Everyone Angry Over That xoJane Piece Celebrating a Mentally Ill Woman’s Death Is Right

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 1.57.06 PM“Comments for this thread are now closed.”

That’s what you see when you either finish reading or simply scroll straight through this article on xoJane. Titled, “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing,” the piece is about how glad the author is that a very casual “friend” of hers died by hitting her head and drowning in the bathtub because, in her opinion, that friend was living a lifestyle that wasn’t befitting of how great she used to be.

The author described the apartment the dead woman once inhabited as filthy. She judged her career choices, though she wrote that she definitely wasn’t judging them as opposed to just pointing them out for the sake of mentioning them. She wrote about blocking the former friend on Facebook, then unblocking her when she heard her page was full of juicy, rambling posts. She mentioned the mental illness that afflicted her friend by name, but went on to glorify the woman’s death because “some people are so sick, they are beyond help.”

The author took a dead woman to task for not being who she wanted her to be in life and people are really angry. Really angry.

Initially published under the name of its real author, Amanda Lauren, the piece is now credited to “Anonymous” because so many of those angry people found Lauren and, uh, tried to start a dialogue with her.

Her Twitter is banal, full of easy-to-retweet musings on the proclivities of white girls and getting her hair done. There are links to her other freelance work. As someone who started out writing one-off pieces at a lot of the same cookie-cutter just-for-girls websites, nothing about her online persona strikes me as all that extreme, so her post celebrating the death of another woman is especially shocking.

To some people, though, it isn’t. Some Twitter users are channeling their horror into more measured critique of the whole system that promises young women that if they put their secrets and deepest thoughts in, they will get a pittance and a byline out. A piece that is this devoid of feeling, to some, is just an indicator that the “personal essay” model that xoJane and so many other sites are built on has reached its logical cultural conclusion and now, instead of feeling feelings, aspiring writers are socialized into seeking out the monetary value of any situation, no matter how tragic.

Jill Filipovic put it best:

She’s not wrong! When you’re fresh out of school, there aren’t a lot of options available for building your portfolio unless you’re willing to write something that feels a little slimy. That cushy internship you had in senior year of college is gone and there’s nothing to replace it but an increasing demand for salacious personal stories. That xoJane and its ilk pay actual money makes it all that much easier to sell your soul piece-by-piece, Voldemort-style; the majority of bylines available to young people are unpaid. I’m telling you from experience that when you’re starting out, nothing is more enticing than actually getting paid to do the thing you went to school for, even if it means swallowing your pride and standing by something relatively humiliating.

You can debate the finer ethical points of creating a media empire around that unique brand of desperation all you want. Other journalists weighed in on that, too. Mark Shrayber, in particular, condemned the site for knowing that its writers will be piled on by the Internet mob but publishing anyway.

Unfortunately, xoJane probably won’t run an apology. Editing out the author’s name may very well be as far as they go. After all, they profit from the attention the article garners and she got her $50. Unless they determine the apology post will pay out for them, there is no real reason for them not to stick to their business model and move forward with a bunch of other pieces today.

As mentioned, the comments have been disabled and capped, probably due to the fact that there was not a single nice thing said about the author within them. That might have something to do with the fact that she traded the sentence, “Her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was,” for $50 and a moment of Internet infamy.

UPDATE — 2:04 p.m. EST:

I stand corrected! They issued an apology! Almost immediately after the publication of my take on the issue, I went back to the original article and found this in its place:

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 1.59.26 PM

I had believed there would be no apology or response from the team at xoJane but I was wrong. If you still want to see the original post, here it is, via the Wayback Machine.

[image via screengrab]

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