest highs and the lowest lows. Since Marnell would probably rather take a runny dump in Times Square than see a Love-like future in her cards, her alternatives are to get really clean and find a life outside addiction—something she has promised she can never do—or die.

It's slightly disorienting to read a Marnell post, because I keep expecting them to show me something: something about her, or her place in the world, or a recognition that she, as a white-girl addict with a media job, has it pretty good. She rarely has to give blow jobs to people she doesn't want to, a "choice" many female addicts don't get to make. She orbits a world that is seedy and slightly cosmopolitan: trust fund kids partying with fashion editors who are sleeping with DJs who are selling drugs to younger sisters. If you've read Bret Easton Ellis, you've read Cat Marnell, and the "interesting" twist that she's a female writer loses its edge pretty fast.

In a bigger sense, addicts aren't pretty. I don't mean that in the way a former beauty editor might, although years of popping pills and snorting drugs will eventually ruin your face and body. Bad circulation will give you cankles, bulimia will provide you with a double chin, and those ropy addict tendons will stand out on your neck forever, even if you get clean.

But addiction also creates this funhouse mirror world where all you can see is yourself and your addiction. Sometimes, the drugs do what they're supposed to: make you feel good, normal, productive. Most of the time, especially when you're abusing or mixing or binging, the drugs and booze distort reality so that you believe that, if you could find the right cocktail, the right blend of powders and pills and smoke, you can be perfect, forever. The hall of mirrors has no room for things like a job, family, or friends - when the high is good, there's no reason to believe those things won't fall into place; when it's bad, there's no reason to believe you're worthy of even the most basic humanity. There is no space for anyone who isn't you.

Which, as well all know from tedious cocktail party conversation where the other person will just not stop talking about themselves, is boring. And being boring is a cardinal sin to someone who writes click-through driven blog posts. Marnell has placed herself between a rock and a hard place. She has flat-out refused to get clean, staking jobs, connections, and her own tenuous professional reputation on the ever-diminishing returns of her readership's interest in a blogger/scene girl's lifestyle. She could go the way of Nicole Richie (famous party girl and heroin user turned mom, wife, business mogul and fashion plate), but she will more likely follow a Whitney Houston-esque path: someone who has wasted time and talent in the fires of an death-drive addiction. Someone who knows the path that drugs will lead her down, and follows willingly, because hey, smoking crystal and swigging vodka make for great blog posts.

It will surprise no one to say that writers, especially bloggers, often mine their personal lives for material. Sometimes, like in Hunter S. Thompson's case, heavy drinking and drugging played a huge part in what he wrote about and how. Others, like Aaron Sorkin, basically ignore their addiction to focus on other material. In either case, it leaves a mark. Marnell's narrow focus (beauty, drugs) has only become narrower (drugs) as her star has risen.And if you haven't drank the Cat Marnell Kool-Aid (she's so pretty, troubled, and good at writing!), you end up feeling like you're missing something in all the hype - where is the stuff that's actually interesting?

I hope Marnell gives herself permission to get past the drug stuff, which sometimes seems to be the only stuff she's made of, and explore herself as a writer. I realize that I sound incredibly condescending, but it's true: I think she's intriguing, but her subject matter (Marnell, drugs, and Marnell's own drug use) are a total bore. Show me what you think of celebrity pop culture, or the 2013 S/S lines, or even, god forbid, the trials and tribulations of a person working hard to stay sober in the face of 15 years of drug use. I would be interested in that, but just another girl who has a good connection to both the internet and drug dealers? I'll pass.