Monday, March 19, 2012

Babe Walker takes on art school

“The ironic conclusion to the socialite’s brief stint in the art world is that she finds it ‘silly and fake’, so she has her nanny perform a voodoo exorcism.”

If you’ve seen the 2011 remake of Arthur starring Russell Brand, you are familiar with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Arthur careens through life without regard for anyone else, utterly dependent on his nanny (Helen Mirren) and spending money as recklessly as he drinks alcohol. If you replace Arthur with a young woman; his rich mother with an equally rich father; Helen Mirren with a Jamaican nanny; and Arthur’s collection of automobiles from famous movies with a designer wardrobe, you’ve got Babe Walker’s facetious new memoir. White Girl Problems (Hyperion, 2012) is the 140-characters-plus version of the Twitter account crafted by the Cohen brothers and Lara Schoenhals, which was voted one of TIME Magazine’s 140 best Twitter feeds.

Generally, I’m not one to read a book endorsed by Tori Spelling on the cover, but I had heard that the main character ends up in art school, and I was curious to see how this most improbable of choices transpired.

Babe doesn’t apply to college because she assumes she will become a famous actress without even trying and fall into the arms of Leonardo di Caprio. Her hard-working entertainment lawyer father convinces her to buckle down, and gets her into the University of Southern California for performing arts. Before long, she is suspended for parking wherever she wants. Next up is her flirtation with visual art at the Rhode Island School of Design, a school whose chicness she prefers to Brown, “some stupid school I’d never even heard of,” where she was registered but refused to live in a dorm with a roommate.

Until this point, her only awareness of art was noticing that a waiter at her Studio 54-themed Sweet 16 party was dressed like Andy Warhol and telling her father that her pre-labiaplasty genitals looked like Basquiat so she needed the surgery as a high school graduation gift.

At RISD, she majors in glass blowing. She never attends class but she attends seminars occasionally because of the hot teacher. In her world, it’s the whole experience that matters and not just what her transcript reflects. And she does make some work outside of class with an androgynous printmaking major she befriends because she calls her skinny. One night, high on mushrooms, they break the heels off of all of Babe’s shoes and toss her designer clothes out the window for a bonfire that gets her arrested. She passes out during the mug shot but ultimately makes it into Art Forum. (Editorial note: I know—it’s Artforum, not Art Forum. Disregarding details is key to Babe Walker’s identity. When her father agreed that she could come work for him, she mistook an entry-level office assistant job for a junior partner position). Her “artist moment” comes to an end when her horse, who is named Mischa Barton, flips out during a photo shoot with her friends and she breaks her back. The ironic conclusion to the socialite’s brief stint in the art world is that she finds it “silly and fake” so she has her nanny perform a voodoo exorcism. From there, she writes poems, such as “A Babe Haiku” about couture, and eventually studies fashion, where she should have put her focus from the get-go.

This book will make you laugh, because it’s hard not to laugh at something like Jamie Oliver being double booked because of a birthday party for Jennifer Aniston’s cat’s cat. It will also make you glad you are the kind of person who doesn’t send 93 texts to an ex in one night or drop $246,893.50 at Barney’s in an afternoon. The latter incident is what finally landed her in rehab and gave her the time and space to craft her memoir, which she considered calling Babe Walker: The Babe Walker Story but whose title came instead from the jabs of her rehab peers.

At the end of the book, there’s a hint that Babe Walker has some substance after all. She meets her biological mother, Donna, who is a former runway model and coincidentally the lesbian partner of her rehab roommate. Just when this emotional turn threatens to counteract the horrendous superficiality of the rest of the book, a therapy session with Donna ends with Babe elated at receiving the oddest of heirlooms: a crotch-emblazoned Chanel bikini from spring 1994.

For more on the infamous Babe Walker, check out @whitegrlproblem on Twitter and www.babewalker.com.