The first-person industrial complex: How the harrowing personal essay took over the Are essays written in first person. A few months ago, Natasha Chenier submitted a piece to Jezebel about her sexual relationship with her dad.
Why Did the Harrowing Personal Essay Take Over the Internet? Why did the harrowing personal essay take over the Internet? Writers feel like the best thing they have to offer is the worst thing that ever happened to them. 1 11 5 14 8. 5A22 22 0 0 1 48 73c-2. 2 0 0 1 0 71. 8a34 34 0 0 0 8.
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2 10 10 0 0 0-6. The Internet prizes the harrowing personal essay. But sometimes telling your story comes with a price. She described meeting her biological father for the first time at age 19 and being gradually overtaken by lust for him.
She recalled being so wracked by disgust and shame after the second time they had oral sex that she dry-heaved over the toilet in his bathroom. But in a way, it felt inevitable, too. I felt like the world was ready. It was sure to be a blockbuster.
It had graphic and devastating details, yet a matter-of-fact narrative voice. It would feed the Internet’s bottomless appetite for harrowing personal essays. Since she was new to writing, I just wanted to confirm—was she ready for this to be on her Google results forever? Tolentino gave her the option of publishing under a pseudonym.
But Chenier seemed confident that she knew what she was getting into. Of course, the essay went viral. First-person writing has long been the Internet’s native voice. As long as there have been bloggers, there have been young people scraping their interior lives in order to convert the rawest bits into copy. But we are currently in the midst of an unprecedented moment in the online first-person boom. The rise of the unreported hot take, that much-maligned instant spin on the news of the day, has meant that editors are constantly searching for writers with any claim to expertise on a topic to elevate their pieces above the swarm. First-person essays have become the easiest way for editors to stake out some small corner of a news story and assert an on-the-ground primacy without paying for reporting.
And first-person essays have also become the easiest way to jolt an increasingly jaded Internet to attention, as the bar for provocation has risen higher and higher. For writers looking to break in, offering up grim, personal dispatches may be the surest ways to get your pitches read. Here are seven worth reading. Since then, the Internet’s confessional impulse has been fully codified. Every site seems to have a first person vertical and a first-person editor.
The essays reach for the universal even as they dig into the acutely personal. Take a safari through these sections and the main impression—aside from despair at the exhibit of dire human experience on display—is that all the headlines tend to blur together. Fat Monica Wasn’t Just Courteney Cox in a Fatsuit. I’m a White Woman Who Dated a Black Panther. Why Do I Keep Writing About the Time I Got My Heart Broken? But for all the different house styles these pieces accommodate, it’s striking how many of them read like reverse-engineered headlines, buzzy premises fleshed out with the gritty details of firsthand experience. And despite the wide-ranging hardship these pieces catalog, they also share a tendency to reach for the universal even as they dig into the acutely personal.