Cat Marnell’s $500K Book Proposal: Who’s Exploiting Whom?
9:45 am, April 10th | by Sarah Devlin
Sarah: Cat Marnell finally got it together enough to write a book proposal. And then she got a $500K advance…which is almost emphatically not about the quality of the proposal/book as it is about drumming up publicity. This is the world we’re living in. What are your feelings?
Colette: It also mysteriously “leaked” to all these websites, which I find unbelievably convenient.
Sarah: Right! It’s the first wave of PR f’sho.
Colette: My feelings? If Gchat had a rolling-the-eyes emoji, that would be the perfect way to encapsulate my feelings.
Sarah: Hahaha okay, let me play devil’s advocate…aren’t you just a tiny bit curious to read the book?
Colette: Ugh, absolutely not. The book proposal sounds like what a 45-year-old white man from Connecticut thinks a young, free-spirited, troubled girl would sound like. It’s the worst moments of Gossip Girl, crossed with a picture of Vanessa Hudgens from Spring Breakers, meets a Myspace note, with a dash of crystal meth.
Colette: Oh, and ‘Prozac Nation’ is somewhere in there too…
Sarah: Except Cat is not a 45 year old man! She is young and hot and crazy….if nothing else we have to give her that.
Colette: I know, I know, but I don’t think the Cat that writes blogposts and is a broken small bird is authentic. I agree that she is young and hot and crazy; that I will give her. But was she the girl who had the “top GPA in her class (tied with the German genius Marcus, natch)” all while doing coke lines off football players’ butts? COME ON NOW.
Sarah: Innnnteresting. I do think that, even though I can’t stand her shtick and I think everyone who is giving her money/a platform is being an enabling piece of garbage, she can write a good sentence. It’s not crazy to me that someone wanted to give her a book deal. I see the logic behind it, you know? Her stuff is undeniably compelling. I hate her and I still read ALLLLL of it.
Colette: I am STUNNED. I agree that it makes sense for the book publisher to offer a deal to this insane, narcissistic festering wound of a person who has a cult following and the entire Internet just wrapped around her coke nail…but you actually think she can write?! Did you SEE the subject-verb agreement in her book proposal? My eyes wanted to throw up.
Sarah: I do think she can write. Her sh*t is memorable! I think she’s a better writer than Elizabeth Wurtzel 4 sure.
Colette: (This is the most pretentious I have ever sounded…which is saying a lot.)
Colette: What I’m most interested by is how the conversation surrounding Cat Marnell is focused on what a sad, broken doll she is and how we should be taking care of her and is she being enabled, etc.
Sarah: People (me included) get so heated over her, but I think the people who are really being terrible are her agent, the publisher, etc. I don’t think that’s about her being a ‘broken doll’ at all, I think enabling an addict is enabling an addict.
Colette: We’re a country that lauds Bukowski and Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson but once it’s a girl who has this free attitude towards sex and drug use, we’re all concerned about what a hot mess she is.
Sarah: Well, no. I also think that Burroughs and Bukowski were plenty enabled. If you do drugs with an addict or make it possible for them to do drugs, you’re enabling them. We can argue whether or not the work they produced is art or valuable or whatever, but the blame for what Cat Marnell is is just as much on the people who continue to employ her and pay her as it is on her.
Colette: Oh, absolutely; I agree. I don’t understand why the media companies she worked for — Condé Nast, Say Media, and Vice — continued to publish her writing or kept her employed for as long as they did. Well, I mean, I understand WHY: her writing is popular. It just blows my mind that so many people willingly participate in her delusion.
Sarah: Well, I think they are in it for themselves…I don’t think they really care about what happens to her. Or whether or not she’s “authentic.” She’s marketable for them. She’s a “get.”
Colette: God, that’s depressing.
Colette: I do think it’s a bit of a surprise that she got a book deal though… I wonder, how much more of the story is there to tell?
Sarah: I mean….from what I read in the proposal, it sounds like A LOT!
Colette: Yes, I suppose we now get to learn about her WASP-y, troubled past. Lucky us?
Sarah: I don’t know, I think maybe it’s time that we turn our attention away from how awful she is (and I mean, yeah, duh) to why we like that stuff. Because…we do. The fact that she’s being marketed as the next Elizabeth Wurtzel is proof of that.
Colette: You’re right; we love us a narrative of a damaged girl.
Sarah: What’s interesting to me is that Cat’s being rewarded for her shtick now, but Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote that terrible piece in The Cut about how empty her life is now…
Colette: But did Elizabeth Wurtzel get rewarded for that? It was published; her empty life got her another byline..isn’t that what she wanted? It’s interesting how much has changed since Prozac Nation; how do we explain the Thought Catalog-fostered rise of confessional, memoristic writing?
Sarah: ACTUALLY! If I may drop MFA-earned knowledge on you for a sec—
Colette: DROP IT
Sarah: Confessional writing has been around for many hundreds of years. So have personal essays, going back to Montaigne. I think that a lot of the ire that gets directed at them has to do with them being written by young people and women very frequently these days.
Colette: Interesting. So that’s why writing like Cat Marnell’s annoys us — but why do we secretly love it? Why do we continue to read it?
Sarah: I mean at bottom I think people just love gossip and secrets. Drug use is typically Secret. Abortions are typically Secret. How much money you have is typically Secret. So to have someone who is like “HERE IS ALL MY INFO, TAKE IT”….there’s something intoxicating about it. Now, those people might be being exploited, or exploiting themselves. Or we’re exploiting them by reading it. I think with Cat it’s a combo.
Colette: Absolutely — the more she writes about her disintegration, the more she has and wants to show. It’s interesting that her whole brand is based on failure and chaos. This is someone who became more famous AFTER she lost her job(s). Her “job” is to be sick. It’s insane.
Sarah: Right. I mean I think that the book deal is a mistake, because giving an addict $500K is a mistake. But I see why it happened. And ultimately I almost feel like she’s earned every penny of it, because she will pay dearly for it at some point in her life. Either by OD’ing or getting clean and having people lose interest in her.
Colette: That’s the saddest thing — which I feel like she even acknowledged in her proposal when she said that her memoir isn’t a tale of “coming clean”: Cat Marnell sober isn’t the Cat Marnell that everyone wants to read about. We want the meltdown. We want the spectacle. Secretly, we’re envious of her abandon. At this point, we’re personally invested in the continuation of her addiction. Oh man, what a shame cycle.