So, have you heard? Jonathan Franzen is angry and hates Twitter and wrote about it for a paper that’s not even the New York Times and also he hated women when he was a 22-year-old man and maybe still does or maybe he just hates Jennifer Weiner but, wow, does he hate Twitter. He loves some things though. Things like dead Germans. And himself. Probably he loves himself. And also probably he hates himself. Because he’s a writer. So it’s only natural.
Anyway, eons ago (last Friday), an article titled “What’s Wrong with the Modern World” written by one Jonathan Franzen was published and almost immediately the world (people I follow on Twitter) went crazy because they found out that Jonathan Franzen—who doesn’t even have a Twitter account—HATES Twitter, which maybe explains why he isn’t on it. And, I don’t know. I get it, I really do. I get why Franzen—an acclaimed, immensely successful (as in, makes lots of money, but also wins lots of awards) writer—disparaging all those in the literary world who tweet and yak and blog, is annoying as all hell. I mean, this essay was also annoying because since everyone was writing about it, I had to read it and it was so incredibly long in the way that all lectures are incredibly long, and it was impossible to speed read for good quotes. So I have no quotes from it for you.
No, just kidding. I refuse to be the stereotype that Franzen thinks I am! Here’s a quote: “Not long ago, when I was intemperate enough to call Twitter “dumb” in public, the response of Twitter addicts was to call me a Luddite. Nyah, nyah, nyah! It was as if I’d said it was ‘dumb’ to smoke cigarettes, except that in this case I had no medical evidence to back me up.” So, basically, Twitter is analogous to cigarettes, and will kill you in a way that’s akin to the feeling of drowning on dry land. And also, Franzen believes that Twitter has killed Salman Rushdie: “I confess to feeling some version of his disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better, Salman Rushdie, succumbs to Twitter.” Naturally, anyone attacking Twitter is a monster, and so it’s good that everyone got upset about Franzen hating social media. And it’s also good that everyone got upset about Franzen patting himself on the back for failing to sleep with “an unbelievably pretty girl in Munich, except that it hadn’t actually been a failure, it had been a decision on [his] part.” I find it hard to believe that, decades later, Franzen needs to justify to the public why he didn’t have sex with this woman, by saying that it was his decision. After all, Franzen was married. But I guess that isn’t a valid enough reason?
The thing is, out of everything Franzen wrote in that article, it’s almost impossible not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the Twitter slams, and the allusions to young Franzen’s overwhelming sexual magnetism, but that almost feels too easy. And I like easy! But a closer read reveals Franzen’s opinion on Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and this is something I can actually get behind. In fact, pedantic as Franzen can be, this reminds me a lot of when he refused to let The Corrections be designated an Oprah Book Club pick. Everyone thought he was just so pretentious and such a jerk (and maybe he is! but who cares? he can really write!) and so when Franzen eventually apologized to Oprah, it felt like there was no small amount of schadenfreude involved. But really, what’s the big deal? Franzen is an old writer who made his way during a different time in publishing. His experience was so wildly different than what most young writers today will experience that who can blame him for not understanding what the appeal of Twitter is? Which, by the way, the appeal is fun, fast information, and we should all refuse to feel guilty about enjoying that. Franzen’s opinions might not line up exactly with your own, and that might sting, but you really ought to pause and ask yourself why it stings? Is it because a middle-aged man doesn’t understand social media? Or is it because a man of any age has had questionable attitudes toward women in the past? Because if it’s either of those things, maybe you just shouldn’t read Franzen. It’s not that hard not to read Franzen, after all. He’s not on Twitter. So just don’t read his new book, The Kraus Project, about early 20th-century Austrian satirist Karl Kraus. Instead read I Love Dick by Chris Kraus. Or read both! Just don’t buy either book from Amazon. And remember, if Oprah can forgive Jonathan Franzen and they can both move on, you can too. Middle-aged men will always say obtuse, boring stuff. But it’s easier and easier to ignore it.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen