Bad Art Friend

I rarely dig into the Twitter main character of the day, but last night when I saw that everyone was tweeting about this article, I checked it out:

I am obsessed with this article. If it were an AITA post, it would be a clear ESH, and indeed, most of Twitter has been focused on how badly everyone involved comes out, but I actually think that all of them are so relatable! What a parade of human weakness! Who has not been a Dorland at some point in their life? Who has not also been a Larson? This story about a short story is itself one of the more involving short stories I have ever read.

Here we have a woman with zero self-awareness who was being extremely self-aggrandizing and obnoxious about her own performative good deeds. She also considered people who were merely acquaintances to be her dear friends, and had no idea she was the Michael Scott of the writing group. Beyond just that, she figured her Facebook friends would act as her personal fan base. Then! Then! She was rudely and abruptly confronted with her true self in the form of a fictional avatar. This must have been sickeningly awful. None of us want to have a mirror held up to us in this way. But rather than accept her own shortcomings and work on becoming a better person, she went into deep “deny and attack” mode. She told herself that all her motives were as pure as she ever thought they were, and that she had been deeply wronged by this unflattering caricature rather than absolutely nailed by it. And she went after the writer, telling herself it was about maintaining her status as inspirational figure to others rather than admitting it was about the damage to her own ego.

Then, on the other side, we have a woman who had an acquaintance who was mindblowingly up her own ass and didn’t realize it, and rather than just avoid that person, she was nice (or at least courteous) to her face, and then constantly trashed her in a group chat and delighted in doing so. She told herself that this woman meant nothing to her, but in fact, she was OBSESSED with how much this bitch bothered her. So much so that she wrote a short story about it. She even directly copied part of this woman’s Facebook post into the story even though she knew she shouldn’t have. And then later, when she’s confronted with all this, rather than admit that yeah, she did exactly what it looked like she did, she professed innocence and surprise and rewrote history about it, and she is now sticking to that narrative.

I just…have been both of these people? I mean, not to this extreme, but I definitely have made all these mistakes at various times in my life! The main thing you hope for yourself is that when your chickens come home to roost, you graciously accept it rather than double down. Neither of these women managed that, and that’s ultimately why this story escalated to involve multiple lawsuits, damaged both their reputations, and ended up in the NY Times.

Except it also ended up in the Times because Dorland hilariously pitched it to them thinking it would vindicate her! I truly cannot relate to that level of denial.

Obviously, although she acted poorly here and continues to refuse to own it, Larson is the winner because she turned her somewhat unreasonable irritation at this woman into what seems to have been a genuinely good piece of fiction which is what artists do, and also because the middle finger of changing the signature in the story to “kindly” AFTER the lawsuit is a truly beautiful piece of trolling, even though she should absolutely not have done it. Also, she has a family, friends, talent, and a career (all of which means she could have afforded to be the bigger person here).

The only people who are 100% innocent in all of this are the group chat — they did exactly what they are supposed to do: talk shit and instigate. Group chats should be incubators of drama, applauders of escalation, a Greek chorus for our basest instincts. That’s their function. Hopefully all of us have at least one friend in our lives who will tell us the truth about ourselves and check us when we’re being assholes. But that friend is not in the group chat.

The group chat as institution is pure chaotic evil; may we all live in fear of the day ours is subpoenaed.

4 Comments

  1. I read this post when you originally published it, and kept the NY Times article open since, unread. Then, to my delight, an episode of The Daily aired on Sunday devoted to the bad art friend, and I just enjoyed hearing the full article read to me while making my breakfast this morning.

    Wow! What a study in human behavior indeed. You nailed everything perfectly here. I just kept thinking, why waste so much time and energy?? And also, please get this woman (Dorland) a therapist. Yes, Larson was a huge asshole in so many ways, but I just couldn’t get past Dorland’s obsessive need for validation from her “friends” for her act of goodness. That she even emailed Larson because Larson hadn’t commented on any of her self-aggrandizing FB posts? I just cannot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So it turns out that Dorland was pretty badly misrepresented by this writer on this. For example, the Facebook group was actually a really small private group of only her close friends (which she thought Larson was) for support as she went through this process. She contacted Larson about her lack of engagement because everyone else in the group was commenting actively and she was writing about very personal things, so she was a bit uncomfortable with Larson lurking. She asked Larson if she wanted to be removed from the group, and Larson said no, she was busy but she really wanted to be in it. Meanwhile, Larson was openly feeding back stuff from the group to the group chat, so they could all make fun of Dorland.

      So, put in this context, Dorland’s actions look a lot more reasonable — she suspected Larson was a bad actor, and she was absolutely right! Also, it makes Larson look like more of an asshole — she explicitly asked Dorland to keep her in the group, so she could keep spying and making fun of her.

      Anyway, I stopped paying attention to this story, because people are STILL talking about it and sharing new things about it and so on. But just goes to show, there are two sides to everything (or many, many sides, I guess).

      Liked by 1 person

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