Who is Lauren Duca?
This is the question that Scaachi Koul raises in her viral piece on the journalist published on Buzzfeed Tuesday. Koul explores Duca’s authenticity or lack thereof, juxtaposing her history as a quasi-political figure with the apparently disastrous summer class she taught at NYU called “The Feminist Journalist.” Koul explains that Duca shot to fame after publishing a viral article “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America” for Teen Vogue and then being publicly harassed and demeaned by Martin Shkreli and Tucker Carlson, respectively. Her book How To Start A Revolution, a guide for young activists, builds on Duca’s reputation as a member of the #Resistance.
On the flip side, Duca’s former students claim she was particularly mean to an ESL student. Koul also notes Duca’s book doesn’t escape the blindspots that come with being a privileged white woman. She writes “Like the work of a lot of white women in political writing, the book only fleetingly examines the intersection of race when she talks about political engagement.” When Koul pressed Duca on the accusations of her former students, Duca asked if she “would be grilling a man in this same way.”
Many readers have linked the profile of Duca with the recent viral essay on infamous influencer Caroline Calloway by her former best friend and ghostwriter Natalie Beach. Calloway gained her social media fame by documenting her time abroad at Cambridge University on Instagram, which lead to a failed book deal and an attempted “Creativity Workshop” that the article calls a “one woman Fyre Fest.” Their efforts to build Calloway’s following, Beach writes “no one would buy a memoir from a girl with no claim to fame and no fan base.” This line speaks to the deification of persona in the modern age. Being somebody worth listening requires the cultivation, not of a rich interior life, but a public self that hardens into a summarizable, reproducible personal brand. Social media fame, it seems, only makes the gap between our public and private selves larger and harder to move between.
Towards the end of her piece on Calloway, Beach explains that “Caroline was caught between who she was and who she believed herself to be, which in the end may have been the most relatable thing about her.” Like Calloway, Duca straddles these opposites. There’s Duca the brand and Duca the reality. There’s Duca the victim and Duca the alleged perpetrator of verbal cruelty.
Scrolling blearily through Twitter first thing this morning, I stumbled on this tweet by Guardian columnist Moira Donegan, which suggested that perhaps one reason that we crave articles skewering people whose public lives don’t pass muster as “authentic” is because, to varying degrees, social media forces all of us to make the same deal with the devil. On social media, we are all a little more woke, better-looking, and social. And while this performativity has become commonplace, the obsessive curation of our Internet personas can still sometimes feel like a tiny scam.
Deep down we all know what the Caroline Calloway/Lauren Duca-style takedown piece about ourselves would say.— Moira Donegan (@MoiraDonegan) September 17, 2019
In other words, we crave content about people like Caroline Calloway and Lauren Duca because they serve as cautionary tales about what happens when that rift between, as Beard puts it, between “who we are and who we believe ourselves to be” becomes impossible to reconcile.
Photo is a screenshot from Duca's appearance on The Opposition w/ Jordan Klepper
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Sophie Hayssen is a blog and newsletter editor at BUST. Her work has appeared in Rookie, Teen Vogue, and Women's Media Center. She is a born-and-raised New Yorker who currently lives in Brooklyn. You can find more of her work here.