introducing readers to writers since 1995

March 23, 2005

Blog the Beasts and the Children

by Ron Hogan

Last week, I made mention of Ayelet Waldman joining Salon as a columnist, pretty much picking up exactly where her blog left off, suicidal impulses and all. The immediate reader reaction (and, frankly, the word on the street) was amazement that the online tabloid would try to squeeze entertainment value out of what they perceive as a slow-motion trainwreck. "I don't know what it would take for the author to acquire a healthy sense of boundaries," wrote one complainant, "but I do know that airing your dysfunctions in public to such a degree that your 7-year-old child is traumatized and fearful for the life of his mother is an inexcusable act of child abuse." Another picked up on that theme, adding, "My heart went out to that little boy as I read. He does not deserve to have that moment of terror served up for anyone's curiosity, amusement, titillation or even, God help us, 'education.' Please do not give this woman a forum to write about her children's lives."

Now the response to the response has arrived, and along with more sharp criticism comes the love. Jane Smiley, for example, has decided that anybody who doesn't like Waldman's column must be a misogynist:

"Maybe this is a sign that lots of people, both men and women, can't stand it when women speak up and are honest about their feelings... If they don't like someone who has self-confessed flaws and worries and actually explores them, maybe they should continue to consult interviews of Laura Bush for 'insights' into women."

Funnily enough, the term for Smiley's attitude towards Salon readers is patronizing. In the ellipsis, she adds, "In my view, the strength (and in some cases, the viciousness) of their reactions is an index to Waldman's honesty." Mind you, it seemed to me, in reading the first batch of letters, that Waldman's "honesty" was never in question, but that readers were concerned with the ethical and moral calculus involved in letting a self-described mentally ill woman use children who were already afraid of what she was going to do to herself as fodder for her "honesty." But maybe the kids' emotional well-being is worth a couple of really good articles for an online magazine, if they're "honest" enough.

Other arguments in Waldman's defense presented by her fans include (in paraphrase) "back off, she's an artist," "you people who criticize her suck," and "what, a mother isn't allowed to write about her life?" The last of which being an issue that does raise interesting questions, but which one letter-writer chose instead to sensationalize: "Show me a mother who has no outlet for her anxiety, her resentment, her confusion and her rage, and I'll show you half a dozen kids drowned in a bathtub." There's a new argument: blogging and Salon columns save lives!

If you enjoy this blog,
your PayPal donation
can contribute towards its ongoing publication.