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Comments: Week of January 28, 2013


1. “What would Hannah Horvath make of Elizabeth Wurtzel?” wondered Meghan Daum at The New Yorker’s website, comparing the ambitious lost-soul memoirist played (and written) by Lena Dunham on HBO’s Girls to the author of Prozac Nation and a long confessional essay in our pages on her misspent and extended youth (“My One-Night Stand of a Life,” January 14–21). “Like Wurtzel, Hannah often confuses her entitlement for ambition, and passes off a certain baseline inertia for artistic integrity … Like Wurtzel, Hannah has not yet learned that it’s possible (maybe preferable) to have a full-time day job and do your writing at night. She has not yet considered the various living options that exist outside the New York metro area. She does not understand the difference between being uncompromising in your work and refusing to make compromises so that you can keep doing that work,” wrote Daum, herself the author of a much-discussed 1999 essay on the subject of those very compromises. “The question is, will she ever learn these things? If so, how and when? Moreover, how must Wurtzel’s saga sound to someone like Hannah? How must it feel to be trapped inside a self-imposed, culturally sanctioned extended adolescence, only to get the news that this limbo might be a permanent condition, that not even fame and best-selling books guarantee a graduation into respectable, adult life?” The essay was read with special interest by conservatives, who saw in Wurtzel’s story of proud self-­immolation a cautionary tale for hedonistic liberals. “Pieces like this feed my long-running conviction that @nymag is the most socially conservative of the major NYC mags,” tweeted Times columnist Ross Douthat. “Send a link to her essay to your teenage or college-age children,” wrote Rod Dreher at The American Conservative. “Tell them its title should be, ‘How to Lie to Yourself and Waste Your Life.’ I’m actually serious about this.” Though Wurtzel herself might have been surprised that reactions to her story fed into the usual political polarities, readers on the left tended to be harsher. “Wurtzel seems to divide people into two groups: the tediously conventional who are rewarded for lacking in pure hearts with Tiffany silver and long-lasting relationships, and the pure-­hearted who end up alone and sad, if still amazingly hot and totally able to prove it with pictures in New York Magazine,” wrote Amanda Marcotte at Slate’s Double X blog. “The latter, a nation of one, does not pause to consider that having a best-selling book, the ability to live in Manhattan, and the frequent opportunity to be paid well to drop incoherent screeds that no other writer gets away with might make her pleas of victimization fall on deaf ears. Indeed, her sadness is so profound I started to actually feel sorry for her, even as I disagreed violently that the problem with her life is that she’s just too free and pure.”

2. Elsewhere in our special “Self-Help” ­issue, Alex Morris wrote about the ­spinning-plus-self-help exercise regimen SoulCycle, which has “been called an ‘obsession,’ a ‘cult,’ and—by those who clamor to pay $32 (plus extra for shoe rental and water) for classes that sell out within seconds—an ‘addiction’ ” (“Come On, You Sexy Spin Bitches,” January 14–21). “Really wish I’d thought of this, genius,” wrote one reader. “We’ll charge rich people with self-esteem problems a fortune for an ‘exercise’ class where instead of knowing about fitness the instructors coddle and indulge their narcissist clients. Amazing.” Another agreed: “SoulCycle is fluff. The push-ups on the bars, the votive candles. If I wanted a seance, I’d have a slumber party. Flywheel, on the other hand, is for athletes. (And it’s less expensive!)” But for every skeptic, there seemed to be two boosters eager to make their case in comments. “I’m probably the world’s most cynical person when it comes to corny exercise mantras. That being said, SC is always fun and even if it borders on campy, part of me really still oddly enjoys all of their strange mantras and stuff in spite of myself,” wrote one. “While commenters and SC haters can decry the exorbitant fees, cult-like mentality, and/or lack of athletic prowess by riders, the fact remains that many SC devotees are paying up for the class because it works,” wrote another. “I am a devotee, who is neither well-off nor brainwashed. Hate all you want, but SC has given me incredible definition and lean muscle that no other workout managed to do … And yes, I’ve tried Flywheel.

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