MIRANDA JULY IS one of those people who can do it all. She’s found success as a performance artist, musician, filmmaker, director, actress, screenwriter, and writer of short stories, and will probably prove to be enviably good at other things she has yet to attempt. I would not be surprised if she ran for governor, scaled K2, or bowled a perfect game, nor would I bat an eyelash if she sprouted gossamer wings and flew across the 405 at rush hour. With Miranda July, anything is possible.
That said, being good at everything is not what makes her special. Lots of people can make that claim. We all know people like that, just as we know people who are not particularly good at anything but made it big anyway. What makes Miranda July special is that she is recognized for being good at everything. And not just by her family and friends. The consensus among media outlets—both mainstream and “indie”—is that she’s got it going on. She is notable. When she does something, anything, it demands attention—in the New York Times and the New York Press, the Paris Review and PANK.
But July is not without her detractors. There are people who despise her. The vitriol directed at her can be astounding. Katrina Onstad discussed this Mirandaphobia in her feature on July in the New York Times Magazine:
…[July] has also become the unwilling exemplar of an aggravating boho archetype: the dreamy, young hipster whose days are filled with coffee, curios and disposable enchantments. “Yes, in some ways Miranda July is living my dream and life, and yes, maybe I’m a little jealous,” wrote one Brooklyn-based artist on her blog. “I loathe her. It feels personal.” To her detractors (“haters” doesn’t seem like too strong a word) July has come to personify everything infuriating about the Etsy-shopping, Wes Anderson-quoting, McSweeney’s-reading, coastal-living category of upscale urban bohemia that flourished in the aughts. Her very existence is enough to inspire, for example, an I Hate Miranda July blog, which purports to detest her “insufferable precious nonsense.” Or there is the online commenter who roots for July to be exiled to Darfur. Or the blogger who yearns to beat her with a shoe.
Even The Onion hopped on board the I Hate Miranda July express.
The boo-birds hate her because she does things like write the copy of her website in dry-erase marker on her white stove-top. They hate her because her collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You, won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. They hate her because she made a feature film about a dying cat whose most memorable scene involved the star (Miranda July, of course) dancing spasmatically in an oversized yellow t-shirt.
Most of all, they hate her because they’re jealous. The theme of the anti-July attacks is rooted in one simple idea: I could have done that. Because anyone could write on a stove-top. Anyone could cavort in a giant t-shirt. Anyone could omit, as July stylistically chooses to, such bourgeois conventions as quotation marks for indicating dialogue.
But the fact is they didn’t do any of those things.
I myself do not hate Miranda July. I find her—and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here—cool. But I wonder what she makes of all the opprobrium heaped on her. More than that: I worry about her.
Does she Google herself? Does she read her hate mail? Is the unvarnished affection of her many fans—who love her with an ardor corresponding to the haters’ hate—enough to soften the blow? Does the fact that a commentor took the time to suggest that she be exiled to Darfur have an impact on her work?
Because she seems so fragile. She looks a little like Hello Kitty. It’s not difficult to imagine her curled up catlike under the dining room table, in tears. Will bad reviews eventually dampen the spirit of childlike whimsy that permeates her work?
Almost a year ago, early in a primary season in which the verdict both within and beyond the Republican party was that the choices were at best sub-par—the GOP primary proved an interminable game of Death Is Not an Option—Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who would almost certainly be the frontrunner, declined to run.
“I will not be a candidate,” he announced last May. His wife and four daughters, he explained, persuaded him to sit this one out.
“On matters affecting us all, our family constitution gives a veto to the women’s caucus, and there is no override provision,” Daniels said in a statement. “Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more.”
Simply put, Daniels did not want to expose his family (or, presumably, himself) to the kind of vitriolic attacks that come with the presidential primary territory. One supposes he could have handled a civil discourse on the editorial pages of various newspapers and the programs of various news networks. But attack ads, late-night monologue jokes, and commentary by anonymous haters like the author of the Miranda-July-should-be-exiled-to-Darfur comment were another matter.
Did Chris Christie, Daniels’ counterpart in New Jersey, sit this one out because he didn’t want to spend all of 2012 listening to fat jokes? Or did he sit this one out because he’s too fat to stand for that long? (See? I rest my case).
Both Daniels and Christie are, one imagines, more palatable alternatives than Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and the other clowns that spent the last year piling out of the GOP clown car. Yet we were deprived of their service in part because of our culture of meanspiritedness.
Not long ago, the exiled-to-Darfur comment would have been made out loud, off the cuff, if at all. Someone, perhaps many people, might hold that opinion, but the mechanisms for voicing that opinion to the world were limited. One had to stand up on a rock and spread the Gospel. One had to use newspapers, magazines, TV, radio. One had to compose letters to the editor, which imposed on one a certain journalistic standard—one could not resort to personal attacks. One might say, “Miranda July’s work is fraudulent,” but if one wrote, “Miranda July should be exiled to Darfur,” one’s letter would not be printed.
Nowadays, of course, the sentiment is delivered unedited, instantaneously, and, worst of all, anonymously.
In the near future envisioned by Gary Shteyngart in his brilliant dystopia Super Sad True Love Story, fashionable young women wear form-fitting, see-through jeans called Onionskins. A popular live stream involves a gay bottom being rogered while discussing the political issues of the day. The ubiquitous appäräti, which are sort of iPads on acid, provide instantaneous information on, among other things, the net worth and the fuckability rating of everyone in the surrounding area.
In Shteyngart’s not-so-distant future, there is no privacy. In a related story, Shteyngart’s not-so-distant future also involves an America in the throes of collapse.
When Bruce Springsteen concludes his eighteenth encore after playing for seven hours straight, he does not then yield the Meadowlands stage to an open mic night. There are doubtless some among the 65,000 in attendance who could rock the stadium hard, if given the chance, but there is a reason Springsteen is chosen to play there and not the Grateful Dead cover band from your local high school, talented though they may be.
Yet this is what media outlets with an online presence—which is to say, almost all of them—now do. Tom Friedman writes a column in the New York Times, and then allows any Tom (or Dick or Harry) to have the last word, on the comment board below his piece. This free-for-all is allowed everywhere, and the result is often unpleasant; the commentors at Salon.com, to name but one, have become notorious for their nastiness.
I understand the desire on the part of the Times and Salon.com to provide a forum for dialogue, discussion, and debate. Comments can be engaging and positive, as I know well from my tenure at The Nervous Breakdown. But I’m not convinced that the deluge of anonymous, negative, off-the-cuff rants is a good thing, for the commentor or the object of the commentary. Our culture has suffered because of it. The GOP primary — which, despite the obvious similarities, is not to be confused with American Idol; Kelly Clarkson and Scott McCreery were not in danger of obtaining the nuclear launch codes when they won — is proof.
If your objective is to spew venom indiscriminately, an empty page is preferable to a flame comment you’ve dashed off. Or, as Miranda July might have said of the Darfur Guy: NO ONE belongs here more than YOU.