Watching a Spectacular Public Meltdown With Just a Hint of Jealousy

In confessional culture, bigger (breakdown) is better.

Comments: 41

  1. Excellent. Thank you.

  2. "I tried to protect the writers I worked with. On other first-person sites — sites where I flattered myself that the editors weren’t as careful as I was — I saw too much exposure. I would find myself excising the grimmest parts of personal essays, torn between my desire to protect the human being and my knowledge that such unforgettable detail would boost a story’s click-through rate."

    I would argue it's not just about click crack but about WHY so many people (majority of them being women) click through to these stories. So much of women's media is geared around how to be better, more perfect, improve everything about yourself ... there is something refreshing, and absolutely necessary, about discussing flaws.

    Your own David Carr wrote about his drug use and was celebrated with a documentary film. When women do this it still receives backlash upon backlash. Case in point, your article.

  3. This is shameless. A woman is dying from a disease in public, and people are celebrating her! This entire episode is a perfect example of our attention-driven, social-media narcissistic culture. Cat Marnell is killing herself in exchange for fame, Vice is feeding her addiction by paying her for page views and indie cachet, and now the NYTimes validates the entire mess.

    You're all hypocrites for piggybacking on this dying young woman.

  4. Yeah, and I can just read the eulogies when Cat Marnell is found dead in nightclub bathroom sometime -- how brilliant and self-destructive she was. And see! Sarah Hepola wrote about it FIRST -- one addict commenting on another.

    It's a low grade version of the whole Amy Winehouse thing: she's brilliant, she's an addict, she's self-destructive -- but oh, she sells records (or rates page clicks for ad dollars) -- so we won't actually do anything (like fire her slacking addict butt out of the door) -- we'll whinge about her talent until she's dead. Oh so sad.

    "writing and talking about myself is a career for me"...if that's not the most pathetic quote of the year.

  5. Yes and here you are, shamelessly reading it, commenting on it and directing others to your own blog from it. Talk about hypocritical.

  6. My introduction to Cat Marnell was recent - on xojane, just a couple of weeks before her exit from the site. I found her writing fascinatingly repellent, the excesses of a gifted self-destructive child. And this piece, clearly, shares a similar reaction - not only to Marnell but to the cult of public self-destruction that seems to have an ever-growing audience. I like Hepola's assessment because in so many ways it mirrors my own feelings about watching someone like Marnell perform her netless high-wire act. It doesn't seem as if that act can end well. At a certain point, being a willing "witness" to such performances reflects badly on us, making us wonder about the lure of public nakedness in its uglier forms.

  7. Hard to believe she wrote a better piece on Whitney than you did. I'd never heard of Marnell but this piece on her was really good. Thanks for it. And congratulations on getting sober.

  8. Wow, how sad this is. At the same time, it's difficult to feel sorry for affluent, white women who have every advantage that decide to throw it away. Can we finally put up a hand and say, "this isn't cute, or fashionable, or something to be proud of". Can you please give your space to someone who really has something of value to say? I no longer wonder why so many people think America is a dying civilization. Screed like this makes it seem so.

  9. We are not a dying civilization; is a dying online magazine, that has to stir the pot in order to get page clicks (for advertising bucks). Sarah Hepola is an editor there -- 'nuff said.

  10. Your reducing these individuals to a class of "affluent white women" somehow allows you not to think of them with compassion as human beings. You also assume that because this did not speak to you that others won't find their own struggles and pain reflected in it - and don't have the sensitivity to see it as a cautionary tale.

  11. As a shoe blogger ( with a background in Journalism and Marketing, I found this article to be very insightful and intriguing. Great work on the writer's part - well done!

  12. >> "I worry about anyone who is lighting themselves on fire for our enjoyment. I worry about the bloggers and viral stars who have burned up so much of themselves for the prize of a few thousand followers."


  13. I'm not the usual demographic for this article, but I did read it. I gather that being self-destructive has its own cache. Sure - many journalists have been alcoholics, perhaps addicted to sex and who knows what else. But, now its seen as interesting and not taken too seriously until the person dies. I think its all deplorable - remember that word?- and sad. Better to get involved in politics and make the world a better place and yourself better as well.

  14. Cat is just sad. I have no idea why people glorify this type of behavior. It's not cute or cool.

  15. So well written! Thanks.

  16. After reading this tragic article, all I can think of is what Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Great minds talk about ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds talk about people." Does that mean people with no minds talk only about themselves?

    Granted, we can't all be great minds all the time; some people can't be great minds any of the time. But to think at any time I should be interested that some should envy the train wreck of another person's life simply because it makes him or her a better writer, that would make me not only brainless, but an actual living brain donor.

