Perennial drug addict and erstwhile beauty blogger, Cat Marnell has stirred up more controversy as of late with her newest label: future author of a book with a title that may or may not be a play on a Jack Lemmon movie that Netflix keeps telling me to watch. (PSA: Kids, stay away from drugs, it can only lead to bad life decisions and even poorer puns).
This is of course very exciting news for anyone who enjoys reading articles about glamorous drug addicts and the even more entertaining comment sections that follow. It’s the jarring swing of these comments between posts of blinding adoration and others of complete revulsion that I think best characterize why Marnell is deserving of the media attention, even glory, she’s received. Debates about her talent as a writer and lifestyle choices aside, Marnell has been incredibly savvy in her understanding of the current media landscape and carving out a place for herself within it.
Full disclosure when asked to write this post, my only encounter with Marnell’s work was her bath salt video, in which she snorts bath salts, the beauty product, not the drug. At the time, I didn’t realize she was a drug addict and found the video mildly amusing, mostly because I’m extremely behind the pop drug culture curve (WHO IS MOLLY?!) and for awhile thought that people were snorting actual bath salts (which frankly makes more sense than using them in a bath. What do they even do? They’re like bubble bath’s dull cousin. Ain’t nobody got time for that.).
Droves of rabid internet commenters have informed me that I was mistaken, both about the video (it is apparently not funny, but actually offensive and exploitive) and the bath salts (no, the trend was not started by bored bathers just trying to add a little pizzazz to bathtime). I digress. Since that initial first impression, I have read more about Cat Marnell than Cat Marnell probably has. Granted, this is not incredibly difficult, since by all accounts, and believe me I’ve read them, she is a decreasingly functional drug addict. One thing that becomes apparent very quickly is just how many strong feelings, positive and negative, Marnell generates.
Marnell is, or more aptly was, writing and writing successfully in a rapidly changing media environment. She got her start in magazines and transitioned over to blogging. She made her beauty column, a pretty fluffy topic, and a kind of boring one at that, into the most read content on XOJane by the time she left. Granted, she did this by writing a column about herself, more specifically her drug use and tacking on beauty products toward the end, but it worked remarkably well.
Whether or not you agree with Marnell’s choice of content or her talent as a writer, you cannot deny her savvy in navigating a media landscape increasingly beholden to page views and unique visitors. Marnell’s writing at its best is surprisingly good and its worst tantalizingly awful, but always readable, even when it isn’t. She’s been incredibly smart in realizing and capitalizing on the fact that at the moment, it’s far more useful to be controversial, even widely disliked, than a good, but unexceptional or worse, uninteresting.
There are certainly better writers or role models out there more deserving of the press Marnell has received, but few have displayed as intuitive understanding of the media’s current landscape or capitalized on it so successfully. It is perhaps a sad reflection on the current state of the industry, but Marnell still deserves credit for recognizing and exploiting it.