This morning brings us “I INSPIRED A ‘BAD’ VERSION OF MYSELF ON AARON SORKIN’S ‘THE NEWSROOM.'”
In that essay — if you want to call something so rambling and self-indulgent an essay — ex-New York Post gossip columnist/current XOJane Deputy Editor Mandy Stadtmiller describes how a handful of dates she went on with Sorkin wound up inspiring the Oscar-winning writer. The piece includes screenshots of e-mail convos between Stadtmiller and Sorkin, photos of birthday flowers he sent her at the Post (and the handwritten card that went with them), as well as quotes from their conversations.
Now, we really don’t feel like picking apart Stadtmiller’s piece line by line — it was hard enough to read the first time, as it has the vibe of a Cat Marnell screed minus the uppers.
Here’s what it did make us think about, though: Sure, Stadtmiller divulged a lot of personal shit about her interactions with Sorkin
sans his permission(she claims he said ‘OK,’ see update) — the piece is a classic example of the unstructured, hyper-confessional oversharing characteristic of so much internet-age writing.
But is oversharing like this necessarily a bad thing?
Maybe it is and maybe it also isn’t?
For starters, let’s just do away with any aesthetic arguments about whether confessional writing — be it in the form of a beach read-esque blog or highbrow lit — is better or worse than more detached, omniscient work.
There’s good and bad stuff in this specific subgenre, just like there’s good and bad stuff in any category of art. In this vein, an author’s choice to create something confessional doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is any lesser a writer, etc.
Also, we’re not so sure there’s a problem with oversharing per se.
We’re not outright appealing to common practice — we know that just because a bunch of people do something doesn’t necessarily make it right. However, we increasingly communicate very personal things in public ways.
Whether we should do so is probably a question we should ask ourselves before, say, sending that drunk tweet.
But this sense of ‘should’ doesn’t seem to carry with it a strong sense of moral obligation — yeah, we know that we make can make complete asses of ourselves when we overshare, but there doesn’t seem to be anything all that unethical with fucking ourselves over.
So what, then, seems so troublesome to us about Stadtmiller’s stance — was there something particularly cringeworthy about Monday’s piece that prompted us to write this article in the first place?
Here’s what might be going on, and feel free to disagree/dump hate in the comments below.
This work might give have made us stop and think more than other examples of oversharing because it extends beyond the purely personal realm into one that involves other people — an ethical grey area, if you will.
Is there something wrong with spilling personal shit about other people — without giving them the chance to comment or maintaining their anonymity? — when they’re not public figures such as politicians, and when this info isn’t really that important, just kinda embarrassing.
Stadtmiller justifies(?) her position thusly: “If someone uses me in his writing, doesn’t it seem fair that I use him in my own?” (though she does seem a little uncertain to begin with, “Gee, come to think of it, revealing completely private conversations I really don’t have any right whatsoever to reveal is pretty…wow.”)
Unless we completely missed something, Sorkin doesn’t call her by name on the show, and it’s not so likely that her role as a muse would have been made entirely apparent.
And that “fairness” argument contains a few holes — namely, that committing multiple wrongs (if Sorkin did something wrong, which doesn’t seem all that clear) somehow makes something right?
Also, it doesn’t seem like this is the type of situation when airing dirty laundry is morally imperative.
If, for example, you had an ex that was an arsonist who set your shit on fire because you broke up, telling the world is probably OK because it might prevent someone else from getting hurt.
But Sorkin doesn’t seem to be a danger to other people, so the point in divulging isn’t really there…
All that said, it’s still uncertain whether Stadtmiller did something bad.
Sure, she made a slimy move, but sketch doesn’t seem to equate to wrong.
It seems like the truly troubling thing about the column is that it puts our own privacy to question: We picture ourselves in Sorkin’s shoes, and realize how much it would suck to be him and read the article.
Our completely uneducated analysis why this is?
Even though there aren’t really clear rules — you don’t typically sign contracts pre-casual courtship — we nevertheless tend to assume that there’s some safety in intimate personal situations, such as dating, otherwise we probably wouldn’t take the risks required by them, bla bla bla.
Obviously, when something like this comes out, it freaks us out: We both realize that we’re not “safe,” and that it’s hard to make a convincing argument why people should not air our dirty laundry if they so chose. (The “golden rule,” which seems to be the “best” of potential reasons, kind of falls flat when you analyze its application here.)
So yeah…Mandy Stadtmiller’s piece isn’t just a clunky read, it’s one that makes us feel a bit uncomfortable because of the content — it’s scary as shit to think that there aren’t obvious reasons why you shouldn’t act like her, aside from a not concretely convincing “it’s assholish.”
We reached out to Stadtmiller to see if she had anything to say. She said she’d talk to us and so we’ll update when we she responds to our questions.
UPDATE: Stadtmiller had this to say…
I’m not the person to say if what I did is the right or the wrong thing to do. That’s up to other people to decide. What I shared is a carefully curated very non-intimate account of knowing Sorkin, whom I like very much as a writer and a person. When observers think at first glance, “Oh my God you share everything,” nothing could be farther from the truth. Sorkin is a very savvy person so he understands how this works. He didn’t ask my permission or give me a consulting credit as we had initially discussed when we first met (and is receiving a lovely paycheck from HB fucking O by the way) so I feel morally okay with writing about this situation for XOJANE. I alerted him ahead of time on Friday and he said it was very “cool” of me to do so and was incredibly friendly. He understands that there are people who try to fuck people over in the press. I am not and have never been one of those people. It pains me to do so. It’s why I left The Post. And I’m very supportive of him and his wonderful show. This is simply a great story. If the situation were reversed, as he is such a keen storyteller, I can imagine he would have done the same thing I did.
Asked whether she thought this perpetuated the stereotype that women try to gain power through their sexuality, she said this:
“Sexuality will always be interrelated to power. Always. It’s the oldest story of all time. I think you can be a feminist and still be a sexual person and talk about being a sexual person. Do I think that writing about how sexuality impacts situations like these perpetuates some myth? No. I think I told my story as authentically and honestly as I could. But that’s all it is: my story. If other people feel I’m perpetuating something that is not “good” then that’s their right to feel that way, and I respect that right.”
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.