Posted by: manafanana | February 19, 2009

A book, unreviewed

See also, voluntary stupidity.

Disclaimer: I haven’t read this book. I read the dust jacket… and that provided me with more than enough fodder for this un-review. E.g.: “I swore I would never willingly go into such a place [loony bin] again. Never. And yet there was the powerful lure of the spectacle, and the human drama…”

This charming exercise in inanity is brought to you by Norah Vincent, author of Self-Made Man (no comment). In case you ever wondered what it’s like to live in the loony bin [sic], here’s your chance! Ms. Vincent has reserved you a front-row seat to watch the Drama, the Spectacle, the Exploitation unfold before your very eyes!

This “memoir” chronicles the crazy capers of Vincent as she pretends to be a real live crazy person for a year so she can “investigate” the mental health system in this country first hand. Right. This book epitomizes the cannon of such pseudo-journalistic endeavors that involve privileged people “infiltrating the world of the other” in order to get the scoop on “What it’s really like to be [insert: muslim, poor, black, loony, etc.]”. Because you’ll really be able to comprehend what it’s like while knowing in the back of your mind that you can, at any time, press the eject button and return safely to your privilege bubble. A lifetime of experiences and peoples’ individual identities apparently amount to nothing when you can play dress up. Really guys, it’s the same thing.

What also irks me about this is that she was able to get a book deal with the bare minimum of talent, effort, and credentials. She has been given a voice where she has little place to speak. As it turns out, people with mental illness can speak for themselves. Fancy that.

How bad is this book? I think I’d rather read Twilight, thanks.



  1. “looney bin” really captures the entire sentiment no?

  2. Because you’ll really be able to comprehend what it’s like while knowing in the back of your mind that you can, at any time, press the eject button and return safely to your privilege bubble.

    I really resent and strongly dislike the way some modern feminists attempt to make everyone feel guilty about everything.

    If someone is smarter than you, you want them to feel bad about it, if someone is sane, you want them to feel guilty about it, if someone is more skilled, you want them to apologize for it.

    Fuck that.

    You need to realize that some people are going to be smarter than others, more skilled, more mentally stable, etcetera, and you do no good by attempting to shame them and make them feel guilty about it.

  3. Yes, because the post is about how the sane should feel bad about being sane and not at all about how exploitative and short sighted it is for a privileged person to play minority for a day/year/month in order to get a fat paycheck from a publisher while they get to tell people who live in that reality every day how they feel. Check the amazon reviews, people with mental illness and their family and friends can speak for themselves just fine, and they don’t agree with what she did or with her conclusions. That should be your first hint that her experiment was bullshit.

    Talk about projecting. Oh no feminists don’t want anyone to be smart! Because truly that’s what discussions about privilege are about. Oops you caught us, we really want everyone to be inferior. Bow to the mighty UTERUS, resistance is futile, you will be assimilated!

  4. Thanks for missing the point. I commented on the section of text I highlighted.

    Also the fact that as I’ve noticed, many modern feminists equate EVERYTHING to some form of “privilege”, basically expecting everyone who is anything that someone else is not, to apologize and feel guilty for it.

    If you’re intelligent, you’re privileged, if you’re skilled, you’re privileged, if you don’t need glasses, you’re privileged, if you’re athletic, you’re privileged, if you aren’t obese, you’re privileged.

    I can’t be the only one who finds it a bit obnoxious that you imply that people should feel guilty because someone else isn’t as good at something as them, etcetera.

  5. Because you’ll really be able to comprehend what it’s like while knowing in the back of your mind that you can, at any time, press the eject button and return safely to your privilege bubble.

    Okay, then let me comment on this section of text, too, by saying that it is specific. Specific to the exploitation that led to the publication of this book and others like it (as Ophelia already pointed out).

    Your response to this is:

    I really resent and strongly dislike the way some modern feminists attempt to make everyone feel guilty about everything.

    Umm, how exactly does this sweepingly ignorant generalization make any point regarding the text you quoted, which is specific to a particular set of incidents?

    How exactly am I attempting to make “everyone” feel guilty? I didn’t realize everyone on this planet had a hand in authoring, publishing, and otherwise supporting this style of “journalism.” And, in that vein, how exactly did you interpret that I (I’ll say “I”, but your comment was addressing ‘some modern feminists’) was trying to make anyone feel guilty, much less everyone? No one gives a shit if Norah Vincent feels guilty about this or not. Feeling sorry doesn’t cut it, and I certainly wouldn’t advocate the culprits in this case sitting around feeling guilty. What good does that do exactly? How would that help to prevent future exploitation?

