It seems we're not the only ones obsessed with professional oversharer, food-phobic, American-and-child-hater Liz Jones. Begins a tart profile in the Guardian, "Is Liz Jones mad? I'm not sure. She certainly looks a bit mad." But that's just for starters:
The first thought about Rachel Cooke's profile was, "man, these British journalists are harsh!" Take this description of the 50-year-old Mail masochist: "She is seemingly addicted to fake tan, so she is always a slightly unnatural shade of caramel. She has suffered from anorexia since she was a child, so her round face has always been balanced on a preternaturally thin body."
I mean, don't get me wrong, Jones dishes it out. This is the woman who's called children "germ-brewing sprogs," American women "mindbogglingly stupid" and one politician's wife's outfit as "befitting a six-year-old with attention deficit disorder" with the makeup of an "Eastern Europe refugee." Jones' persistent self-flagellation and orange-levels of overexposure have led more than one reader to question her stability. Most recently, Jones has penned a memoir, The Exmoor Files: How I Lost A Husband and Found Rural Bliss, which chronicles her brutal divorce (with which regular readers are all too familiar) and the healing effects of buying a bucolic farm and relocating there to live with a number of rescue animals, including a cat ("my fur baby"), a dog ("my new boyfriend") and the horses, one of them agoraphobic, who wear boots, require the services of masseur, chiropractic and psychic.
This, you see, is in contrast to a life in which Jones' OCD got out of control (she vacuumed her lawn) and her marriage degenerated into recrimination and desperation. (Her attempts to keep it going, says Cooke, "included oral sex on demand: 'I didn't even stop when one of my sharp back teeth caused an ulcer.'") The new life, according to the memoir, though, feels anything but idyllic. Indeed, Cooke calls it "neurotic, incontinent, contradictory." Because Jones' oversharing has not changed. (Her latest column deals with her plastic surgeries and the sadness of aging.) Says the article,
In Somerset locals have taken exception to the fact that she has written that none of the menfolk over about 40 are in possession of their own teeth, and that the food served in local pubs is heated-up rubbish. She has also described her violent crush on a man whose wife is one of the few locals to have been friendly to her.
So, what's with the urge towards masochism? As the article points out, "the kind of writing she does leaves her marooned on a sad little island of self from which there is, apparently, no way back to shore." Jones says she's lost all her friends, wants no love life (she finds sex "quite tiring and repetitive... it's such an odd thing to do") and is miserable, but she doesn't want the therapeutic intervention many a concerned reader has suggested. "I don't want to be sorted out. This is who I am...You have to have a certain amount of self-esteem to think you're worth saving. I don't care about myself enough to change." The author is highly skeptical about the combination of ego and allegedly low self-esteem that characterizes Jones' columns - a mix of self-pity, self-denigration and obvious self-obsession - but it doesn't seem weird to me. Jones is a deeply unhappy woman, with the narcissist's conviction that she's speaking for others who lack the courage to admit what she does, but she couldn't have the career she does if we didn't want it.
Sylvia Plath is often maligned for launching a thousand confessionals, but it was she who said, "One should be able to control and manipulate experiences, even the most terrifying, like madness...with an informed or intelligent mind...it should be relevant." As art, yes; as entertainment, the three-car-pileup voyeurism will do just fine, thanks. Jones is among the most extreme example of this phenomenon, and perhaps the most disturbing, but she's hardly unique. What is perhaps most distressing about her is that it's hard to know - probably for her as well as us - where the reality ends and the story begins. Surely she heightens the drama of her responses, but at what point does that effect those responses? And then too, putting it out there in such a public way, and refusing to treat obvious problems, normalizes - even legitimizes - them for readers: what, 50 years ago, would have seemed mad, is now quotidian, and it's a vicious cycle. If Jones is really unwell, her column is unethical. If she's not, it's manipulative. The truth, probably, lies somewhere between the two. We were glad to learn, though, that she likes Irene Dunne screwball comedies; no life containing The Awful Truth can be all bad.
Enough about me [Guardian]
Question Time: Liz Jones, Fashion Editor [Independent]
Rupert Everett Looks Great, But I'd Rather Grow Old Gracefully Over A Long Lunch Or Two [Daily Mail]
Sylvia Plath Interview [YouTube]