Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Regarding Jen Lancaster: The Artist vs. Her Art (II)

I wrote about Mel Gibson in December -- how I'm sorry I know as much about him as I do because it makes it impossible for me to enjoy his movies.

I feel that way about author Jen Lancaster, too. Here's her page on Amazon. Her books have made me laugh, and one (Pretty in Plaid) included a touching and memorable passage about what fun it is, how exhilarating it is, for small town girls, like she and I once were, to come into Chicago to make our fortunes. It was a lovely piece of writing.

But there's an intolerant undertone to her work. Cringe-worthy, really. Like referring to Rachel Maddow as "he." Really? That's funny in the new millennium? Or sharing how riotously funny Ann Coulter is, and how wise and witty she finds Rush Limbaugh. Or closing one of her books with a tale about verbally dressing down the homeless person who had the temerity to stop her en route to the swimming pool. That passage made me want to put the book down and take a Silkwood shower.

Because she's such an animal lover (someone who loves cats and rescues pitbulls couldn't possibly be as intolerant as she sounds, right?) and so gifted, I used to assume much of what she was wrote was for comic effect. But then a funny thing happened ...

The six degrees of separation between us shrunk. A friend of hers is in a book club with a friend of mine. They read My Fair Lazy, a Lancaster book I enjoyed so much I actually bought a second copy and gave it to my niece for Buy a Friend a Book Week. Celeste* didn't like the book -- she thought the tone too sarcastic and the content more than a little silly -- but was reluctant to say it because she totally respected how fond and proud Ms. Lancaster's friend was. It got progressively more uncomfortable for Celeste when Jen Lancaster spoke to their book group. I was excited to hear all about it.

Celeste reported it was awkward, saying, "It was like 'O Come, All Ye Faithful.' Jen Lancaster was all, 'Oh, come let us adore me.'" Celeste said that all she and one of the other bookclub members talked about during the ride home was how uncomfortable it was to have that "loud woman brag about her accomplishments" in their friend's living room. An influential woman in Chicago marketing circles, Celeste had recently spent time with former President George W. Bush and Maria Shriver and observed that when it came to ego, they had nothing on Jen Lancaster.

Because of the intimate way Jen writes in her memoirs, I felt like I knew her. So I told myself the author behaved that way because she was nervous and tried so hard to be a good reflection on her friend, their hostess, that it backfired.

Around this time I made the mistake of following Jen Lancaster on Facebook and Twitter. For one as sarcastic and critical as she is, she's awfully thin skinned. When Andrew Breitbart died, she was surprised and hurt that Tweeters mocked her sorrow. Breitbart was a writer she admired and he was dead! I couldn't help but sniff. I mean, one of Andrew Breitbart's last big stories was about Barack Obama's relationship with Professor Derrick Bell. Bell died in 2011, before Breitbart called him racially divisive, before Breitbart made it seem like somehow Barack Obama shouldn't have associated with the scholar who was the first African American to earn tenure at Harvard law. A lot us admired Bell, and how he stood up for women and minorities. It's OK to slag Bell posthumously but not Breitbart? Got it.

Or when she incited her Facebook "fans" (not "friends"; she refers to us as "fans") to call and email a suburban car dealership she believed cheated her husband. There were even derogatory reviews on Yelp! posted by people who never set foot on the dealership's showroom floor. It was a creepy display of bullying, and yet Lancaster was so amused by and proud of herself that she recounted the tale in an interview with Jenny Lawson on Amazon.

Or most recently, she used Facebook to plead for people to not be hostile and intolerant regarding the election. She did this just days after Ann Coulter, the woman she finds so funny, called the President of the United States "a retard." I responded to Jen Lancaster that I agreed with her whole heartedly, and that perhaps she could call upon Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to ratchet down the rhetoric a bit, too. And then I "unliked" her page.

Without social media, would I ever have discovered the author I once enjoyed is self-involved without redeeming self-awareness? Probably not. Should I view her published work as if I hadn't read her tweets and interviews and posts? I don't see how I can.

The lady herself recently said, “No one’s going to be won over by my spouting dogma in my books because that’s not why people buy my stuff. I don’t write essays on why liberalism doesn’t work or why Obama’s taking us down a slippery slope. People read my books to laugh, so that’s my goal. But if my goofy little stories just happen to emphasize conservative values like morality, self-determination, and liberty, well… let’s just say that’s not unintentional.”

Her message may not be unintentional but it's still offensive. "Morality" is a "conservative value?" That would be news to my minister. "Self-determination?" To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., it's hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you don't have boots ... and not everyone has the advantages of the Purdue degree it took her many, many years to earn (oh, her patient parents!) and the gainfully employed spouse Lancaster has written extensively about herself. Her "goofy little stories" now strike me as more hostile than amusing and I'm not spending my money on them anymore.

What about you? Do you have a Mel Gibson or Jen Lancaster? Is there an artist or performer you wish you still appreciated, but can't?

*Not her real name.


  1. I had to go look this author up and recognized the covers of her books. I don't think I've read any (how's that for memorable writing?) and I'm glad I haven't because she seems to be quite full of herself.

    I do have a hard time separating out the artist from the art because I believe your choices represent who you truly are. And if "who you truly are" is, for example, a douchebag (oh hi Mel!), then I'm done with you.

    Remember my crush on Hal Sparks? I loved him and followed his every word. Then I read an account of a booty call he made to a fan (still don't know if it was fact or fiction) and it left a weird impression on me. I saw him through new eyes and just couldn't find the same ardor I used to have for him. I saw the things that were pointed out in the story (again - no clue if it was fiction but was plausible enough for me) and my devotion just went POOF. I see him show up now and again on things but cannot get rid of that image.

    Then, there are people I'll love to my dying day (coughCOOKiecough) and it would take finding him standing in a pool of blood over a dead person to maybe shake my conviction. LOL Good thing he's a wonderful person and nothing I've seen (on the stage or in person) has ever shown him to be otherwise.

    Excellent post, Gal! Much enjoyed!

  2. How disappointing to learn that someone you appreciate and admire through their work is so smug and self-congratulating and close-minded.

    Hopefully those people are few and far between.