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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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On being mean  

A handful of people have let me know that they thought my post about Zoe was mean-spirited. My first reaction was: Moi? Mean? But I was only having fun! And perhaps having a laugh with Zoe! You people really need to look at the world as I do. In a whimsical and laugh-filled fashion! Tra la!

But then I thought some more. People were telling me I made fun of Zoe for no good reason. And here I didn't think I was making fun of her at all. But, then, who was I making fun of? Was I really writing those emails from a place of goodwill and bonhomie?

No. No, I wasn't.

I'm annoyed by these emails. I get them constantly. Anyone who blogs gets these pitches a lot, but once the column started, they ramped up to an unmanageable degree. And every time I would respond graciously, and tell them, look, this is a personal column, I write about my kid and my painful gas, I'm not going to interview Elizabeth Banks although she sure is pretty--but the queries and pitches kept on, and keep on coming. Even now that the column is defunct (I'm only on the website now, not the print mag). So you know what? I was annoyed with Zoe. Not with her specifically, but with Zoe the symbol for every single PR person who would email me 5, 6, 20 times a day. I was.

And when I wrote that silly email, I thought she'd take the hint and not reply, but then she did, and her reply was so pleasant and yet also completely clueless, I was a little giddy and amazed. Did she know what I was up to, but choose to ignore it? Was she going to keep up this charade for as long as I did? Or did she simply not read my previous email? So I wrote the follow-up, at that point honestly and truly just trying to amuse her.

Also, I suspected she hadn't read the previous email, and I felt a little like I did in high school, when I would work on these complicated science lab reports and put all kinds of insane directions in the middle of the report, just to see if the teacher was actually reading them, and he never commented, so I ramped up the crazy for the next report, but nope, he still didn't notice, so then for the third report I just drew cartoons of a farting pig for pages and pages, and those he finally caught. So it was kind of like that.

And then I was sick with the flu and felt like I should put something up, and there you have it. Not my proudest of moments. I completely am okay with that post being a misfire for some of you. (Steph, come back!) Zoe: if you're reading this, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I made you the butt of my dumb joke.

I don't mean to, but sometimes I do venture into mean-girl territory, and it's not an area I enjoy exploring. I'm a nice person, as most of us are, but I also have a lot of anger, as most of us do, and sometimes it hits the wrong target.

Speaking of which, here's something that's been bothering me for, oh, a loong while: Jenny McCarthy. A year or so (?) ago, I was in a Momversation about autism and vaccines, and I told Jenny McCarthy to go fuck herself. I know a lot of people decided I was some kind of a folk hero for saying that, and thank you for your support, but to be honest I feel shitty about it. It's one thing to tell Andrew Wakefield where he can take a flying leap: the man consciously, purposely misled the public and wasted untold resources that were funneled into study after study on the nonexistent, fictional link between autism and vaccines. He's a worthy target. But Jenny McCarthy, misinformed as she might be, and I do know she hurt many other parents of autistic children with some of her statements--she was fighting what she fully believed to be a good fight. She was wrong, but she wasn't malicious, and didn't deserve my wrath. And I'm sorry.

And I'm sure she has better things to do with her time than watch old Momversation episodes, but nonetheless, that's been bothering me, and I wanted to get it out there.

Whew! Thank you, everyone, for keeping me honest. I love you guys.

Reader Comments (56)

In my family, we all make fun of each other all the time. I think its good! It develops a sense of humor and teaches kids to deflect criticism which is important in the real world. Seriously people, the world would be boring without snide and cynical people. Get over it!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLynn MacDonald

Sorry, Lynn, but I don't want to be snide or cynical. I want no part of it.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralice

It's funny because I had many thoughts when I read that post and you sort of read my mind....1.) I kind of figured that email has now become like old school telemarketer phone calls. Especially for successful writers on the internet. 2.) I thought that Zoe was probably doing her job, as she was told to do matter what. 3.) You were having kind of a crappy day.
When I was a poor college student I worked as a telemarketer. I read the script, and then I read the scripted response when people would tell me to "fuck off". It was my job. I had to do it. And I had to pretend to LOVE it. I try to remember that when the cashier piles a bunch of crap on top of my eggs in my grocery bag. That being said, we all have shitty days and we all get a little fed up sometimes. All we can do is try our best to honor one another, right?

