A woman does not have to be an artist to be a train wreck; she merely has to be famous. Or at least visible. Lindsay Lohan has not made a movie, let alone a good movie, in years, but we still eagerly consume the details of her firings, fall-outs and bad decisions. Paris Hilton had gawking, unflattering magazine profiles written about her—and a sex tape released—before she ever appeared on reality TV. The success of the Real Housewives franchise is based entirely on our appetite for judging hysterical or badly behaved women; the producers just happened to be shrewd enough to notice that women often enjoy hating “bad” women even more than men do, and to market these particular wrecks to us. And, of course, Amy Winehouse stopped making music, and was still subjected to public scorn for her addictions and to unflattering paparazzi shots of her physical decay. That is, until those addictions killed her, at which point we proclaimed that we had always loved poor Amy.

It’s a history that reaches all the way back to the spectacularly cruel portrait of pill-popping, suicidal Judy Garland in Valley of the Dolls. Female trauma is ugly and awful and very, very fun to watch, particularly if you have a lingering need to sort good girls from bad ones, and to reassure yourself that “bad” women (however you define them) will never be able to succeed or meaningfully compete with you, the virtuous watcher and reader. The recent rise of bad girls on the web—alongside Marnell, there’s Marie Calloway, who shares her occasionally successful attempts to seduce men with girlfriends or wives, and her accompanying insecurities, in irregularly capitalized, rambling, grammatically free-form pieces that she often packages with nude self-portraits—is likely money-driven. It’s cheaper and quicker to publish a blog post than it is to produce a movie or a television show, and bloggers are much more likely to respond to a request for an interview.

Of course, men also flame out. Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen would be two of the more obvious examples; there’s also the massive public appetite for bad news about self-plagiarizing and quote-fabricating Jonah Lehrer. But men, in order to be portrayed as wrecks, often have to break real rules: They have to abuse partners, be violent, go on racist tirades a la Gibson or Michael Richards, or make up a quote from Bob Dylan. Men who are merely self-destructive, mildly cruel, promiscuous or rebellious are heroes, not freak shows (as many people have noted in contrast with Marnell). But all a woman need do to be condemned is to get in trouble, and piss us off a bit (Marnell with her name-dropping and expensive tastes; Calloway with her disregard for the aforementioned wives and girlfriends). We’re fascinated with men when they’re destructive. We’re fascinated with women when there is a chance that we’ll see them destroyed.
Notes
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