xoJane.com: Like A Dog To Its Own Vomit
Jane Pratt has me cringing again.
Reader AMA tipped me to Pratt's new project, xoJane.com, and wondered about my thoughts "given [my] previous takedown" of Jane Magazine, so the cringing began with my own writing from nineteen hundred and ninety-seven, which, if collected into a single volume, would have to wear a title along the lines of A Year In Know-It-Allence or Dress Your Family in Snobbery and Bombast. I could justify having dumped that bowl of verbal dicks on Drew Barrymore's head if it showed any genuine insight, but it doesn't. Wait, hang on: it does, and said insight is that, at 24, I not infrequently confused speaking the truth with being a twat.
My remarks about the mag itself held up reasonably well, though. I saw what Jane tried to do, and wanted to do, and I could also see that, through no fault of Pratt's or her staff's, the effort couldn't succeed. Sassy is remembered fondly because it immediately, and then consistently, let you know: this is a magazine for you. Seventeen and Tiger Beat don't identify with you, and you feel weird for not identifying with them in return. Sassy is for you. Sassy IS you, sometimes. I think Jane wanted to do that for the Cosmo demographic, but then…every car is the same width because that's the width of the road, or something like that.
Browsing through xoJane.com, what jumps out at me now about both the new site and Jane is something I didn't see back then, and it's the thing that makes me uncomfortable for Pratt et al. — you can't get the band back together. You can't tell yourself that it's a new group, it's a new sound, it's a different thing, and bring back the old drummer and key the old songs up and not admit that it's you trying to get the band back together, either. You have to move on. Take pride in the band, brag on your drum soloing from back in the day, realize there's half a hundred college kids in Bushwick alone who can outplay you now, and move on.
I built a site, I sweated and cried into it, I burst with pride from it, and then I sold it, and I get that it's sometimes hard to know where to go next or how to get there. Of course I still feel pride in TWoP, in the staff, in the book, of course I still love my amazing brilliant non-carnal spouses Wing and Glark and love to work with them on various things. But the Idiot Box Sans Compassion Reunion Tour isn't going to happen, because the time for us to start that thing already came and went, 13 years ago. And…we started it. And it went pretty well, except when it went horribly, or amazingly, but the point is that it went, and we moved on.
It's not a one-to-one, obviously, Sassy and TWoP, but the similarity I see in the situations…how do I explain this. I've never felt comfortable with assertions that we "pioneered" the recap form; we didn't. We did it in a style few other people used, at a time when few other people bothered, and the staff kicked ass on them, but we didn't invent recaps, and we didn't make them popular, either — not singlehandedly, anyway. Its time, and medium, had obviously come, because now, everyone does recaps. Magazines that had no web presence at all 15 years ago have blog sections entirely devoted to recapping today, and the salient word here is now. It doesn't matter who invented the wheel, or when; it's been invented. I can't show up with a round roll-y thing and expect an IPO.
Pratt did invent that wheel. She did come first. I loved Sassy, I commend her invaluable achievement, but that wheel now exists. It's rolling around, evolving. It's 'zine culture, it's Bust and Bitch, it's Jezebel and The Hairpin, and you absolutely can argue that Sassy DNA shows up in all those publications. But we have those publications now. We have Jezebel. We have The Hairpin. That DNA is doing what it's supposed to do, getting passed down to the next generation, mutating in response to Twitter. Pratt's legacy is assured, and she can move on. She hasn't.
It's discomfiting how hard xoJane.com tries, starting with the cutesy "xo" in the URL, and how flat it falls. I liked a few of the features (the "my rapist friended me on Facebook" piece is breathtaking), but most of them trade on nostalgia for old-school Sassy confessional directness, except now it's tone-deaf. In Jane, the gossipy tone often curdled with twee self-regard; here, it's both narcissistic and extraneous — confessional directness isn't exactly in short supply on the internet.
