Raise your hand if you have ever said you would “kill” to be an editor in New York City with a legendary woman who seems unusually generous and willing to mentor. It’s a career so remote, it’s like going to the moon. But one person who has been there has decided she would rather “be on the rooftop of Le Bain looking for shooting stars and smoking angel dust”.
Whatever your gut reaction to the quote that cemented former XOJane beauty editor Cat Marnell’s micro fame and rising brand, it’s an irresistible sound bite for the press. Acting out to a degree that Page Six is following your exploits is notable – an unrealized dream to many wannabe celebs. It’s the pop culture hall of fame, of infamy. Of terrible.
And it is noteworthy to media critics. Marnell may just be brilliant – in the brutal context of our times. It’s not for the faint of heart, this game. It’s not for those who still talk to their parents. It’s freedom without a net, requiring the coldest blood and the sharpest nails and a good supply of pharmaceuticals inside last year’s “it” bag. It has existed in Manhattan long before Bret Easton Ellis dropped his first name, and now, writers like Marnell arrive to grab at a crown that may lead to infamy, posthumous fame, wealth and acclaim; or maybe just burnout.
As the resident beauty editor and enfant terrible for over a year at XOJane, Marnell seemed to enjoy a dysfunctional, if close, working relationship with EIC Jane Pratt, who once ran the revered alternative teen girl mag Sassy. Cat Marnell quit her job noisily, messily, and cruelly, burning her bridges so she could learn to swim.
Or Cat was fired.
Or it was mutual.
It was a bad break up where the person who presents an image of a broken doll, proud narcissist, Courtney Love fangirl, and quick-witted writer/ silly drug addict (writing ad nauseum about prescriptions, cocaine, and speed) is maybe, too, a sly media expert willing to shill her soul for her personal brand- who might just play the part, the controversy, the clippings, and the ideological bombing of XOJane’s image all the way to a book deal. She certainly landed on her feet at Vice.com with a new column that allows her to play her Bret Easton Ellis card all day long, now, the drug girl, the girl who fled the world of “lady bloggers”.
So what if she shit where she ate by dismissing XOJane as a site preoccupied with “fat acceptance” and vaginas in a show of her patented “amphetamine logic”? Or that she describes Pratt, in print (a woman she claims to love, in an example of this) as “Sphinx like” and “not like Slimer” but really, as like Slimer, the Ghostbusters buffoon mascot from a short-lived cartoon. Of all things. Ouch. As Marnell is rewarded for her bad behaviour, Pratt has been cast as victim, mean girled into a corner, preyed on by a younger woman out of Sassy’s worst nightmares, a living smackdown of its frail 90’s dreams.
The confessional, informal tone of XOJane, a bloggy version of Sassy and Jane Magazines’ successful formula is ripe for disaster in a blurry world where writers struggle to claim authority and words are devalued as just another part of content. It’s one of those sites where much of its relevance occurs in the comments; readers and writers, along with Jane herself, duke it out and define what this space is and what it means, providing lifeblood and free content along with essential blog hits. Debate, and controversy, is gold. The commenters are active, articulate, involved, exhausting.
Cat Marnell stuck out like a sore thumb at XOJane (albeit one painted in Dior Vernis Rouge Altess). Her provocative pieces played with beauty writing while weaving drug narratives and revelations about improper use of birth control, she was hotly debated at other sites: this controversy at first served XOJane very well, alerting many readers that this new site, XOJane existed. Cat was compelling, even as she used fear and manipulation and casually talked about taboo subjects with a nihilistic air. She was wickedly funny. She was a bad girl.
Marnell can write. She has a unique voice and is fearless at times, in ways that can propel some writers to greatness. In spite of her carefully (de)constructed exterior, she succeeds at times in her aim to express herself as a writer, rather than a woman writer. Her piece about drug addiction and the death of Whitney Houston was a riveting and personal analysis of a gossipy story that elevated the conversation, cutting through the often useless black and white thinking that dominates acceptable discourse about drugs in our culture. I believe in the writer’s gift for invention in times of despair. This is a talent, a tool, that is innate; it comes from somewhere deep in our survival kit.
BUT-some of Marnell’s pieces seemed like passable, if flippant, suicide notes. It would be funny if it was all drag, performance art. As a diarist, as the tormented, raw writer it was great. But the tension and the disjuncture with the rest of the site’s tone was undeniable. And she was only ironically interested in beauty, in health. Our feminism today is a P.C. minefield, where Cat was often torn apart for her opinions. Wanting to be very, very thin, and stating beauty should be aspirational was her right as much as other “normal” ideals. Cat seemed to readers to get sicker in recent months, notable for erratic behavior and long absences from the site.
