The Bad Art Friend

by Phalen Halloran

About a month ago, The New York Times published an article by Robert Kolker entitled “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?” and achieved the impossible: making me care about literary drama. The story starts with Dawn Dorland, an aspiring writer who, in 2015, made the decision to donate her kidney to a stranger. For some reason, Dorland then adds her friends, families, and acquaintances to a Facebook group to talk about her kidney donation. Then, A YEAR LATER, she noticed that one of her writer “friends” (notice the quotation marks), Sonya Larson, wasn’t engaging with the posts made to the Facebook group. So, like any other rationally minded adult, Dorland emailed Larson to remind her about her kidney donation. The issue is seemingly laid to rest as Larson placates Dorland with compliments about her generosity. Then, Dorland finds out that Larson published a story about a kidney donation that features a character who desperately needs praise for donating her kidney to a stranger, and the main character refuses to give it to her. Sound familiar? After this, all hell breaks loose. Lawsuits are filed, group chats are subpoenaed, book festivals are boycotted, and writer twitter is taken by storm.  

You may ask me, “Phelan, why are you writing an article about an article? Why does this even matter?” To that, I say, my dearest reader, what makes me so invested in this story is that it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s because I’m a messy bitch that I’m so fascinated by this story; in fact, it probably is. But something about stupid drama between two parties in a community in which I have absolutely no stake just fuels my soul. Sure, you can make some arguments about performative acts of charity, creative licensing–or however else you want to look at the situation–but at the end of the day, the Bad Art Friend is a story about two grown women making a series of the most insane decisions ever. I refuse to engage in the critical analysis of a story where one of the parties involved earnestly says, “I left that conference with this question: Do writers not care about my kidney donation?” That sentence alone is fine art and deserves to be framed and displayed in the Louvre.  

I think that all of this critical analysis of the Bad Art Friend story is getting lost in the metaphorical sauce. Dorland created what was essentially an online hostage situation by making a Facebook group to talk about donating her kidney. Dorland was so incensed by Larson’s lack of interest and engagement that she confronted her via email. Larson responds by writing a short story that blatantly mocks Dorland. Dorland filed a lawsuit, and THEY SUBPOENAED THE GROUP CHAT LARSON USED TO TALK SHIT IN. Like, is that not the most insane and terrifying thing that you’ve heard of today? Imagine, for a moment, The New York Times exposing your group chat to its over 8 million readers. But I digress. Maybe my investment in the Bad Art Friend story speaks more about me than about the situation. Maybe I am the Bad Art Friend, reveling in the very complicated drama between two individuals whom I do not personally know and have no real connection with. Maybe you are the Bad Art Friend for reading this article about an article that has nothing interesting to say. Or maybe, just maybe, the real Bad Art Friend was the terrible decisions we made along the way. 

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