Against the Beauty Pageant on the Big Screen: Review of Joanna Walsh’s ‘Girl Online’

Walsh sees another version of the online girl falling down the rabbit hole in HBO columnist and daughter Carrie Bradshaw sex and the city, often photographed sitting in front of her screen and wonder how to be. Carrie is a woman of age, but she is a girl of temperament and build, amusing and flighty and sylphish and perpetually fashionable; she is internet illiterate in the original series, which aired about a year after MySpace was invented, but her flirtatious and eccentric way of dressing endured on Instagram in 2022, finding favor with Generation Z. As a narrative device in every episode of the show, Carrie poses a question: “Is there a secret cold war between single and married?” for example, or “Are threesomes the new sexual frontier?” She doesn’t just ask these questions, suggests Walsh, “but, embodying every dilemma, is ‘in question’…perhaps the performance of the question is the point.” A frequent criticism of Carrie’s character is her unsuitability as a sex guru, given how ignorant she seems about sex life outside of the most conventional heterosexual coupling. Yet this innocence – this greenness – only adds to her status as a girl. Being an open query is an ideal state for a girl online, who will undoubtedly find a million other users hoping to provide her answer, helping to untie her pretty wrinkled brow.


“White, able-bodied, not quite old enough for the screen to deny my face entirely,” Walsh admits in girl online, “I superficially resemble images of girls who have gone from the big screen to the small, to the digital, their functions carried over as the face of a brand, of a generation, of a revolution.” Offline, however, maintaining girlhood is much more difficult than when we conceive the version of ourselves that exists on the web, and “go from girl to woman over time,” concludes -she, “it’s landing in the place where payment is taken. (Even Carrie Bradshaw – who, in the latest incarnation of her show, And just like that, is 55 and needs hip surgery – she is now expected to maintain an Instagram account and co-host a streaming podcast to maintain her writing career on the town, and a part of this series’ oddly depressing air stems from the impossible strain of trying to maintain its carefree, questioning nature in the face of grief and aging.)

In her off-screen life, separated from the literary self that those who meet her online may be more familiar with, Walsh writes that she is employed as a housekeeper and servant, having decided that the separation of her income and her art would help. maintain a degree of purity in her work – “the only art that means anything”, she says, “is given away for free”. Through girl online, which she describes as an “anti-manifesto” whose ideal reader is the Internet itself, she comes to see the identity fracture that femininity and the Web both demand as a double-edged sword, capable to be used to retain something from the world. market and the male gaze, both.

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