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Despite the 7,000 words it spanned, it mostly just wandered through descriptions of her job and relationships and instant message chats. If the old wave of online first-person writing was personality-driven, this new wave—aside from blunt-force click-baiting à la cat hairballs—is often more issue-driven.
Just read Heather Havrilesky’s elegant essays-masquerading-as-advice-columns for The Cut, or Cord Jefferson for on visiting the 9/11 museum after losing his sister in the attacks, or Jay Caspian Kang on the roots of Korean American male anger. She described meeting her biological father for the first time at age 19 and being gradually overtaken by lust for him.She recalled being so wracked by disgust and shame after the second time they had oral sex that she dry-heaved over the toilet in his bathroom.First-person essays have become the easiest way for editors to stake out some small corner of a news story and assert an on-the-ground primacy without paying for reporting.And first-person essays have also become the easiest way to jolt an increasingly jaded Internet to attention, as the bar for provocation has risen higher and higher.Even when they are graphic and raw, their self-revelations are strategically dispensed.
They don’t merely assert the universality of their experience; they arrive at it by guiding us through the precise arc of their self-reckoning.
So many of these new iterations, by contrast, feel like one-offs—solo acts of sensational disclosure that bubble up and just as quickly vaporize.
Rather than feats of self-branding, they seem to be—like, say, the gruesome recent viral sensation “My Gynecologist Found a Ball of Cat Hair in My Vagina”— professional dead ends, journalistically speaking. “What’s hard to believe now is how upset people got about that piece,” Gould says.
When First-person writing has long been the Internet’s native voice.
As long as there have been bloggers, there have been young people scraping their interior lives in order to convert the rawest bits into copy.
But Chenier seemed confident that she knew what she was getting into.