Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mark Twain Insult of the Day #10: Kardashian Edition

You know the problem with 21st Century culture? People who are famous for being famous. I singled out the Kardashians in this post's title but they're just one termite family in the mound. Denizens of the Jersey Shore, Housewives of hither and yon, scores of vapid celebrities of no discernible talent or accomplishment.

Evidently it was also the problem with 19th Century culture.

Mark Twain first encountered Miss Olive Logan on the lecture circuit in the 1870s. In those days, touring the country lecturing brought the same sort of moderate wealth and celebrity a cable TV show brings today. Speakers could earn $100 to $200 per appearance, at a time when that was real money. According to Twain (perhaps uncharitably), Logan built her reputation on little gossipy clips her husband planted in newspapers throughout the country. Items such as, "Olive Logan has taken the Hunter mansion at Cohasset for the summer." Nobody knew who Olive Logan was or whether the news was even true, but just being written about must have meant she was important. And so she was.

Olive Logan: the Kim, Khloe, or Kourtney of the 1800s. 

In Volume 2 of the Autobiography of Mark Twain (which if you're new to the blog I recently began reading), Mr. Clemens reports:

She was actually famous. There is no doubt about it. Her name was familiar to everybody . . .  and there wasn't a human being in the entire United States who could answer if you asked him "What is her fame based on? What has she done?" You would paralyse (sic) a person by asking him that question . . . She had built up a great, a commercially valuable name, on absolute emptiness; built it up upon mere remarks about her clothes and where she was going to spend the summer, and her opinions about things that nobody had ever asked her to express herself about."

But that's not today's Mark Twain Insult of the Day. That came later, when Clemens happened upon a newspaper article describing her failing health and rotten third marriage to a drunk, which caused him to soften his heart a bit:

Her tragedy has come, and I have to be sorry for her, and I am sorry. If she were drowning I would not look--but I would not pull her out. I would not be a party to that last and meanest unkindness, treachery to a would-be suicide.

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