Wars Of Words: Week, Penney's Fracas, Blessedly OverS

In the days since we gave our take on Cintra Wilson's J.C. Penney review, the thing's taken on a life of its own: Wilson's three apologies, a barrage of abuse on her site and a lot of media coverage.

Today, WWD ran a piece on the response to the Penney's review titled "DON'T DISS PENNEY'S" - (perpetuating the bizarre fiction that it was only rabid fans of the store who objected to the piece) - and New York Magazine declared that "yesterday was a good time for her to stop talking, but today is even better." Hopefully this marks the end of it. The initial piece was one thing, and I think our response here echoed that felt by a lot of Times readers — that it reflected larger themes in society that are troubling and ubiquitous. But the thing only lasted beyond that first ill-advised "Critical Shopper" because of the author's response, which came off to many as insincere, defiant, reluctant, and haughty — "sorry you were offended" — an attitude echoed by the Times' official response that Wilson's column "has always had an edge and a point of view — it is supposed to review, after all" and that, while she regrets offending some, she "stands by" it.

After-school special style, I hope we can all learn something from it. That people mock weight? We knew that. That the NYT can be arrogant and tone-deaf? Check. That certain women's reactions will always be dismissed with the "humorless feminist" card? Yeah, we've heard that a time for two. That having to state that you have a sense of humor makes you sound really humorless? (Okay, that was an interesting new More You Know.) No, all this is sad and old and ad nauseam. I think the more interesting point is that Wilson learned, not merely that "this hot button is so freakin' hot, it is thermonuclear," but that the Internet's a tough mistress: responses are swift, visceral, personal, and unignorable. Ironically, you're held to account in a unique way. It's also dangerous: you don't have the luxury of an emotional response, like a defiant tweet or an off-the-cuff posting, without backlash. (I was going to say, "as a Times writer," but I realized this was probably equally true for middle-schoolers.) You've got neither the ephemeral quality of spoken speech nor the distance and insulation of the printed word. That's good: In a sense, it's a bullshit detector. But it's also very ugly: A lot of the things written on Wilson's web site — personal attacks, comments about her appearance — made us increasingly uncomfortable and undermined the very valid points that a lot of people were trying to elucidate. (She told WWD that it was the explanations from "very nice people" that prompted her to issue her final, most earnest, apology, but that much of what she heard was "hair-raising." ) I didn't take Wilson's apologies as the high-handed dismissal a lot of people did, but bravado in the face of panic: the first time you really come up against the force of humanity that is the net — not the easily-dismissed XXX Wild West but the real people with real feelings and real opinions, it's terrifying. That's not who I am! You want to shout. But, of course, in a sense, it is. I'm not saying Wilson didn't get herself into the jam, and dig herself a hell of a lot deeper — she did, and fundamentally, I don't know that she or her bosses really get what it is most of us objected to — but that I think part of what we're seeing, weirdly enough, is the fallout of a tiny culture clash.

Look, she may hate us, but a lot of us have been fans of Wilson's since her advice column days in San Francisco - and many of us have passionate memories of the brilliant Winter Steele. Wilson is an unusually gifted writer, and can be wickedly funny. Those of us who objected to the piece did so not because we're humorless fatties who don't get edge, or bizarrely passionate J.C. Penney devotees, (or, as Mediaite would have it, "the thundering herd of Penney's-lovers and defensive chunkers" - edge, you know) but because cheap shots aren't funny, because it's incredibly depressing to see certain forms of discrimination continue to go unchallenged — and because we expect more from smart writers. Frankly, at this point I'm more depressed by the Times' disingenuous, defiant treatment of the issue than anything the author did in the heat of the moment. But for anyone who worries you're shouting into the wilderness, you're not; every single voice has tremendous power. Use it wisely.

Middle America Wants To Force-feed Cintra Wilson A Cream Puff [New York]
NYT "Critical Shopper" Criticized over J.C. Penney Column; Issues Zen Apology [Wall Street Journal]
‘Out of My City, Fatties!' NYT's Cintra Wilson Goes Schizo On Fat People
[Mediaite]
DON'T DISS PENNEY'S [WWD]
Winter Steele 1: Eat Crow [YouTube]

Related:
Times Writer Finds J.C. Penney's Focus On Fat People Clever, Amusing
Mea Culpas?