Cat vs. Jane seems inevitable in the pictures of the two on the site, one that mines the staff relationships to drive its reason for being as much or more than content. See Jane, who we think we know, with her lovable, clean face, holding down her little corner of publishing: an anomaly, she seems photoshopped next to constructed Cat with her permanent smoky eyes, heavy make up and always sad smile; a Blythe doll who seems as addicted to her “dirty whites” druggy uniform as she is to drugs. Cat’s departure cemented her role in a bizarre reverse Devil Wears Prada: as cannibalistic, acrylic hard, cold. But both images may be abstractions, projections: by-products of a shaky battleground that might exist behind the imposed family of a magazine.
Drugs are key to the story of Cat and Jane, since Marnell made it that way. As in life, they threaten to obliterate everything else. Over time Cat’s arguments about free will gave way to the slick con of an addict at work, lying to you all the time. Marnell’s few stabs at writing in recent months led devoted readers on a wild ride that ranged from blackest humour to razor-sharp jabs of contempt at her employer, funny/childish rants about the shallowness of writing about eyeliner (her chosen profession) and back to little gems of insight that would quickly be negated by the most immature photography: Her fridge, empty but for pill bottles (a shtick unfortunately carried on at Vice). Druggy self pics that were valueless except to shock or flaunt the impossible: Not arrested. Not fired.
The infamous quote in full reads:
“Look, I couldn’t spend another summer meeting deadlines behind a computer at night when I could be on the rooftop of Le Bain looking for shooting stars and smoking angel dust with my friends and writing a book, which is what I’m doing next.”
This represents Marnell’s image, her fledgling brand, one that has lately enjoyed unprecedented press clippings. It would be a great statement if it were a joke. Marnell has fallen up, moving swiftly to a job at Vice.com where she is finally able to express herself freely on the subjects that interest her. Curiously, for someone who talks about always being on drugs, the enjoyable, less fraught columns at Vice come regularly and coherently, with a renewed sense of pride. Marnell has a flair for descriptive prose and a fine memory (or imagination) that she ought to believe in, one that is not due to drugs (as she claims to believe, also that they make her superhuman). It’s a good fit, a woman with guts in the boys club she longed to crack. Stepping on her sister’s back. All of this noise has earned solid column inches in the New York press. Marnell must have a good publicist, or good advice. Maybe a plan, maybe even back when she started with XOJane. Before Jane and Cat became codependent faux family. Before Jane introduced Cat to Courtney Love.
The entitled don’t know and don’t care how obnoxious they are. Certainly a woman of 29 has to spin her wheels very hard to pretend to be happy in the drugged out scene of lazy privilege and clubbing. Marnell’s scene is jaded and dried up – otherwise they wouldn’t need so many drugs. But all the nonsense that puts her ass next to Lindsay Lohan’s in a booth, friends of friends, even: now that has some currency. Marnell now writes for Vice.com with beauty product references sprinkled in absurdly, a funny Marnell signature. “Amphetamine Logic” her new column, is a welcome change from the aggregated gossip that dominates online. But yet.
Anyone can say they are writing a book. Drug addicts love to have big plans to spin over. The difference is that writers work hard and are disciplined especially with fewer real writing jobs left. Dorothy Parker and even good old Hunter S. Thompson are gone and so are their expense accounts (never trust fund babies, I think). Christopher Hitchens was famous for drinking and still producing insightful, perfectly composed work while drunk. His obit in Vanity Fair makes special mention of this. Kerouac for all his benzos worked on that goddamned manuscript for On The Road for over ten years, carefully crafting something to look spontaneous. They are all dead and lived hard, but left a legacy, too. The proof of our intentions is in who we aspire to be, our real daddies: are they writers? Or Olsens? Or Lohans? And it’s dangerous to perch too close to a Lohan. Marnell seems to forget that if she is, indeed, a writer, then she requires distance; should want to be anything but a toxic twin. Use Lohan as fodder, but don’t aspire to be. To thrive as a writer, not as a celebrity, is work and involves one set of muscles to be realized. To be devoted to drugs comes from somewhere else, it doesn’t share. It’s wishful thinking that both can happen concurrently (or ever did). They were always more truthfully one or the other. Just ask Robert Downey Jr. :An honest survivor of the 80’s party. A grateful one.
The problem with Marnell’s departure was not censorship or abuse, she was indulged beyond all reason, and behaved ungratefully- it’s there for us all to see. And if she prefers to live her life using drugs, it’s her life. But you can’t have it both ways- one is either a functioning addict who can work and spin that shit into gold, or in a crisis and needing/accepting help. Or addicted to something else- lying? Attention? The disorder of our age. Marnell was way more committed to her brand than her paid gig and did not perform her job – she did not produce much writing at all for XOJane, but got to stay under Jane’s wing, on her masthead, for a long time. Got attention, infamy, maybe fame. Maybe a book deal. Choosing a fatalistic drug love affair and calling it a party is a risky and unsustainable brand. There might me much more to the story, or much less. It might have just been a bad fit. Leaving a job gracefully, with gratitude for a mentor, is not Cat’s color. It wouldn’t make for a swag story.
Article by Jacqueline
Sources: XOJane, Vice.com, Jezebel.com, New York Post Page Six, The Atlantic Wire, New York Magazine