I recall a regular feature in either Bust or Bitch devoted to calling Jane and Pratt herself out on egregious instances of name-dropping and conceitedness. I only turned up a single rant on Google, but the same complaints apply to Jane's inaugural editor's letter, which over-shares for at least two grafs too long about a Brazilian-wax misadventure, freaks out about looking old in prose that sounds forced at best and made up at worst, and drops the very same names Bitch rolled their eyes at back in the day — while whining about dropped calls. I would observe that the crappy joke about airline peanuts must have gotten cut for space, except that God knows nothing else got cut for any reason.
Christina Kelly's triumphant return to the Pratt fold is little better. By "triumphant," I mean "off-puttingly hostile," and I should probably mention, even though it's the feminist-letters equivalent of saying you think The Wire is boring, that I've never cared for Christina Kelly. Even back in the eighties, I preferred Karen Catchpole — or, really, anyone on the staff who didn't present as quite so eager to tell you about how she used to be fat, but now she's cool, or about getting her goddamn period. It was like every article! I mean, yay for frankness, but yay also for variety and knowing when to quit.
I have heard that Kelly set ELLEgirl somewhat apart from the pack as editor-in-chief, so credit where it's due; I did admire her back in the day. But her current piece on xoJane struck me as so weirdly angry and defensive that I actually threw a "…Really?" on it in the comments. The suburbs "totally rule"? Jesus H.: no, they don't! The suburbs have things to recommend them, especially vis-à-vis raising kids, but "totally rule" is not the right phrasing, and the supporting evidence is…I don't even know what it is. Not evidence. "You don't have to dress up"? "Ladies' poker night"? What's with the dig at Pratt in that line about hot wax? And what the fuck do a chef's body mod, the year your house got built, or people texting at dinner have to do with moving out of the city? It's like Andy Rooney, but with a poorer grasp of rhetorical structure, and her blog, Fallen Princess, is more of the same, meandering thoughts on online incivility (…seriously?) and daring you to judge her for wearing yoga pants all day every day, which, either grow up and stop caring or buy some jeans already.
I don't think any of Sassy's readers expected Pratt, Kelly, and the gang not to age or to move on to other things — other mags, other towns. But they apparently didn't anticipate having to do it, having to get over Sassy and move on. They've said they did, but then they kept going back to it. They're like child stars, no plan, no ability to cope with the passage of time. Yeah, you get a few lines on your face, and the 19-year-old who works at the salon thinks you look 60, because everyone who isn't also 19 looks 60 to a 19-year-old. You said the same shit about your parents' friends at that age — get over it. Yeah, you breastfed while working full-time and Tina Fey didn't and where's your medal — there's always someone more famous than you or talented than you, or who doesn't seem to suffer for her decisions. The rest of us learned to deal with that at 25 — get over it. There's always something in your past you think you might never equal in the future. There's always some bitch talking some shit about your pants. Calling not everyone you know, but only the famous people, to cry about it, and then write it up like that's cute instead of melodramatic and annoying? Get over it. Get out of your own bellybutton for five minutes maybe.
Sassy was great, and seminal, but they put that book in the ground 15 years ago, and Pratt keeps going back to it in the worst ways, revisiting columns and angles that have been redone, and better, by others, and mistaking self-absorption for insight. And she'll keep repeating the cycle until she can look at Sassy and say, "You know, I loved that project like a human child. I miss those days, and my twenties body, but it's okay that the torch got passed and I'm on to the next thing." But no, she's got to have a web mag now, and get all golly-gee about the immediacy of the internet, instead of finding something substantive to say about something, anything besides herself.
Self-obsession, getting stuck in the past — that happens, especially to writers. It needs to have some wit and perspective in order to work. I don't see that here. I see pictures of Michael Stipe again, some more. Pass.
Tags: Bitch Magazine Bust Magazine Christina Kelly dear sir or madam your writing is ass Drew Barrymore Jane Pratt Karen Catchpole Michael Stipe publishing Sassy sites Tina Fey unearned self-importance