Monday, May 31, 2010

Virginia Heffernan Falls Off the Wagon

Note: The weather this past Memorial Day weekend was just too lovely to sequester myself indoors and work myself into a lather over Tommy's latest. So I gave myself a break . . . by directing my scorn at another of the Times nauseating narcissists, Virginia Heffernan.

Virginia Heffernan wants you to know that she has a lot of friends:

November 25, 2007: "A friend of mine teaches 10th-grade English. Every time I see her she’s underlining some doomy masterpiece like “Heart of Darkness” or “The Grapes of Wrath.”

December 2, 2007: "A friend of mine, Nanne Dekking, recently sold an illustrious painting for an august gallery."

February 3, 2008: "But on a fateful day in 1979, my friend Megan and I met some sysprogs: Dartmouth’s student system programmers, surprisingly cute hippie guys who developed the complex time-sharing system"

February 17, 2008: "My friend was recovering from surgery. The tumor was entirely benign. “The doctor says it’s just a dermoid cyst,” she said. A what? We paused, as realization dawned. We had it: our search term. . . . My friend recalled a scene in “Ulysses,” in which Leopold Bloom diverts himself with a 17th-century manual filled with weird obstetrical images."

March 30, 2008: "A friend’s father hoarded lead Civil War soldiers even though he was English. . . . A friend of mine collects 19th-century English dishes, with a specialty in patterns by Cauldon or Minton."

July 6, 2008: "My friend A., for example, passed hours at a boring reality-TV job staring at “bear thumbs”: heavy, bearded, naked men rendered at thumbnail — postage-stamp — size."

July 13, 2008: "I decide to become Coldplay’s friend."

August 3, 2008: "In the spring of 2006, an e-mail message arrived from Shizu Yuasa, a Japanese friend . . . A French friend, Sylvain Bourmeau, had put me up to this.

August 29, 2008: "Someone in my neighborhood died violently earlier this month. He was the married father of two children. A friend told me the police found him stabbed in his apartment."

October 10, 2008: "People didn’t always turn to FreshDirect for all this. When the company started delivering in Brooklyn, the selling point was the convenience. My friend Lorraine told me it was a godsend. . . . The site’s interface was eventually jiggered to allow for what my friend Mike once (in an attempt to coin a “Sniglet”-style neologism) called “pleniplessence”: paralysis induced by the sight of how many kinds of detergent, say, exist on the shelves of the grocery store."

December 19, 2008: "A friend of mine won’t look at Garance DorĂ© because he says it fills him with longing he can’t bear."

February 10, 2009: My friend Lizzie, who is an actual poet, is a terrific, prolific updater . . . Another friend, Deborah, who is also a writer, reported (also on Facebook) that she sees the form teetering between narrative and poetry.

March 6, 2009: My friend Josh despises bad-beat stories.

April 16, 2009: "“Connectivity is poverty” was how a friend of mine summarized Sterling’s bold theme."

If you're keeping count, that's 17 friends (not including Coldplay) Virginia managed to work into her once-a-week column in about 17 months. That Virginia sure has a lot of friends! Although it does seem a bit odd that they rarely have any identifiable features or last names (except the foreigners who have made-up-sounding names like Sylvain Bourmeauor and seem to exist in V-Heff's columns solely to remind us how worldly she is).

But let's assume all of Virginia's "friends" not only exist, but are actually -- shudder -- friends with her. One reference a month is still particularly remarkable when you consider that her columns consist of her going to some website and writing a few paragraphs about it. She doesn't interview the websites' creators or consult experts or write about anyone's opinion but her own. The only time you'll hear another voice in her column is when she writes about one of her friends, who all sound as remarkably self-satisfied and in love with their own cleverness as she does. (This is actually not so different than Tom Friedman, who only likes to quote experts who talk like he does, tortured metaphors and all. And you didn't think I'd be able to work him in this post.)

Which brings me to Virginia's August 26, 2009 column, "Facebook Exodus" in which she declared, "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Facebook, the online social grid, could not command loyalty forever. If you ask around, as I did, you’ll find quitters." V-Heff is putting on her reporter's cap and asking around. Wow. I wonder who she asked.
  • "My friend Alex joined four years ago at the suggestion of “the coolest guy on the planet,” she told me in an e-mail message."
  • "Another friend, who didn’t want his name used, found that Facebook undermined his whole notion of online friendship." (Note: It didn't undermine his notion of friendship, but of "online friendship". Virginia Heffernan collects douchebag friends like some people collect 19th-century English dishes, with a specialty in patterns by Cauldon or Minton.)
  • “'I primarily left Facebook because I was wasting so much time on it,' my friend Caroline Harting told me by e-mail."
We're all interested in our friends' coming and goings. But only in the insular, my-friends'-navels-are-almost-as-interesting-as-my-own world of Virginia Heffernan are the actions of three friends a trend that says something about a website, which Heffernan herself notes, drew 88 million unique visitors the month before. 88 million visitors - who gives a shit if three of Virginia's friends no longer peruse Facebook while waiting for their Fresh Direct deliveries? And more to the point: Why does the Times Magazine publish the status updates of Heffernan and her obnoxious friends every week?

These are the type of questions that keep me up at night (seriously; I need help). And as I tossed and turned that fateful August night, I thought, maybe I could use my nascent Twitter account to put an end to Virginia's friend rampage. So I tweeted at her: "@page88 Do you ever interview anyone who's not a member of your clique?"

And something miraculous happened. She stopped. Cold turkey. For the next nine months, her column was friend-free. Apparently, being humiliated in front of my 7 Twitter followers made something inside her snap. OK, the Facebook column was so laughable that's it likely others made fun of her, too. But since I don't know if they did (my V-Heff obsession is nowhere near my Friedman obsession - I don't read what others say about her), I'm taking the credit.

And I give Virginia some credit, too. It must have been terribly difficult to write her take on Jersey Shore without informing us that, "A friend of mine, a poet, confessed over lunch that he found one of the cast members so captivating that he had to taken to pressing on his eyeballs every time she appeared on screen in order to create his own J-Woww kaleidoscope."

Which is why it was so sad to open up this Sunday's Magazine and read this:

A friend of mine tells me that he can find any TV image sexy, any image at all, so long as it’s . . . scrambled. He is aroused by sets of shapes and colors made staticky. “Scramble a broadcast of a Senate hearing, and I’ll find it erotic,” he says, explaining that when he was an adolescent, the signal for porn channels came through mixed up on the family TV.
I could tweet again, but I'm worried it won't do any good this time. When someone falls off the wagon, they don't need to here from their online stalkers -- they need to hear from their friends!

So, yes, I'm talking to you, woman with the dermoid cyst; and Mike, who coined that delightful sniglet, “pleniplessence”; and especially that guy who won’t look at Garance DorĂ© because he says it fills him with longing he can’t bear: V-Heff needs your help. She's dropping F-bombs on the pages of the New York Times again. Let's call Nanne Deking and Shizu Yuasa and have an intervention! Isn't that what friends are for?


  1. Loving it! Take that bitch down a peg.

  2. I'd wager she's using the "friend" ploy to push her own viewpoint or opinion in the same manner Faux News uses the "some people say" ploy to push their own opinion.

    Of course, that's merely stating the obvious, so maybe I shouldn't have wasted 30 seconds typing this, but a friend of mine said it would be a good idea to contribute to the conversation!

  3. I can't believe I struggled through this whole thing and still couldn't do better than skipping most of it. This blog is much worse than your twitter. And your twitter is bad.