First off, let me establish that as a female and a writer (insomuch as I would call myself either), I not only admire Cat Marnell’s success, but I respect her hustle. She may be unapologetic about her drug problem and her inability to keep a steady gig, but she has every right to be, as she has somehow managed to navigate these taboo waters and emerge holding a sizeable Simon & Schuster book contract and constant press attention. Recently, Gawker mocked Marnell for, in what is for sure an unconventional move, obtaining 18-year-old new fiction writer Alex Kazemi as her TEEN PUBLICIST (CAPS are hers), which is meta to the degree that the existence of a Gawker exposé means more attention for Marnell.
Kazemi has recently taken over her twitter, and now posts direct Marnell quotes using the parody-exploitable hashtag #CatSays. I admit that I was skeptical at first, although Kazemi and I are admittedly friends. I interviewed him via gchat, convinced that Marnell was a marketing genius with the formula for creating buzz. After all, who knows the internet better, and is more sensitive to outside perception than a teen? Throughout my 20-minute chat with Kazemi, he eloquently dissected adult topics with more insight and honesty than most. And then I asked for a quote from Marnell. Read the whole transcript below. Or, if you suffer from ADD and continue to refuse medication, scroll to the bottom and work your way up.
So tell me, what is the difference between a publicist and a TEEN PUBLICIST?
I think there is a huge difference. As a teen, working for a smart and complex adult like Cat is helping me learn more about the the real world. She is more of a mentor, she is helping me just as much as I am helping her. I have to listen to everything she says because I have to trust her that this experience will help me grow into a stronger person. I don’t know if “publicists” that aren’t teenagers have to fight on Gchat at 3 in the morning over ordering Seamless for the Page Six drug addict you are working for. I am trying to help her as much as I can and get her to write the book (which she has been doing) but despite my attempts to tame her, Cat is always the one in power. I am the Brita filter for her Twitter brain.
An average day starts with a “Cat Says” tweet and I usually tweet something she says to do after posting 3 mistakes to get the perfect one she requested and then we go over her press. At night, she teaches me about poetry, pop, and art until she realizes that “I am exhausting” her and it is time for her to get her beauty sleep. I went off on her yesterday, and that wasn’t a good idea.
Why not? To outside eyes, it seems like the occasional dose of tough love wouldn’t be the worst idea for Cat.
It’s hard because she knows she can drop me in a minute and find another me. I don’t think people have the emotional tolerance for my job, though. I mean, teen publicists are the hot new trend this season since Gawker got everyone spinning for one. It is in high demand for a teen to work for an adult with status and be slaved around. When I was being rude to her, I texted her and tried to explain it was the “Testosterone speaking,” and she told me: “It’s immaturity. You wish it was Testosterone, but so does Bieber.” My new pet-name is Media Bieber.
Have you been fielding press requests and engaging her audience outside of the social media interface?
We talk outside of social media mostly, but I don’t want to be a distraction to her. That has been a problem lately. She needs her alone time and she needs to be off of Twitter, writing her book and putting all of her thoughts into her memoir. My goal by taking over the Twitter account was to have her hack into her brain and switch the outlet off where she would usually post something on Twitter. and instead put it into a document on her phone or on her computer. Somewhere safe, so it can eventually turn into the full length book everyone is expecting from her.
Do you think having this wall between her public personal life and the outside world could be damaging to Cat’s brand loyalty?
It is a bit toxic to her brand in a way, because lots of people like to see Cat unfiltered and pure in her ramblings, but for me, my job is to filter that out and have her not be able to be so accessible. I think people want Cat to be this real-time author, posting her thoughts that sound like memorable quotes from a book they’ve never read, almost as if it is a virtual reading experience. Twitter taught people to write their thoughts down,and that is a blessing, but it also taught me to be careful about what you post and that there is a time or place for anything. What would it be like if Sylvia Plath or Jack Kerouac had Twitter during their heyday? They would probably be tweeting gold like Cat, not writing the books they did. Our attention spans are different. People feel lit up when they see a tweet they feel connected to on their phone screens as opposes to seeing something in a book. Times have changed.
Do you think this paradigm shift will affect the success of Cat’s printed book? Or do you think her online persona has garnered her a loyal enough fan base who want to see her succeed enough that they will shell out for it even if they can borrow it/find it online?
You can’t go back to any other era and find a Cat Marnell, that’s why people are endlessly fascinated by her honesty, her appearance, her beauty. Her writing is pop poetry, dangerous and addictive. Her fans want to touch this book and hold it in their hands and that audience is growing by the day. People will probably pirate the .epub file and put it on their iPads, but most people want to add the physical copy to their book collections. Everyone wants to pay for this book. Cat lives much more than most people because they are afraid to be rockstars like she is. That’s why she is so appealing, especially to my generation. Yes, she is a drug addict, but she is a Page Six drug addict.
On the one hand, everyone deserves success, whatever form it comes in, and on the other hand, being one broken nail away from a nervous breakdown and known for it can be a self-perpetuating cycle. Do you think fame is an enabler?
I’m obsessed with everyone’s obsession with fame. I think people forget there is a huge difference between success and fame, but I think people who are born for fame deserve to live that life and deserve to face the poisonous consequences whether it is nervous breakdowns, self-hatred or loneliness. This is what they asked for. You can fuck a D-list rapper like Ray J, film it, and build an empire for yourself. Fame is a hollow and meaningless thing to search for, but those who have it will always be more powerful than average civilians.
Cat needs to be famous, people will always be bored, and that will result in becoming voyeurs to what they will never be. I think she will always be enabled by the money she is given and be sick and on drugs unless she wants to make the choice to get better. She is the only person who can help herself.
[Here is where I ask Kazemi for a quote directly from Marnell, about him. He responds, at her direct request, with the following.]
“Not since Backdoor Teen Mom has an up-and-comer repeatedly missed the mark with such compelling dexterity… which is why Alex Kazemi is my TEEN PUBLICIST superstar.” -Cat Marnell
Only on the internet, folks.