Oh No / Oh My (A Collection of Emails) by Kseniya Yarosh
Catalog Number (M-KY01-ON01)
Anonymity is one of the tools that has always been available to zine writers, but it has seen far less use in the 21st century. The internet having become a far more potent place to anonymously release ideas or content . Which has lead many modern zine writers to instead cultivate their specific identity as a way to enhance the more personal reach zines can have. In a world where identities can be created and shed with ease online, what happens when a person with a fixed identity encounters a group of people whose identities are more liquid?
Yarosh examine this dissonance in Oh No / Oh My by publishing a series of emails she received in response to Craigslist W4M ads she posted between 2005 and 2008. And while the identities of the responders are frequently redacted, one begins to question how real the projected personas actually are. Which emails to Yarosh are sincere,”do not suicide please!!!” And which are merely performance of what the responder believes that Yarosh wants to hear? Are the responders not aware of how unappealing they are presenting themselves in their email? Such as the mohawked “Paul” whose favorite song (“Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure) just came on and if your wondering if he’s on the dope, “the answer of course, is yes”. Or are they so convinced of their own self worth, “I saw a movie at the angelika once. the screen sucked. I think I’m an interesting stranger.” to the point of delusion?
Many of men responding pay no attention to the details outline in Yarosh’s personal ads. Multiple times she states that she is looking for someone “between the ages of 19-26.”. Still, she receives a response from a man that claim to be “a quite young 55 but please do not let that scare you.”, an email written in all caps and bereft of periods that ends “OH, AND BY THE WAY, I AM 35,” and a man who claims to be “on the upside of 40,” and send a picture of his son Andrew instead of himself. Several replies seem less a conversation and more a soap box for the responders issues with women. “Have I imposed an awful question. Have I gone against your plans,” asks one responder. One potential suitor’s only requirement is that Yarosh not, “be predictable. If I know what your going to say next, I don’t need to hear you say it.” Multiple responders discuss their relationship woes, “we were all in some open relationship that i was always totally uncomfortable with,” writes one in his introductory email. One cuts to the chase and make his entire response, “nasty nose.”
Does the less personal connection of the internet inherently imply that the connections made there need be less personal? In one of her W4M ads, Yarosh explicitly states, “Like many decent-looking 20-something gals, I could get a lay, should I really want one; the point is that it’s not my goal.” And while Yarosh is consistent in her message that, “I am not looking to_hook_up but I am seeking some interesting company in exchange for the same,” This does little to stop the blatant sexual responses, “im a good fun guy… maybe i can become your slave / lover,” she receives. Other replies function as a laundry list of details the responders believe will sway Yarosh or any other woman they send a likely identical list to. Who could resist the charms of “Bill”, who claims he is “romantic, erotic, love to tease & be teased & make a woman see colors she never knew existed,” especially when he lets Yarosh know he is ” very well endowed… 8 1/2” when hard as a rock.”? Or Chris, who not only has, “good hygiene, grooming and manners,” but is also, “Not pushy, or a user.”
When our bachelors are not trying to overwhelm Yarosh with their stunning personalities, “I HAVE GREAT FAMILY VALUES, I LOVE TO LAUGH AND BE FUNNY,” they make moves to seduce her with their romantic charm. But the romantic gestures all fall into the trap of being a man’s idea of what a woman would construe as romance, as learned from television and movies. It is difficult not to superiorly snicker at the men who send cell phone pictures of a single rose, or the poet who sends reams of poetry about how “She makes me smile, And she understands.” We see a slight variation on the sensitive lover trope in guise of the tortured artist archetype. One young man writes, “I continuously write screenplays. None that I think warrant acknowledgment… I drink smoke and do bad things that will most likely kill be by the time im 37.” While another Byron-esque suitor writes, “I act / appear as a double sized wide eyed kid, think maybe not growing up is the most grown up thing someone can do, but have too passed through pain, fathomed darkness for 5 years… Don’t let the wicked keep you down.” Not interesting enough for you? There is also the ironic cool of the “tall nerd” who is into “mustaches, monkeys, midgets,” but very against “girls in andre the giant shirts.”
Yarosh prefaces the zine by saying that the “it is not my goal to mock or ridicule, but rather to illustrate some don’ts of online correspondence in an amusing way.” But despite her intentions a majority of the zine seems to do just the opposite. The men are all trying overly hard in a way that comes off as insincere and self serving. They ignore the interesting parts of Yarosh’s personality; quirky, intelligent zine writer in her 20’s seeking an equal who is “boyish but mature, intelligent but social, sweet but with enough edge to make a dark joke.” Instead focusing only on the fact that she is female and thus a potentially obtainable object. They are the “Oh No’s” from the title. Which leaves the “Oh My’s unaccounted for.
The few fellows who don’t set off creep alarms are by and large the younger men. Those who respond to Yarosh and tell her, “i think that you are really awesome, soely based on what i just read on craigslist.” Or those who, “like your tasteful and understated use of html bold.” The responders who engage with Yarosh’s identity as outlined in her W4M ads instead of primarily blasting their own identity as if it where a resume or a carnival barker’s spiel are the ones that best endear themselves to the reader. These are also the boys who respond in ways that appropriately match the things Yarosh is looking for in a potential match. In words that almost echo the initial W4M ad, Paul responds “I’m looking for someone I can click with, talk and not talk with, do things with, someone who has things to say and values the things I have to say.”
So for all the “don’ts” of online dating seen in this ‘zine, the most prevalent “do” seems to be presenting yourself as full human being instead of a commercial product and treating the recipient of your advances as equal parts complete human being.
- Robin Enrico