“Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.”
Have you ever come across someone who just does what he wants all the time, with no real preoccupation about how others will react? Someone who acts selfishly and rude and has no concern for how her behavior affects those around her? A person who brings new definition to the term “fuck-up,” but still somehow manages to always land on his or her feet? I’ve come across a few members of this rare breed and my reaction is almost always the same: I view this person with an odd combination of disgust, pity and utter jealousy. As much as they annoy me, these people can pull off something I can’t. And I hate them for it. So I do what many other people do: I pretend that my judgment comes from a place of integrity instead of a place of petulant envy.
I’ve already mentioned the endless Girls backlash in a previous post, but have not addressed one of the most controversial characters and criticism-magnets: Jessa Johansson. I love Jessa. I love her clothing, her hair and her attitude. She is an ex-junkie with a failed marriage and no significant history of education or employment, but she acts as if she is royalty. I wish I was one-tenth that self-assured. Unfortunately, if I was to be truly honest with myself, I would have to say that I am most like Hannah (foot-in-mouth disease, awkward clothing, familiarity with self-pity, etc.), but I want to be Jessa. Which is really ironic, considering the fact I would probably hate/envy her if I met her in the real world.
I think part of all the Girls hate is the phenomenon I just described. Audiences might take in this selfish, lazy, unduly confident ne’er-do-well, wish that they were a little bit like her and feel furious. And, to a certain extent, maybe this is the case with all the Girls, though Jessa probably warrants the anger the most. Ninety-nine percent of the world does not fit into this white, privileged, self-analyzing universe. And that, understandably, pisses a lot of people off.
Or maybe there is a sociological reason that the Jessas of the world attract so much vitriol. Maybe we are angry at her because a.) she is a failure, b.) because she is unruffled by her missteps, and c.) because our culture is especially concerned with preserving norms. And what is more abnormal than an underemployed, underwhelmed, over-confident druggie? In particular, one who always seems to end up A-okay, no matter what misadventure she stumbles into? It’s no wonder we (i.e. me) view Jessa with anger and awe. As Angela McRobbie describes in The Aftermath of Feminism, “having a well-planned life emerges as a social norm of contemporary femininity.” Think Shoshanna and her fifteen-year plan and Marnie’s…well, just think about Marnie. These two and their well-thought-out lives are less upsetting to us because they are more recognizable and understandable. We don’t feel as mad at Marnie because at least she tried to hold down a suitable career before going off the rails. And Shoshanna acts appropriately devastated when she flunks one class and costs herself a timely graduation.
Jessa, on the other hand, never concerns herself with following any generic path. In McRobbie’s analysis, women like Jessa , or “those young women under-achievers, and those who do not have the requisite degrees of motivation and ambition to improve themselves, become all the more emphatically condemned for their lack of status and for other failings.” In other words, we dislike Jessa because she has made a complete mess of her life and because she does not seem to have many, if any, regrets about her past. Her philosophy towards life makes ours seem less valid.
So, why is it that I still like Jessa so much? I think it is because she does what I wish I could do, as opposed to what I actually do. I wish I had the bravery–or even the capability–to experiment with everything without feeling guilty or worried. I want to not care at all about what other people think of me. I would love to not give my past actions or words a second glance and be sure of every decision I make. And–let’s be real here–I want her hair and sense of style. Unfortunately, that is probably the most unattainable trait of all. In any case, I think that our society’s collective hostility towards the Jessas of the world is fueled by jealousy and curiosity much more than it is provoked by the people’s actions. We (again, me) will never be like these people. We will never mess up, act exactly as we see fit and still manage to live a fairly fulfilled life. And that drives us up the frickin wall. Jessa does not give a damn about her reputation; I do. And I cannot stand it.
(Image #1 courtesy of theguardian.com; #2 courtesy of pinterest.com; #3 courtesy of hbo.com)