    As for your allegations that EVERYTHING is some form of privilege: No. Not everything qualifies as privilege. The end.

  6. I find it amusing that you conflate awareness of privilege with active sorrow that you have it better than someone else. I’m able bodied, woe is me for having to realize that the world is designed for people like me. How inconvenient it is to be aware that the unearned benefits I get for being able bodied come at the expense of those who are not so lucky and who have done nothing to earn to lack of access they have.

    Acknowledging privilege is not an excuse to throw a pity party. But this has literally nothing to do with the issue at hand. The issue is someone without a problem coming into a world that they have not had to live with, trying on the problem for a while–knowing they can always stop, and then commenting as if they are in the same position as someone who has to live with the issue. People with mental illness are more than capable of speaking for themselves and they are doing so about this book. I don’t recall anyone saying that she should feel bad for being sane.

  7. I don’t recall anyone saying that she should feel bad for being sane.

    No, but you’d likely say that being sane is an “unearned privilege”, and attempt to lay out some form of guilt trip for it, as you did above, for being able-bodied.

    The “benefits of being able-bodied” do not come at the expense of others. The benefit of being able to walk around your home was not given to you by taking it away from someone else.

    That’s the major disconnect I see here. It’s often implied somehow, that you having something means it was because it was taken from someone else.

    At some point, a line needs to be drawn.

    Otherwise, I could chalk anything and everything up to some form of privilege, and it would become, ultimately, ridiculous.

    An example of said ridiculous:

    How dare you not acknowledge your privilege of multiple orgasms! The unearned benefits of your multiples were given to you simply by being female, at the expense of those who have done nothing to earn the lack of access they have, other than being born male!

    (Note: I do not actually hold this opinion, I’m not impressed by multiples, nor do I care to have them. I’m just illustrating, that on some level, just because you can do something/have something that someone else can’t/doesn’t, doesn’t always mean it’s an “unearned privilege”).

    Generally, my point is, nothing is served by attempting to make someone feel guilty and apologetic simply for being who or what they are. It’s no better than shaming them, guilting them or making them feel bad for what they are not.

  8. Holy projection Batman.

    David, are you being willfully obtuse or are we just lucky?

    Privilege is neither good nor bad. It just is. No one here that I have seen has suggested otherwise, and your attempts to find guilt trips where there are none is a pretty far stretch if you are engaging in good faith, which frankly, I don’t think you are. I think you are attempting to silence discussion that makes you uncomfortable because you can’t be bothered to engage past defensiveness. You also have provided no evidence of modern feminists telling you to feel guilty that you are privileged.

    Why do you feel so defensive David? Especially about a book non-review? Why do you find it so hard to separate the action of acknowledgment of privilege with the feeling of guilt? Why does trying not to be an asshole (which is all that tends to come from acting with an awareness of your privilege) equal feeling guilty in your world? I manage to acknowledge my privilege without feeling guilty about it. Why can’t you?

  9. Look at the way she phrased her comment on able-bodied-ness.

    That’s why I say she’s trying to push guilt for being or having something that someone else isn’t/doesn’t.

    I don’t think that’s finding a guilt trip where there isn’t. It’s all in the language and phrasing. Such as making it sound like you have what you have, because someone else does not.

  10. David, you keep seeing what you want to see. Now the alleged guilt-mongering is all in the language and phrasing?

    Guilt is not the same as conscientious awareness. For example, an unearned benefit to being able-bodied, is that we don’t mind all of our paper currency being the same size. Well this, as it turns out, is a problem for blind people. So a group demanded that the paper currency be changed to different sizes, like it is in most industrialized nations. This way, the blind can tell what bills they are holding.

    Some able-bodied people argued against this, saying it’s silly and a ridiculous waste of money. Whereas others said, “I appreciate your perspective as valid, and acknowledge that this is a problem that needs fixing. Good luck, and let me know if you need anything.”

    Wow. That’s all about feeling guilty. I feel like I’m in Catholic school all over again.

  11. Yeah, David, I saw that comment and you know what else I saw?

    Sarcasm. Because you are completely missing the point.

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