In the age of Facebook and Twitter, we are all small-scale celebrities. Such portals convert us into our own personal PR managers, constantly thinking about our images and how others perceive us.
But there’s another side to the age of social media that perplexes me: our need to make fun of ourselves. “Rain scares me.” “My spirit animal is fur.”
These are just a few of the pithy, acerbic musings of Babe Walker, known to the world through her Twitter feed: @whitegrlproblem — more commonly known through her famous hashtag. A daughter of the 1 percent, Babe is wonderfully shallow, deliciously vapid and unapologetically representative of the worst of the reality-TV generation.
But she is also fictional. She is actually the creation of brothers Tanner and David Oliver Cohen and their friend Lara Schoenhals. In an interview with a reporter from The Daily Beast, Schoenhalsexplained that #whitegirlproblems “is a culmination of this moment in pop culture that celebrates women who have a lot of money … but no real reason to be unhappy.”
January saw the release of Babe’s memoir (Chapter 2: “If I like him, he’s probably gay”), suggesting a question: Is Babe’s biting satire a kind of commentary on the existential ennui of the over-privileged, or just another silly Internet phenomenon?
White Girl Problems has garnered more than half a million followers and inspired a herd of imitators, from Twitter accounts such as “Yes I’m Waspy” and “Skinny Girl Problems” to the full-fledged website betcheslovethis.com. Some of her tweets could easily be seen as social commentary; others are characterized more by their sheer absurdity.
The tweet “What kind of sicko only has one therapist?” seems to refer to the Prozac nation we have become, while the tweet “When/if I die, please scatter my ashes at Barneys. Or Miu Miu. Or any Tom Ford store” would make a Kardashian blush with its shallowness.
Similarly, other attempts at Twitter satire (from here on out, Twittire?) vacillate between the witty (for example, Wasp Girl Problem’s observation that “I hate hipsters, but dear God I love Hipstamatic”) and the downright distasteful (“You don’t have to get molested to know that going to Penn State is kind of gross,” courtesy of “Yes I’m Waspy”).
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a progressive writer of the early 20th century (long before Twitter) wrote that “A man is angry at libel because it is false, but at satire because it is true.” Yet the biggest fans of Babe Walker seem to be those she mocks. Satire is rarely appreciated by its subjects, and yet it is the eponymous white girls of the world (myself included) who seem to find Babe and the Betches funniest.
Satire is criticism, and its authors are usually outsiders.
But Babe’s popularity among her targets reveals something telling about Generation Z: We are incredibly self-obsessed. We think about ourselves so much that when it comes time for the comics among us to caricature something, their natural instinct is not to mock the “other,” but the self.
Palmer Quamme is a freshman in the College. She is an assistant editor for the opinion section.