I don’t think it’s a big secret around here that I like to indulge in the occasional mind-altering substance. So when I saw the editors debating about xojane writer Cat Marnell and how responsible/irresponsible it is for Jane Pratt to make money off of Cat’s constant updates on her drug problem, I felt compelled to weigh in.
I think some of the things Cat has written about her addiction are really beautiful. In ON THE DEATH OF WHITNEY HOUSTON: Why I Won’t Ever Shut Up About My Drug Use, she makes a convincing case for the fact that it’s better to talk about your drug problems than to hide them, because that kind of silence prevents people from getting the help they need. Cat’s own life is a prime example of this; would anyone have nudged her into rehab if she hadn’t made it very clear that she needed to go? On the other hand, one might make a convincing argument that, as a fairly popular beauty editor who is well-dressed and conventionally attractive, Cat Marnell is making drug use seem cool and glamorous. This line of thinking seems unfair, though, because it arbitrarily silences people based on how they look. Who gets to decide who’s plain enough to write honestly about her life? Seems a bit ridiculous to me.
The thing many people don’t understand about drug addicts is this: they’re sick. They’re not doing drugs to piss off parents, or to lure impressionable children into trying them. They’re doing them because they’re addicted, and when those people make art, that addiction is often a theme, because it looms so large in their lives. Is it okay to enjoy this art, even as you acknowledge the sad circumstances under which it was made? I think so, because otherwise you’re missing out on a lot of great art, music, comedy and writing. This person is going to be a drug addict whether or not they’re successful, and the only exploitation going on here is self-exploitation.
Part of the problem comes when other people (people who are not addicted to drugs) then swoop in and make money off the addicts’ art, obtaining a stake in their continued addiction. After a certain point, I’m not sure if Jane Pratt making money off Cat’s drug-fueled ramblings about beauty products is much different from modeling agencies who continue to fund their models’ heroin habits lest they lose money by putting them on a hiatus to go to rehab. (This happens and it’s really fucked up!) It’s for this reason that I’m glad Jane Pratt (or, more likely, one of the invisible corporate heads of Say Media) decided it was time for Cat to try to get clean.
I guess I don’t have a completely clear stance on this, because I am guilty of writing about drugs from time to time, too. But I hope my readers are smart enough to know that I’m inhabiting an exaggerated version of a certain aspect of myself when I do this, and that 99 nights out of 100, I’m not out partying with rock stars, but chilling at home cooking steamed vegetables and watching Mad Men. I just don’t write about those other nights very much. I will admit that I like documenting the tension between having adventures and actually covering bands when I’m at, say, SXSW, because I want to do something exciting and different from the usual kinds of coverage you see, and also because it’s just more fun that way. Sometimes drugs are a part of the adventures, sometimes they’re not. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t boycott my writing because you think you’re enabling me!
But seriously: despite the fact that she sometimes writes things that piss me off, I think it’s clear that Cat Marnell is a talented writer, and she will continue to be so after she gets sober. It’s okay to enjoy her drug-fueled writing, and it’s also okay to feel ambivalent about enjoying it. It’s also okay to ignore her altogether. Mainly, though, I’m just looking forward to seeing how Cat gets her kicks once she no longer gets them from prescription stimulants.