    To imitate my 12 year old niece, this article was totally TMI!

  17. Eleanor Roosevelt was wrong about this.

  18. Thank you for this intelligent post; far more insightful than the author's article. And the Eleanor Roosevelt quote is brilliant and true.

  19. Cheers to Cat---I hope she doesn't totally self-destruct. We went to high school together (took a few paragraphs of this for her name to fully register). I had no idea she was a writer of any note now though I knew she was a talented, honest writer back then... already a couple of years into the pill-popping at that point, I suppose. Her getting booted from school actually directly resulted in a pretty positive change for me, and not because I was happy to see her go. Funny how things diverge.

  20. Excellent essay.

  21. Turning into "another piece of ugly, busted-up coal" is indeed something to worry about for a worrywart blogger. When I started blogging, I decided that, because I love to write, I would be satisfied if I had 10 readers: my mom, my three daughters and 6 others. After my mom died last year, I needed 7 others.

    As a worrywart, I examine the worst case scenario and set the bar low. It's also in my DNA to set the bar high. Somehow this works.

    It certainly was a high when hundreds or more began visiting my blog, but also a distraction. I try to discipline myself not to stop writing after two paragraphs to see how many new visitors I've gotten.

    I gather I am not the only blogger who spends 1/3 of her time writing, 1/3 of her time on tech and uploading, and 1/3 of her time making connections on social networks. (In addition, I spend 1/3 of my time checking my stats)

    It's also helpful to know I'm not the only writer who finds it hard not to read competitively. In a collection of women’s true sex stories, Behind the Bedroom Door, I read an essay, “The Best Sex I Never Had” by Hope Edelman, which was better than what I’ve written on that very same topic of high school “sex.”

    I lamented to an author friend that Edelman’s superiority made me want to give up producing discourse on the page. He responded, “I’m not as good a writer as Samuel Johnson, but I persist and so should you.”

    And so, I gave my worry blog a go.

  22. Wonderful piece. I recall Marnell's xoJane piece on Plan B; she was clearly a talented writer but perhaps viewed her "personal demons" as fuel for writing (and no writer wants to give up the drive they have for writing - real of perceived - regardless of whether he or she knows it's becoming the monster that takes over a life). There are plenty of other writers, past and present, whose inner struggles - drugs, drink, depression, and so on - may have held a certain allure at first, as well as provided creative inspiration; the cruel trick is that those struggles can overtake and consume even the strongest of us all. Years after starting treatment for mentall illness, I found writing anything beyond a letter to be an agonizing struggle - as if I had to be utterly off-kilter for inspiration to strike, and once I began going through life in a more balanced way, whatever creativity I had dried up. Perhaps Marnell fears that, whether she knows it or not. It takes a high level of fearlessness to essentially reintroduce yourself as a new person when you've gained an audience in part for your portrayal of behaviors or experiences you no longer have. Marnell certainly wouldn't be the first creative type to view her lifestyle and personal choices as essential to her craft - and her livelihood. But can we accomodate our demons forever?

  23. "They all agreed she was very brave."


  24. Interesting piece and some of the discussion as well. I think corynne is right. We too easily judge women for their flaws and damaging behavior, all the more so for flaunting them. Arguably, in many cases the behavior would exist even without the writing. Certainly public exposure and acclaim can fuel negative behavior, but private circumstances have succeeded in doing this just as easily. I like to think that with care a reader can introspect, as Sarah Hepola is doing in this piece, and learn from the displays of others' damaging behavior, learn about ourselves and about what fuels behavior different from our own.

    A far more extreme situation (which initially feels off-topic but is related in several ways): I recently found the tragedy in Aurora to be a prompter for engagement with mental health issues and somewhat painfully, my own relationship with my father's behavior and guns. This is an occasion where I wondered about self-editing - and, yes, wished for the voice of a respectful editor - but I vehemently believe that silencing, including self-silencing, is debilitating and corrosive. A fine line to walk in this age of blogging. Good luck to Cat Moran in finding her balance in the living, even more important than in the writing.

    I look forward to checking out her Whitney Houston piece and Sarah Hepola's.

