Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer




The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo is the femoir from Amy Schumer, one of the highest profile comedians in the world right now. Schumer has an interesting story to tell: she was born into a family of privilege, but her parents lost all their money when she was a child; she went from taking private jets to the Bahamas to sharing a bed with her mother in a basement flat. At the same time, her father developed MS and her parents’ marriage collapsed after her mother had an affair with the father of Schumer’s best friend. Schumer started doing standup in her early 20s and, within a decade, had achieved huge success.

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo is not, she writes, a memoir: “I just turned 35, so I have a long way to go until I am memoir-worthy.” But considering she discusses everything from her hatred of watercress to her bowel movements before a show, it’s hard to imagine what else she could include in an autobiography. Presumably she would feel less obliged to include such typically femoir-esque “you go girl!” sentences as, “I feel beautiful and strong” (which contradict less cliched lines such as, “I sometimes forget a man may have actual feelings for me”). Nor would she need to soften her edges.

Schumer is at an awkward point in her career now, transitioning out of the dumb white woman stage persona she created over the last decade – when she’d say such things as “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual” – and trying to become more palatable to the mainstream. This is apparent throughout her book; for example, she will compare an elderly African American woman to “a California raisin”, then to add hastily: “That is not racist. If she’d been white, she would have looked like a yellow California raisin. Anywhoozle …”
Early in the book she jokes, “Damn, it’s hard to write a book and not get yelled at”, and that is certainly true. While the rise of the femoir reflects the current vogue for women to reveal their personal lives in public, alongside this trend is another in which women are excoriated for revealing too much of the wrong stuff. New York loud ass Lena Dunham (Star of the TV show 'Girls' - who by the way, was paid millions to write this memoir, and her writing talent shines clearly through, but there are limitations to 'clit lit' and remorseless self-exposure) fell victim to this after the 2014 publication of her femoir, Not That Kind of Girl, when she was accused, absurdly, of being a sexual abuser after writing about the time she realised her baby sister had shoved some pebbles into her own vagina. (Gynecological narcissism is another common element of the femoir: Dunham discusses her vagina at least two dozen times in her book; Schumer kicks off hers with “An Open Letter to My Vagina”.)
Schumer has insisted: “I’m not trying to be likable.” You would not guess that from her book, in which she claims the only change her new riches have made to her life is she gives bigger tips. I’d have been a lot more interested to read how it felt when she negotiated her book advance from $1m to $8m, but that would perhaps have strayed too far outside the femoir’s approachable everywoman bounds.

In trying to be so likable, Schumer seems dishonest. The only essays that ring true are those about her family, in particular the one in which she describes how it felt to watch her increasingly sick father lose control of his bowels in an airport and, later, how furious she still is with her mother for having had an affair 20 years ago. I subscribe to the school of Nora Ephron – arguably the mother of the femoir – which says the statute of limitations for being mad at your parents for ruining your childhood is up when you leave home. But you can’t tell a woman to reveal her feelings and then damn her for having the wrong kind.

As you’d expect of a comedian of Schumer’s calibre, the writing captures her voice and is often funny. But this book proves the theory that the larger a book’s advance, the less editing it gets. I went to see Schumer’s live tour while reading this book and, although she relates many of the same stories on stage, the contrast between the two experiences underlined the reductive nature of the femoir. On stage, she dealt with the subject of inane women’s magazines in a brisk, amusing five minutes. Here, she spends 10 stodgy pages on the subject, making heavy weather of their effect on women’s self-esteem and saying nothing new.

It feels like Schumer is fighting the genre, insisting she has “no self-help or advice for you”, only to claim later, “I am all of you”, she reckons.  The 'femoir' (yes it's a thing!) was meant to celebrate original female voices, but it has ended up smoothing down their spikiness. Far from showcasing funny women, it grinds them down into feminism lite.





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