Friday, October 8, 2010

What Makes Karen Owen #&*$?

Alexandra Petri's comments on Karen Owen, stand out for doing a great job analyzing the issue of public exposure. Link here.

As you may  know, I believe that the thoroughly modern tendency to expose your private life is deeply problematical. Many of those who are involved in sexting and other forms of internet self-exposure do not really understand the consequences of their actions. My comments here.

Note how Petri frames the issues: "The universal human impulse to autobiography stems, in large part, from the desire to be the protagonists of our own lives."

She continues:  "Karen Owen's wry, often witty, self-deprecating, self-aware voice takes control of her 'raucous life.'"

And also: "By recounting the story, you claim agency! You craft your own narrative and become the wry, ironic storyteller, rather than the drunk girl doing shots in the corner with Name Redacted, ignoring the whispers as she walks out of Shooters with another guy."

And finally: " Karen is single-handedly giving that girl stumbling down the steps of your dormitory at noon with someone else's socks on a better name."

I hope I have allowed Petri's argument a full presentation, because I am going to take some slight exception to it.

I believe that its brilliance lies in the fact that it  uncovers a connection between what students learn in college classrooms and how they conduct their lives.

If you take a few courses in women's studies or in critical theory or deconstruction or even in some forms of therapy, you will learn exactly the lessons that Petri articulates so clearly and so accurately.

I can think of a serious psychoanalyst, named Roy Schafer,who once argued that therapy should be about becoming the author of the narrative of your own life. See his: A New Language for Psychoanalysis.

If you have been taught that there is, as Petri suggests, a universal human impulse toward autobiography, you can expose your life and feel that you are standing tall with St. Augustine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Of course, there is no such universal human impulse. There is, in fact, a universal human impulse toward modesty, toward covering up your private parts and functions.

Today's professoriat does not accept it, and Karen Owen is suffering the consequences.

Surely, it is possible that Karen Owen also learned at Duke that she should take ownership of her own experience by writing her own narrative, by becoming the protagonist in her own story. After all, Duke used to be the world epicenter for postmodernist criticism.

I hope that Petri is being ironic when she says that Owen has taken control of her own experience. In fact, her life has just spun completely out of her control. Whatever her prior ambitions, the only path that seems open to her now is to make a career of celebrity.

As for her final point, the implication that Owen has single-handedly given that coed on the walk of shame a better name, I also hope she is being ironic.

You may not like it, and you might not consider it to be theoretically correct, but Karen Owen has just dragged her name through the mud. Do you think that her parents are proud of her? Do you think that the parents of a prospective husband would be happy to welcome her into their family? Do you think her siblings are proclaiming their pride in her college achievements?

Just some thoughts for a Friday morning.


Cane Caldo said...

As I read her column, I felt an ambivalence in Petri's words. It's as if she wants to believe that Owens is "writing her own narrative", but can't quite commit to it. She also kept saying how funny Owen is; which is simply not true. It makes me think that perhaps Petri would like to rewrite scenes from her own past, but feels the truth too deeply to carry it out.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Very good point. I had a similar feeling when reading her. She even seems to suggest as much, almost as though she admires Owen for having done something that she would have wanted to do.

Strangely, she seems to believe that she would feel better if she had had Owen's courage.

Proud Hindu said...

I'm a bit confused.

Karen Owen is a slut.

There are probably millions of men and women in the US like her. Indeed, the culture encourages it.

She was also naive enough to send her "dissertation" to a few friends, trusting that they would keep it to themselves. A stupid assumption in the internet age.

However slutty she may be, she is not a criminal nor the essence of all evil.

If anyone is liable for anything, it would be her friends for making this private thing public.

So I don't understand the shock and hate that is being hurled her way on this and other blogs.

And keep in mind - I'm a Hindu. We are world reknowned for our sexual chastity and even repression... so if I'm not shocked by all this - how could non-Hindu Americans be?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I have certainly not treated Karen Owen as a criminal or evil.

I have been saying that her major mistake was indiscretion. In fact, I have been criticized for it.

However, thank you, Proud Hindu, for raising an interesting and important issue: why is everyone so shocked to hear about what has been going on for quite some time now?

If I had to take a guess, I would say that knowing it is one thing, visualizing it is quite another.

Lots of people know that all kinds of strange things are going on in college these days. When they are invited or forced to picture it all, their minds take offense... not so much about what is happening as about the fact that they have been induced to imagine it happening.

I don't have an opinion about the state of sexual repression and expression in Hindu cultures, but I would suspect that the culture that gave us the Kama Sutra has a rich erotic tradition.