However unintentionally, she seems to be staging a one-girl defense of Western culture, territory she pretty much has to herself at this point. The West! What a fantastic back catalog!
To this day, she regularly posts works of art and pairs them with thoughtful and sensitive observations. It comes at you, perforce, interleaved with endless posts dedicated to her self-obsession; her various dramas; her endless, endless selfies. All of that is tedious. It’s the art and her ideas about it that get my attention and elevate her intentions.
Taken all together, her account is a kind of madhouse, which suggests that Instagram is pretty good at exposing the range of a young person. There’s the great Cambridge romance novel, the endless stories of hurt feelings and social triumphs, the selfies without number, and the glowing images of the greatest paintings and architecture in the history of the world—all of this is presented in the Instagram form, which is nonlinear, marked by short bursts of narration, and richly illustrated.
The 1990s introduced us to the idea that the “memoir” wasn’t the sole province of presidents and dowagers, and that any 26-year-old woman with a boatload of problems and a humanities degree could write an engaging account of her experiences thus far. But the published book, as a medium, is perhaps too much and too little for the life and times of an extremely young person. Instagram, like Baby Bear’s porridge, is just right. In this form, the past—which, let’s face it, is a pretty slim chunk of time in the life of a 20-year-old—repeats itself, amends itself, inscribes new details on old stories; it’s a form in which the triumphs and hurts of yesterday or yesteryear can be called up, reworked, reintroduced to the narrative as though they are as real and as present as anything happening in the actual moment. Just as important, the platform allows photographs to have equal weight with prose, which is essential for a young person who has grown up in the smartphone generation. All of it spools forward and backward, with no regard to linear time, like a postmodern novel.
But everything exacts a price, and Instagram is no different. It ends up flattening young women, taking whatever was original in them and slowly forcing it into the language and tropes of the site. In Cambridge, Caroline created someone out of time, sexually sophisticated but withholding of every secret detail. Lately, though, she is becoming like everyone else: She holds up her middle finger to the camera, posts about her great, “juicy” ass, decides that her signature phrase is “Suck my big fat cock.” Yawn.
Read: Instagram is the new mall
Moreover, the successful Instagram accounts of young women inevitably develop a common, unplanned, and dull theme: the emotional toll that the online haters exact from them and how to cope with it. Always, these young women choose the same three approaches and cycle through them during periods of duress. There’s the badass: “Fuck people who don’t understand me.” There’s the Judy Garland: “All I ever wanted to do was sing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ All I ever wanted to do was make people happy.” And there’s the spreading of memes by professional uplifters. When Caroline began posting the sayings of Schlockmeister General Glennon Doyle, it was a low day for her account. Where was Cecil Beaton? Where, for that matter, was Voltaire?