  25. I have spent 30 years talking to addicts and they are neither clever nor interesting, They are sad, self-absorbed and create damage all around them. It is difficult to know whether they are empty people to begin with or become that way. They cannot love and are not lovable, as the author points out. Writing can be a very narcissistic endeavor (and the lines about writing a book are brilliant here) which is probably why addiction is so prevalent. Like salt and pepper.
    Her father probably threatened to sue, or cut off some trust fund--addicts always lie. And yeah, Adderal probably is a gateway drug for so many of today's generation--the quick fix, the make things easier solution.
    This generation is drowning in rates of true alcoholism before the age of 21, and the pharmaceutical business is egging them on with prescription drug use now in first place. There is an emptiness in American culture that mirrors this lost generation-- a void filled with self-indulgence and confession for attention.
    A lot of boomers raised unhealthy kids as a result of their own over-reactions. I am only afraid for the young would be addicts who are attracted to these train wrecks, and who may want to emulate them without the safety net of a by-line. They become the kids with HIV, or the ones sleeping in the underpasses. Not so cool, after all. Not so good looking.

  26. Ditoo. Exactly my sentiments after reading this well-written piece.

  27. Of all the dozens, maybe hundreds, of wonderful writers in the world, many of whom have produced vivid and gripping personal essays and memoirs, why would Hepola choose Cat Marnell to envy? Self-abuse and self-destruction can take others - relatives, friends, bystanders - down as well. Cat Marnell is not an island. There are likely damaging consequences for those she touches. Real reporting would explore these.

  28. She's beautiful? This continued fetishism of the anorexic, heroin-addicted look is an affront to the approximately 925-million people in the world who really are hungry. But hey, this is America: that exceptional land of the substantive.

  29. Very thought provoking. Very well written. Very sad.

  30. I misread this sentence: "I was interested in the masochism of self-disclosure..." as, "I was interested in the narcissism of self-disclosure."

    I think my version makes sense. Marnell and her fellow TMI purveyors on the Internet aren't suffering because of their horrifying revelations of self-abuse. They're enjoying the attention. It really seems that simple to me.

    At some point we're all going to be beyond shock, and then what will these writers do for a living?

  31. Sarah, not sure why you're envious of Marnell (if I'm understanding the undercurrent.) You are a talented, insightful and entertaining writer. Marnell is an obnoxious, childish, full-of-herself drug addict who knows how to type. People don't follow her because she's talented, they follow her because they sometimes want to hear what a train wreck has to say.

  32. Who is this written for? Likely any of us reading it have memory function most of the time, so who's the audience? What's the commemoration? Narcissists rock?
    Or roll over and play dead? My experience w/addictons, mine and people I treat,
    is that coming to takes courage. Writing about glamorous failure as "choice" or the aritistic way makes me think of meringue. Where's the beef?

  33. Reading this article, I thought of other women writers who got ground up by their own stories. Two of them died—Caroline Knapp, author of "Drinking: A Love Story," and Lucy Grealy, who wrote the haunting "Autobiography of a Face." The third bad girl is Lisa Carver, who successfully sold her story of excess while hiding her neo-Nazi predilections. It would be grand to read a woman who got away with her chicanery instead of meeting some kind of doom. Does alcohol destroy the brain before it gets a chance to think its way out of the hole? It seems as though a large part of a dissolute woman writer's charm is her helplessness. And that's what buries them—or, in the worst of all worst cases, kills them.

  34. The net brings forth how many new genres?

    This one should be called self-indulgent slow-mo TMI trainwreck click chick lit.

    And it these new genres are not just limited to women. Check out what some call the "Men's Rights Advocates" discussion on your favorite search engine.

    Some comments here lead me to have hope that somehow literature will generate some new highs to compensate for the record new lows we see created every day.

    Stay safe and sober Sarah. And please keep writing. The canon needs fresh voices.

  35. Cat Marnell is a goldmine as she is. Her behavior benefits herself and so many others.
    She has been profiled in NYMag, WSJ and now NYTMagazine. Sarah Hepola gets to add NYTMag to her resume. xoJane and Vibe get many driven to their websites. CM's book agent makes a commission off the deal he's made for her memoir and the publisher will make money in turn. And let's not forget the fame by association garnered by the hangers on who know her personally. It is in no one's best interest for this young woman to turn her life around.

  36. Meh. I think she is a terrific writer, it's just her content that stinks. There is no background to give the filler necessary to not be a bore. Eventually we all nod off, whether from drugs, alcohol, or pure recongition.

  37. Can someone explain to me what's interesting about someone whose main talent seems to be getting high and telling us about it?

  38. We all have our paths. I wonder if this kind of slow self destruction is easier on family and loved ones than an abrupt act of suicide, which recently happened in our extended family. I know, I know, art does not apologize. But is it art?

  39. I think you explained Ernest Hemingway.

  40. Try this for rehab: you are kidnapped, blindfolded and flown to a remote cabin. You have enough canned food, water and books for a year. You have Ham Radio and a compass. If you don't go insane, you get picked up in a year. If you do go insane, you get to stay for another year. Rinse, repeat. Enjoy.
    Aimlow Joe was here.