It seems impossible that you have spent any time online in the past month and do not know about Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror. By the time it was released late this summer, the book was already the talk of the town. When I bought the book a few weeks after its release, the guy at the bookstore joked that I didn’t want to get behind the cultural rush. Like a lot of things we do on the Internet, owning or reading the book was a cultural signal that you knew what was going on. The Internet made memes about the types of Jia Tolentino fans. And as fun as all of this was, I couldn’t help thinking about the ways we were kind of playing into the things that Tolentino touches on in Trick Mirror.
I kind of didn’t want to write a response or reflection on the book because I didn’t particularly feel like I had anything to add to the conversation—yes we can all agree that it is pretty brilliant—and any attempts to do so would be participating in the very signalling that I am definitely trying to question my participation in. But here we are. I’ve already posted a picture about the book on my Instagram, I’ve already mentioned that I was reading it on this very blog, so it seems even sillier to act as if I’m above the hype. I'M NOT. If anything I am so deep in the hype it’s a wonder that I’m still breathing. Also, I was really lucky to see Tolentino* at her talk in Toronto where she was funny and eloquent and straightforward, and which got me thinking more about the book and all the insightful things that lie in its pages.
I’m pretty partial to all the essays in the book—“I Thee Dread”, the essay on loving weddings and the marriage industrial complex being the sole exception—but the one I loved the most was “The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams”. I, like pretty much anyone in 2019, love the story of a good scam. And I, like most people, love to laugh at the people who were foolish enough to fall for the scam, the ones who failed to ask questions until it was too late and they were standing there dumbstruck and empty handed. I love reading about these people and feeling better than them because I’ve always been smart enough to avoid scams (sometimes). Then I read Tolentino’s* essay. In the essay she talks about a series of scams that have occured in America over the past few centuries. She talks about some of the more obvious ones: Elizabeth Holmes’s Thanos and Billy McFarland’s Fyre Festival. But she also talks about the scams that are more subtle and not as easy to identify, and which we are all susceptible to. Scams like student loans in America (college is supposed to be an investment in which offers multiplying returns and yet, now more than ever, most people leave college with a degree and not a lot of hope), effortless wellness and beauty (think Outdoor Voices and Glossier), and the cult of the girlboss (we are sold the narrative of the self-made woman as feminism and expected to see the success of the individual as beneficial for us all). The latter is one that struck me the most since I spent all of 2017 and 2018 trying to become a girlboss myself. And despite how much I loved “hustling” and drinking the Kool Aid of it all—while wearing Glossier’s Haloscope I might add—there was always a sense of there being something wrong. I won’t pretend that all the time I knew I was getting scammed but now that I’m out of it—yeah, I was scammed. What Tolentino makes clear is that, on some level, we’re all getting scammed everyday because America and capitalism are founded on the con/scam. At this point, it feels unavoidable. What Tolentino* recognizes and brilliantly articulates in Trick Mirror is the difficulty of knowing that you’re being scammed or that you are part of the hamster-wheel operation that is accelerated capitalism, and somehow getting out of it. Like, what are we supposed to do with all this information? Allegedly there’s been a lot of dissatisfaction with Tolentino’s* lack of proposed solutions in the book, which manifested in the audience at the event. There were a few questions that were like, “Well what should I do? Should I quit Instagram? Is it bad that I took an Uber here?”, etc. But I appreciated the lack of conclusion. As Tolentino* says at the end of her book, “the safest conclusions may not actually be conclusions. We are asked to understand our lives under such impossibly convoluted conditions. I have always accommodated everything I wish I were opposed to”. We can’t do it all even when we do our utmost, but we can talk about it. We can recognize the ways in which it is easy to accept the inhuman processes that make our lives more convenient, and try our best to minimize our impact. We can look away from the mirror for just a moment and take a look around.
Jia Tolentino has done a spectacular thing with Trick Mirror. She’s taken a sea of ideas and information that I think a lot of people are thinking about and she has broken it down and provided new ways of thinking, all without ego or condescension. It’s what makes the book so good. Pick it up if you haven’t already! I probably won’t stop talking about it for another year, so you might as well join me.
Hustlers was good but not phenomenal. But I was excited to see a period piece that was about a period that I had actually lived through, even though at the time I was basically a wee baby who knew nothing. I didn’t need a title card to tell me it was 2013—tracking Lorde’s “Royals” over a scene could have been enough. The specificity of everything, from Constance Wu’s bangs to J-Lo’s poorly executed (fake) lip ring made it clear that this wasn’t just an isolated story about some strippers and some Wall Street guys. It is a defining story about America’s history that is going to be important for years to come. If we make it to 2050, I can’t wait for the babies to watch this like we watch Downton Abbey.
Jia Tolentino’s piece on how the music from the movie speaks to the specific energy of that 2007/08 era.
I’m researching the history of sampling in hip-hop for class, using Kanye West’s “Lost in the World” (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) and have loved listening to the ways in which Kanye creates these patchwork worlds throughout his albums.
*Just know that I wrote Jia pretty much every time it says Tolentino but changed it because I respect her and um, she’s not my friend (yet)