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTina

I'm not condoning "being mean" per se... But I do think that on one's personal blog, one should be free to post whatever enters the mind. And sometimes one feels a little snarky or mean or grouchy or whatever and one's blogging reflects that. (Okay, I'm talking about me, "one" is me.) I don't read your blog (or most blogs) because I know you'll always spout goodness and light. I read it because you are a real person who chooses to share a corner of her life with the Internet and because I can sometimes see myself here.

Anyway, I didn't think the previous post was mean (I too thought, "Wow, doesn't this Zoe woman READ her emails? Or know her target audience? At all?) but I like that you apologized to Jenny McCarthy. Because saying something stupid or mean or wrong is totally human, as is feeling like it was a little too stupid or mean or wrong, and owning up to both is endearing.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLife of a Doctor's Wife

I thought that post was funny and chuckled a little and didn't give it a 2nd thought. I get that you don't want to be mean, but man, that post was just funny. When I get emails like that I don't even feel like "Zoe" is an actual person... sure, SOMEONE typed that email, but how many others got the exact same email as I did? It's not as if she was actually trying to converse with you on a personal level- as you said, it's likely she didn't even READ your first response. WHO are these people that are up in arms over a post poking fun at a form letter?

I don't want to be mean or hurtful either, but I also don't want the whole internet to become bland because everyone is being SO CAREFUL. I think your commentary about the world is spot-on, Alice!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarie Green

I didn't think it was mean at all. Funny, yes, but not mean. You probably made the girl laugh. My husband constantly pranks telemarketers. Any you know what? They laugh with him. I've sure that in the drone of her hundreds? thousands? emails she writes a day, you probably broke up the boring with a laugh. It's better than no response at all, which I'm sure she gets much more frequently. If you had chewed her out or called her names, i would be more inclined to think you mean. But as it stands, I still consider you hilarious.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiesel

Also, I completely respect your apology to Jenny McCarthy, whether she knows who you are or not. That was mean and I dig that you owned it. That is all.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiesel

Thanks, Liesel. I think it's important to separate the act of writing the emails with the act of posting them publicly. By doing that it might have appeared that I was holding her up to ridicule.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralice

Are you kidding? You are so not mean. I was so happy with your post because it kind of reminded me of this guy, who is flat out mean but I love him and his meanness:

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichele

I went back and read that post, just to make sure I had read the same post as the others who thought it was mean. I really don't get how anyone thought that was mean.

I thought it was funny. But it was very nice of you to apologize to Zoe.

It was even nicer of you to apologize to Jenny McCarthy. While saying 'go eff yourself'' is somewhat strong language, it was somewhat deserved. I don't care that she's not a doctor or a scientist. For someone with such a huge platform to be spreading misinformation without researching thoroughly about the subject is ignorant and dangerous.

And Wakefield should be shot. Or inoculated with the measles. (I'm only partially serious about the last statement).

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuzRocks

Well, I thought the Zoe thing was amusing, and I went back and read it again and failed, utterly, to find the mean part. So...that's it, I guess. Can't comment on the Jenny McCarthy thing, because although I subscribe to your blog posts I can't remember reading it! Uh, that might not be the thing you wanted to read (I promise, your writing isn't normally that forgettable) but hey, it's honest!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmandaXC

See, this is one of the many reasons I've been coming back to Finslippy for...*counts*...oh, god. Let's just say "a while" and leave it at that.

I love that you apologize when you feel you've done something out of line. It doesn't matter whether *I* thought you were being mean or not; YOU felt you should apologize, and you did--swiftly and simply and gracefully. Classy, Alice.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate Vinée

Aw. Thanks, Kate!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralice

I'm with you on Ms. Jennay. But she needs to STFU sometimes. I'm sick of her, "I'm a mother warrior because I fight the big, bad vax and pharma companies and You aren't!" and her alluding that folks who don't subscribe to her version of woo are bad parent.s

Not that I'm bitter about this or anything. No.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Domestic Goddess

Alice, you're fantastic and I love you!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMegan B

Pfft, I was JUST about to invite you to the mean club (Very exclusive by the way!) and there you go being nice and all apologetic.

