Modernist literature was born of a dire, urgent need—one that pulsed through the veins of late-19th and early-20th-century writers. These writers aimed to expose the imposed order of 19th century realist literature and instead convey the real human condition, complete with all of its flaws and capriciousness.
Up until that fateful day of March 21st, when Amanda Bynes called upon Drake to do the honors of murdering her vagina, Bynes had gradually built a persona for herself. But Bynes was not all that much of a public figure, and so her persona was based largely on the roles she played on screen. Sure, these roles depicted a bubbly and quirky role model for kids and tweens alike, but like 19th century realism, this character was of an idealistic and unrealistic nature. Similar to the novels of Charles Dickens that have a reliable and consistent narrator, Bynes’ public persona was stable and unwavering, but not true to human nature.
In order to convey authentic human experience, modernist literature abandons realism altogether. A reliable Dickens narrator may have been easy to swallow, but it didn’t depict the human condition most accurately. One could compare this to a PR team controlling a celebrity’s twitter—it may be reliable, but it’s not an accurate representation of who this celebrity truly is. In making a conscious attempt to stay true to human nature, modernist writers wrote unreliably and, in doing so, caused much confusion among their readers. And Amanda Bynes, with full control of her tweets, is almost like a present-day modernist narrator—she is inconsistent and we can’t trust her character, but above all else, it’s human. If this was the early 20th century, people might applaud her behavior because it offers a glimpse into genuine human experiences.
When talking about human nature in modernist literature, it’s impossible not to think of James Joyce’s “The Dead”. Gabriel Conroy, the protagonist, is a flawed man and cannot be relied on. True to human nature, the dialogue is rife with awkwardness, hesitation and stuttering—not unlike Bynes’ recent behavior. And while Bynes’ tweets and photos may not be a conscious attempt to depict the human condition like Joyce’s “The Dead,” they both generate the same feelings of uneasiness and instability. Take Bynes’ opinions of Drake, for instance. On June 17th she tweeted, “I will not date @drake ever. I only want to be his friend.” On June 28th, “I Know I Love Drake Because If He Got Parkinson’s Or Got Into Some Sort Of Accident & He Looked Different He’d Still Be The Only One I Want” and “Drake Is The Man Of My Dreams.” But then, only a day later, “Drake Is Ugly” and “I’m Getting Surgery To Fix My Nose. There’s No Surgery That Fixes Drake’s Ugly Downward Facing Eyes.”
Ever since that fateful tweet on March 21st, I have been compulsively, unrelentingly following the Bynes saga. It seems to encompass our self-obsessed twitter culture, but on steroids. I sat by my computer eagerly refreshing my twitter feed as Bynes tore apart midtown, pulled a Britney, and used the word “ugly” with the utmost discretion. And as initial feelings of excitement gave way to perplexity and finally outright concern, I couldn’t help but wonder why—or even how—no one has tried to intercept and get her some help. Instead, everyone is constantly trying to frame Bynes as the next Lindsay, or as a deranged, wigged apparition. But, really, this impulse to label her and gawk at her seems to say more about us than it does about her. Bynes even tweeted, “What you think about is what you are <3”.
Tim Hetherington, the late and courageous war photographer, was always fascinated with the idea of observing tragedy and death. He knew all too well of the remote and skewed perceptions of war back home. “We sexualize killing at home, but I’ve never heard a soldier call a dead body pornographic,” he said. And it seems Americans’ fascination with Amanda Bynes is no different. Amanda Bynes’ downfall, like war, has a certain pornographic element to it—a titillating element that would be nearly impossible if it happened to be your mother’s downfall you were watching. With enough distance between the observer and the observed, the observer can easily divorce empathy and emotion from an otherwise scary sight.
In “The Waste Land,” T.S. Eliot writes, “April is the cruellest month” because April marks the dawn of revival, when everything comes to life again. And isn’t a sterile and unfeeling life—like a sterile and unfeeling Amanda Bynes—so much easier to deal with, than a sympathetic and fragile one?