The story of the Internet has always been the search for an echo.
It is where you seek refuge after you have been stuck flailing in the mirror while the entire rest of the room of yoga students flawlessly executes a series of pirouettes. “That’s not even a yoga move!” you muttered. “What are you doing?”
The Internet gets it. The Internet is where you go because you suspect that no one else on the earth feels the same way about something. And then it turns out that Everybody does.
If you believe the accounts of our lives, we are always posting online, Everything Is The Worst. We cook like Phyllis Diller. We look like Phyllis Diller. In the morning we resemble damp bathmats. Until we’ve had coffee, we shamble around grunting and hissing like volcanic rocks on a bad day.
If you glance at the popular tumblrs that seek to express how we are feeling, we are all complete messes at all times, shambling from disaster to disaster. All the behaviors that in romantic comedies indicate that the main character has hit rock bottom, comprise our morning routines. We lie on the couch eating found cereals and muttering to ourselves.
Incompetence is the new competence.
We love bacon. We love drinking. We love sleeping. We are the people in the mirror at exercise sessions who look like fools. Everyone else in the class is neat and coordinated and comes twice a week, and we stagger in five minutes late, feeling scrambled and keep falling out of tree position.
If we are to be judged by our memes, from “What People Think I Do… What I Really Do…” (no matter how often we hope it has perished, it never seems to die) to What Should We Call Me, incompetence emerges as the one unifying theme of Everybody on the Internet. The flabby underbelly is what binds us.
You go to the grocery intending to buy food for a week and somehow you come home with a jar of marshmallow fluff, six containers of canned pumpkin and a paperback entitled “The Russian Billionaire’s Virgin Bride.” Yet you were dimly conscious, as you shopped, of people around you with actual lists, corralling their toddlers with Correct Educational Toys and chatting amiably (but not too loudly) on the phone with their spouses. It was exhausting!
Thank God for the Internet, where there were People Like Us. We read gleefully the accounts of the Mommy Bloggers who had turned their back for a few minutes to check Facebook, only to find that Little Timmy had swallowed a live coal. Everyone online is Seamy Side Out. If you want to alert us to something you did, you try to make it a humblebrag. “I just spilled red wine all over my entire body! How can I accept my Nobel Peace Prize like this? I’m not a real person.” “I just tripped in the most embarrassing place possible — on the way to accept my Academy Award.” No wonder Jennifer Lawrence is such a cult figure.
What made an old media darling is what makes Anne Hathaway. She is polished. She is classy. She rehearses her speeches and has impeccable hair and all these qualities that we used to find admirable. She speaks in thoughtful, complete sentences. She is the person at the gym who seems to know what she is doing. She smiles encouragingly at us in the mirror and we fall over.
Jennifer Lawrence is the rightful hero of the whole new I’m-Not-A-Real-Person-What-Am-I-Doing-Who-Are-These-People movement. She makes faces. She faceplants. She talks about her bodily functions. We feel that we could get along with her.
“A vice in common can be the ground of a friendship,” W. H. Auden once noted, “but not a virtue in common. X and Y may be friends because they are both drunkards or womanizers but, if they are both sober and chaste, they are friends for some other reason.” That’s the Internet in a nutshell.
I mention this because the last time I went out for drinks with my proverbial GirlFriends, we spent a full hour talking about how much we loved Jennifer Lawrence. We have never met her. We have only glimpsed her on television and in GIFsets and in interviews, which we have taken hours out of our days to seek out and watch.
There used to be a bifurcation between our lives and the places we went to become fonts of rambling insecurity. We would squirrel away our fears in diaries under lock and key. Now we post them where everyone can see. Online life bleeds into real life this way. It turns out that instead of Reading About Foreign Policy and Thinking Deeply About the Future of the Economy, we are watching videos of cats hitting walls. Our Googles, ourselves. And so all the things that everyone used to pretend to do and like are quickly falling victim to the blunt statistics. Why pretend to be classy and put-together? We live online so much that it’s difficult to create the illusion that anyone knows what she’s doing. Except the Anne Hathaways of this world. Everyone knows that one girl whose life looks perfect on Pinterest. But we can’t stand her.
What’s sad is how much we need her. The ideal has to exist out there somewhere. Someone has to say the Right Thing and wear the Right Ensemble and Effortlessly Frost Dozens of Minicupcakes. She has to exist to give us something to aspire to — and fail, and laugh about. But it’s a thankless position. For everything else, there’s Jennifer Lawrence.