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Michelle Dean

Michelle Dean

Most Recently: How To Write About Tragedy And/Or Lindsay Lohan: Advice From Stephen Rodrick

Michelle Dean has written for Bitch and The American Prospect. She blogs at The Pursuit of Harpyness.

'Homeland' And 'Enlightened': Women On The Verge Of Nervous Breakthroughs

Mention Lindsay Lohan to me and you’ll be treated to an excoriation of the joy with which this culture greets your average female public breakdown. As such, I've surprised myself this fall with my absorption in the personal and professional unravellings of two female television characters: Carrie Mathison of "Homeland" (Claire Danes) and Amy Jellicoe of "Enlightened" (Laura Dern). If you've also been watching those shows, you might question my yoking them together. Carrie and Amy could not occupy (heh) two more different dramatic universes. “Homeland” is a taut, quickly paced thriller about terrorism whose signature gesture is to end each episode on the edge of a cliff; while “Enlightened” is a more meditative, patient, voiced-over and incredibly intelligent dramatization of a sort of Eat, Pray, Love moment in the life of one not-particularly-remarkable woman in California. READ MORE

A Supposedly True Thing Jonathan Franzen Said About David Foster Wallace

There’s really no delicate way to put this: at this year’s New Yorker Festival, Jonathan Franzen said that David Foster Wallace fabricated at least part of—and potentially a large part of—his nonfiction pieces. I wasn’t there, but after reading Eric Alterman’s summary Friday, and finding no mention of the incident in any other coverage of the festival, I watched the conversation online. READ MORE

Rental Brokers Are Useless

At the beginning of this month I spent about a week and a half of improbably beautiful, sunny, breezy, vacationing-in-New-York days huddled over my laptop in a borrowed apartment, hitting “refresh” over and over again. I would wake up in the mornings and instinctively reach for the phone (kept next to my pillow) and check my email to see whether anything had changed. I often didn’t shower until 3 or 4 p.m. I survived, largely, on coffee, and I slept at most a few hours a night. I didn’t read the news or even watch television except for that one night the stupor was so thick that I managed to get through four episodes of "True Blood" without actually suffering a brain hemorrhage brought on by excruciating dialogue. This, if I recall correctly, was what having a full-time, soul-destroying corporate lawyer job was like. But this past month I was not working. I was not getting paid. I was just trying to find a place to live in New York this September, in a rising market where the vacancy rate in July was well under 1%. READ MORE

Tina Brown, Fanfiction And Princess Diana: Nine Observations

1. Before we proceed, we might all need to take a moment to acknowledge that we've reached the point in our culture where former editors of the New Yorker are writing fanfiction. Publicly, I mean; who knows what William Shawn scribbled in his most private notebooks, and in some sense who wouldn’t want to know, how many miles to Babylon, etc. But still. Fanfiction, in a “news magazine.” READ MORE

'Bridesmaids': Am I Doing Being A Woman Wrong?

Everywhere I went last week, women were talking about Bridesmaids. When they would see it, how many and varied were the ways in which they adored Maya Rudolph, how Kristen Wiig really was amazing in those two minutes of Knocked Up she appeared in, etc. Perhaps that only says something about the circles I travel in, although now we know that people spent about $25 million this weekend to see it. But much as talk of weddings, and all the things one Must Do and Must Have at one, often makes me feel as thought I was born in a pod sent here from the planet I Don't Know How To Be A Lady, so too did all the hoopla about this movie. I know there's a burgeoning cultural sub-discussion about the place of women in comedy and in Hollywood—I’ve run up against it before. But it was unclear to me how, exactly, we all had such faith in a movie whose poster contained the words "Produced by Judd Apatow" (shudder) and which used the phrase "Chick Flicks Don't Have to Suck" as a cornerstone of its marketing. READ MORE

Canada! How Does It Work?

1. First things first: In the '90s, one of the best things to watch on Canadian television (faint praise, that) was This Hour Has 22 Minutes. One of its most popular segments was "Talking To Americans," which was, more or less, just what it sounds like. Posing as a journalist, comedian Rick Mercer would get Americans to do things like congratulate Canada on its recent legalization of the stapler. Most of the interviews were conducted in the street-ambush style that makes you feel sorry for the targets, because God, some people were just out shopping and I wouldn’t know the first thing about Mexican politics if you asked me on my way into the Gap. Less sympathetic were the public figures Mercer would occasionally manage to get near. He would get Mike Huckabee to congratulate Canada on having built a glass dome over its “national igloo”; he would get George W. Bush to thank “Prime Minister Jean Poutine” for his endorsement. And oh, Canadians would snicker, but their laughter carried with it a tailwind of depression. Acknowledging one’s own insignificance is funny—until it's not. READ MORE

The Middle West Is Not The Middle East And Other Failures of Story Happening Right Now

Political protests are hardly occasions for subtlety, but even so, the overblown analogies to the Middle East in Wisconsin are rather difficult to take. Scott Walker is the "Mubarak of the Midwest"— or, to more Biblically minded commentators, a "Pharoah." Similarly, the protesters are the people who have finally risen up to bring a "Tunisia Moment" to America. Paul Krugman has fallen for it too, terming Paul Ryan's comparison of Cairo and Madison "unintentionally apt." No list of pizza donations goes by without mention that some benefactors are Egyptian. Even the protesters themselves have picked up on it, suggesting Walker become President of Libya. Lest anyone think I’m picking only on the left here, it’s clear that despite the right's whining about the signage, they would love to use the Middle Eastern metaphor for their own cause in Wisconsin—witness one writer at Commentary positing Scott Walker as the true voice of the "people" and "change." READ MORE

What I Saw At The Toronto International Film Festival

1. At the Toronto International Film Festival the other night, the woman directly in front of me in the rush line said she was an aspiring filmmaker. She was wearing a striped button up shirt, pleated khakis, and a blue nylon shell. She carried a thermos. If I had to guess her age, I would probably end up somewhere around 65. She wanted a free ticket, she told the volunteer wrangler. To anything. The wrangler, who was at the lower end of middle-age and clearly relished the authority she'd been temporarily granted, fiddled constantly with her headset to signal her importance as she listened to this. READ MORE

Behind the Franzenfreude

Time's recent declaration of the obscure and notoriously media-shy writer Jonathan Franzen as our "Great American Novelist" was met, at first anyway, with shocking equanimity, it seems to me. Sure, he has a new book, Freedom, coming out. Sure, Sam Tanenhaus declared said novel a "masterpiece of American fiction" in the New York Times, though he did so nearly a month before regular readers would be able to challenge that view. Sure, such is the confidence of Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux in this book that it is pre-selling as an ebook at the unusually-high price of $14.99. Me, I read The Corrections, enjoyed it, and promptly forgot about it. I haven't read the new book. (It's not out until August 31st.) But really, we're still doing the thing where we elevate a fiction-writing white men as the Greatest Thing In American Writing Today? And not blushing a little when we do this? READ MORE

'Eat Pray Love' and 'I Am Love': Class Warfare

Today, two women look at summer lady-blockbuster 'Eat Pray Love' in the context of other movies with strong female characters. After this: Maria Bustillos on 'Life During Wartime.' READ MORE