Edward Jay Epstein is calling this book “brilliant.” Trust him, he’s lying…
Most of the people I know who no longer work for Dov Charney recall the death of his assistant Monica Solis as the proverbial “final straw” of sorts. The suicide itself was not much of a surprise; she had apparently talked about killing herself for months or years by that point. It was the details that crystallized things: how she’d hung herself from a noose fashioned from an American Apparel scarf tied to the ceiling of her American Apparel corporate apartment, retaining her dark sense of humor even as she memorialized its ultimate incapacity for absorbing the full extent of her job inflicted pain. How Dov had tasked a minion with calling her parents in Texas. How one of Dov’s concubines had seized upon her “wake” as the ideal location for a photo shoot, with girls on roller skates. How Dov had fondly recalled that her work ethic had been so unimpeachable he could “kick her down the stairs and she’d get right back up and keep working.”
Ryan Holiday did not go to work as Dov Charney’s publicist until the year after Monica’s death, but perhaps naively I nevertheless assumed that a similarly vivid convergence of circumstances had moved him to write his “tell all” Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Modern Day Media Manipulator. Alas:
Though I wish I could pinpoint the moment when it all fell apart, when I realized that the whole thing was a giant con, I can’t.
Oh, and one other thing, he actually still works for American Apparel. As it turns out, the enterprise he has purportedly forsworn in contrition for all the deeds he now purports to be confessing is not Dov Charney’s abusive youth marketing cult but…blogs?
As for his confessions, well: this one time he concocted an astroturf outrage campaign to publicize the screen adaptation of his client Tucker Max’s book I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell. He bought billboards and defaced them with stickers saying Max “deserved to have his dick caught in a trap with sharp metal hooks. Or something like that.”; he used fake email accounts to send angry emails about the movie to college progressive organizations; he started a boycott group on Facebook; he started fake blogs reporting false stories about his client’s “outrageous behavior.” Holiday is ultimately not sorry about this, he claims, because the movie bombed anyway; that was “beyond my control.” He is sorry because less internet-savvy misognynists than Tucker Max have been victimized by “digital lynch mobs” bearing inexhaustible supplies of “snark” that will not relent “until the subject is reduced to a permanent caricature.”
“I get frantic calls from sensitive millionaires and billionaires” who have been targeted by these twenty-first century “Salem witch trials,” he writes. But he reserves his deeper sympathies for those who fail to retain his services, foolishly attempting to fend off the virtual feminazi bonerkiller squads all by themselves, such as the poor millionaire comic creator Scott Adams, he of the lament that “society is organized as a virtual prison for men’s natural desires” whereby “the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable” and other entirely reasonable sentiments that nevertheless totally inexplicably caused him to become the “victim of relentless, vitriolic attacks.” To such helpless, guileless men he offers this free advice:
If I had been advising Adams, I would have told him that you lived by the sword of online attention, and now you may have to die by it. In other words, I wold tell him to bend over and take it. And then I’d apologize. I’d tell him the whole system is broken and evil, and I’m sorry it’s attacking him.
And that is, for the most part, the thrust of Holiday’s argument (if it can be called that) against…the internet and all who partake in its content: that helpless plutocrats and multinational corporations (Google, Toyota, etc.) are being defamed, extorted and held hostage by uncontrollable mobs of snark-weilding commenters. And while he doesn’t know quite what to do about it, he’s sorry. Not simply because he possesses such limitless empathy for rich guys, either, no. The more important reason than the hurt feelings of individual rich rape apologists Holiday states for regretting whatever it is he regrets is that fabricated news of the sort he manufactured “for companies doing good things (selling great books, selling clothes made in America)” could be used for less virtuous purposes. For instance:
In 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney leaked bogus information to an attention-hungry reporter for the New York Times, and then mentioned his own leak on Meet the Press to help convince us to invade Iraq. “There’s a story in the New York Times this morning, and I want to attribute the Times,” Cheney said, citing himself.
Now, if not for this paragraph I probably would not have bothered bringing up the rather amusing frequency with which the name “Edward Jay Epstein” pops up throughout Trust Me, I’m Lying. Epstein’s glowing testimonial to Holiday’s “absolutely brilliant expose” is the very first blurb printed on the very first page of the book; the young strategist writes at the end that he “followed in [Epstein’s] footsteps for this book at almost every turn” and that having “the privilege of meeting [Epstein] recently…only increased my advocacy for his methods.” But since the kid had the temerity to bring up Dick Cheney’s dumb war, I looked up the transcript from the Meet the Press mentioned here, and lo and behold, here’s the other big reason the veep gave Tim Russert the morning of September 8, 2002 for plunging into that particular trillion dollar quagmire:
And there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years. We’ve seen in connection with the hijackers, of course, Mohamed Atta, who was the lead hijacker, did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions. And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center. The debates about, you know, was he there or wasn’t he there, again, it’s the intelligence business.
My thoughts about American Apparel, and I spent an inordinate amount of time having them while clearing its dressing rooms and manning its cash registers in 2005 and 2006, invariably boil down to two lingering mysteries. The first is why Dov Charney started a company that might have stood as a shining testament to American possibility only to so quickly debase himself and everyone involved by converting it all into the aforementioned “permanent caricature” of a quintessentially post-millennial strain of insidiously “consensual” exploitation; why, in other words, he built an enterprise that paid real people living wages to make real things only to decide it would be cooler if he just infantilized, dehumanized and deceived workers like everyone else. The second is how an enterprise that is managed about as professionally/legitimately as the Iraq occupation under L. Paul Bremer actually stays in business. But perhaps the knowledge that the company can count among its champions the likes of Edward Jay Epstein can illuminate both mysteries.
Who cares what fucking bloggers are saying, after all, when you can count on the New York Review of Books to assassinate the reputation of the next nobody you sexually assault?