With all this, Martha seems to be—in a way that was never fully the point in the prim, perfectly lit world of Martha Stewart—having fun. She is provoking, casually. She is trolling, winkily. She is chipping away, with systematic nonchalance, at everything it used to stand for: steely aspiration; thirsty perfectionism; homemaking as an art and a craft and a Darwinian struggle; gilt; guilt. Martha, in her homemaking heyday, anticipated the “fantasy of mastery” that would find its apotheosis with the advent of Pinterest and Houzz and Instagram; she is now though, it seems, banking on another ethic, and another kind of fantasy—one that finds empowerment through human folly, one that embraces silliness and messiness and the fact that a Persian cat looks really, really funny while curled up in a guacamole bowl. One that recognizes the communal—and commercial—power of memes and snaps and viral whimsy.
In a 1996 essay for The New Republic, Margaret Talbot described Martha’s classic approach according to Christopher Lasch’s term: “the invasion of play by the rhetoric of achievement.” Martha, Talbot explained, “imagines projects of which we would never have thought—gathering dewy grass for our Easter ham, say—and makes us feel the pressing need for training in them. And she exploits, brilliantly, a certain estrangement from home that many working women feel these days.”
Two decades later, though, Martha is exploiting the opposite approach: She is allowing the rhetoric of play to seep into the rhetoric of achievement. She is loosening up. She is being … light-hearted. Two decades later, the home estrangement Talbot described has worsened; what Martha figured out, though, is that many people are facing that simply by expanding their notions of what “home” might be. One’s living space, one’s workspace, one’s computer, one’s phone—all of them can be homey. And Martha can, always the homemaker, conquer them all. There she is, with us at work and in the world and on our screens, on YouTube and Instagram and Twitter and US Weekly and, soon enough, VH1. There she’ll be, selling that most sellable of things: a particular vision of a life well-lived.
In March of 2014, Martha did an Ask Me Anything with Reddit. “What’s it like being friends with Snoop Dogg?” one redditor, tall_and_thin, asked her. Martha responded, in typically frank fashion: “I wish I were closer friends with Snoop Dogg.” Now, through a broadcast dinner party that has all the trappings of reality TV, she’ll get her wish. And that will likely be, for Martha and for Snoop and for a culture that revels in the strategic serendipity that paired them up in the first place, a good thing.