But those facts, chronicled by the “ugly” media, don’t paint any coherent picture of the actress. They’re flat. Dry. Lurid, but not raw. In other words, none of this is quite so compelling as when Bynes chronicles it herself — which she has done on Twitter, in a running (if unreliable!) narrative, since 2009, with a brief break in 2010. Until she signed off in May, in fact, Bynes used to chronicle her breakdowns while she was having them. She’d share every fleeting expletive and insecurity that crossed her mind. She’d rewrite and revise the story endlessly, going back and deleting old tweets en masse.
Some have taken that as mere tabloid fodder, further proof of Bynes’s tailspin. But in many ways, it also belongs to a greater tradition of personal writing: Call it the new “new autobiography,” a genre that mixes straight-laced memoir and literary techniques in pursuit of the author’s “spiritual truth.”
Mental illness is, incidentally, a fixture in this space: Think William Styron’s “Darkness Visible,” or Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation.” Those, too, are stories of erraticism and illness — stories of people who are “troubled,” to use a favorite descriptor for Bynes. (Bynes, it’s important to note, claims she doesn’t have a mental illness, though a California court and her own doctors concluded otherwise in 2013.) The difference, of course, is that Styron and Wurtzel did not write their stories in real-time, so we were shielded from the mess and the awkwardness of their experiences while they were struggling with them. And we also know ahead of time how their stories ended: They go on to write books; everything’s fine.
With Bynes, the erraticism and oversharing come with no guarantee she’ll be okay — which is, perhaps, why more than 3 million people are reading.
Bynes’s tweets since her return were initially far tamer than the ones that made her (in)famous in the summer of 2013. (The actress has even gone so far as to delete all those old tweets — restarting her narrative, as it were.) For the first four years of her Twitter existence, Bynes confined her tweets mostly to what-I’m-having-for-breakfast-type ephemera and zany homespun aphorisms on things like love and “creepers.”
But by early summer 2013, Bynes — then “retired” from acting and pursuing careers in rap and fashion design — had made a habit of tweeting screeds against the media and snapping bizarre selfies at all hours of the day and night. She acknowledged having an eating disorder. She assured In Touch magazine that she was “not crazy” and gleefully RTed the magazine’s tweet to that effect. But one week later, when In Touch put Bynes on its cover, she accused the magazine of conspiring to make her look bad and tweeted a string of personal insults to an In Touch editor.
From there, Bynes’s tweets only grew more unbalanced. She was having multiple plastic surgeries, she claimed, to fix a previously secret birth defect — “webbing” between her eyes. Then she was having surgery so she’d be be attractive enough for the love of her life. Then she was having surgery because “there’s a surgery for everything that’s wrong with you!”
She tweeted repeat insults, and then peculiar sexual come-ons, to the rapper Drake. (“It’s obviously a behavioral pattern that is way bigger than me,” he said.) She claimed that her mind was being read “illegally” — a bit of paranoia she repeated to In Touch earlier this week, when she told a reporter there was a microchip implanted in her brain. Bynes, in fairly typical fashion, now says the magazine made it up.
Through it all, Bynes kept up a meta thread on the media and the complications of agency and truth: She accused magazines and blogs of inventing stories about her and using “old pictures” to make her look bad — or pictures of someone else entirely. Multiple times, Bynes claimed she was only on Twitter to set the story straight. She tweeted a series of selfies and asked magazines to use them, instead. When people are offended by her tweets, she tells them it’s her Twitter. Her story.
Alas, at some point in the past year — in between leaving rehab and moving in with her parents, under a court-ordered conservatorship — Bynes deleted everything she had tweeted before. She replaced that old story with snapshots from FIDM, where she was studying: photos from fashion shows, selfies with her “favorite people.” Some time between late August and early October, she then deleted those tweets. Bynes is apparently trying to reinvent herself yet again.
It’s tempting to see all this as rantings and ramblings — certainly that’s how In Touch characterized it in their most recent profile of the actress. But Bynes’s tweets aren’t just crazy tabloid fodder, stuff to laugh at and RT ironically. In their entirety, her Twitter feed publicly chronicles years of struggle with an unclear mental illness that she continues to insist she doesn’t have. And, frankly, that makes a compelling story.
We’re not primed to see social media that way, of course: It’s okay to share personal struggles in a book after the fact but not on the Internet as they happen. I suspect that has something to do with Twitter as a medium, but it also relates, surely, to the inconclusiveness, the rawness, of the autobiography. We’re uncomfortable with the suspicion that things might end poorly. And we’d rather accuse someone of spilling “too much information” than engage with those disclosures another way: as some form of “spiritual truth.”
Certainly Bynes herself is convinced that her version of the story is the true one; late Wednesday night, she tweeted a string of legal threats to In Touch and Star, claiming that both magazines fabricated lengthy stories about her — down to the seemingly inarguable fact that she granted them interviews. And on Friday morning, Bynes tweeted a string of horrible allegations about her father, including that he sexually assaulted her and that she was getting a restraining order against him. She later deleted most of the messages and explained that “the microchip” in her brain made her type them. It seems fair to let her have the last word here.