Way to throw the rest of us under the bus.

A wise person once told me if funny trumps mean then it's perfectly okay.

I use it like a bible verse.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

Holly, you could say that by being nice and making you look bad, I'm actually being mean. Now let me into that goddamn club!

I don't want anyone to think I'm turning all goody-two-shoes on you, or that I won't, you know, make fun of people, when they have it coming to them. I just think, if you're going to make someone a target for your jokes, have a good reason for it. Go into it with all your heart. And STRIKE!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralice

Telling Jenny McCarthy to go fuck herself is actually a compliment, or a well-wish, because she is so beautiful. It's not like you're telling her to go fuck Kim Kardashian or something.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarinka

i didn't think the post was even remotely mean, either the initial emails or the reposting of them. I guess some people are way more sensitive than me.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkaryn kirke

Dear Alice,
I've over-thought this whole thing, but let me share anyway. I'm surprised that readers felt you were mean, and I disagree with your comment above that suggests you were holding Zoe up to ridicule. It seems to me that you were not holding Zoe--the real person--up to ridicule; you were poking gentle fun at the (sometimes) dead-endedness of writing. You laughed a bit at yourself in the first response, and you laughed a bit at her response in the second.

I totally get the exculpatory urge in general, though, and even though I, personally, didn't come close to needing or wanting an "I'm sorry" from you, I can't deny that this thoughtful post is a totally refreshing break from the general public's often-shallow approach to apologies.

I never comment, but I love your blog. Thanks for writing.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

Molly, join the club--I've over-thought this thing like crazy. Thanks for your kind words!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralice

I think it's really great that you did this. Coming from a biased POV, but as a publicist I know I had mixed feelings when I first read the Zoe post. As someone who has had to send out emails to bloggers and writers asking if they would be interested in review copies (I work for a publishing house), one of my biggest concerns is that I am coming across as a robot. In an ideal world, I would want it to seem like I'm a friend suggesting an amazing book over coffee, but sometimes it's been a long day/week/month and it is all you can do to remember how the capslock button works. Thankfully this is a relatively small part of my job. (Does it hurt a little to see PR people being treated like/compared to telemarketers? Yes, like the tiniest smidge. But that's how it is I suppose. At least I can take pride in knowing that it's books I am shoving in the internet's face?)

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I think it's really cool that you came forward and apologized. To be honest, if Zoe was hurt or shocked by your response she hadn't done her job correctly (and from a publicity standpoint I think it's weird that she asked for a phone number from a web-based personality) as blog research is real and she should know the personality and interests of the person she is contacting. Do I think the extent of your response was unnecessary and the tiniest bit mean? Yes, a little bit. But if Zoe is anyone other than an intern that was given a very long list of columnists/bloggers to check contact info on then I feel confident she will bravely soldier on.

A suggestion, if it isn't already on your Redbook blog/contact page: put a line about not wanting to receive pitches or press releases. Then, if you still receive them, you have EVERY RIGHT to go into excruciating detail on your true-life shaving accidents until they put a note in their databases next to Alice that says: "Just... what are you doing? No. Stop. Back away slowly. Now go get yourself a cookie."

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElaine

Yikes! I apologize for the novella-length comment. I just have so many feelings.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElaine

I would accept your apology to Jenny McCarthy except that, after it came out that not only did Wakefield's results NOT show a link to autism and vaccines, but that he FAKED the results she went on Huffington Post and said, essentially, "So, he lied. That doesn't mean it's not true!" And argued the same thing.

Ok. So, maybe it isn't nice to say "f-you" but someone does need to tell her to shut up. The dangers of not vaccinating your kid far outweigh the potential risks of autism. The idea that my baby could be exposed to something that could kill him because someone else didn't vaccinate because Jenny McCarthy told them it caused autism really pisses me off.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

I didn't think the Zoe post was over the line but I really, really admire you for being willing to take an honest look at yourself and re-evaluate it. You are a class act!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarb @ getupandplay

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