Twitter Feed White Girl Problems Becomes a Book: Authors on Babe Walker
“You look like you’re from the Midwest.” “Casey Anthony will burn in hell for wearing a pink, ruffled top on national television.” “Osama’s been dead to me for a long time.” “I wish I could unfuck you.” This is White Girl Problems, the anonymous Twitter feed that has, for the last two years, been a source of pithy meditations on being rich, jaded, and extremely bored. The account, which came to life in March 2010, now has almost 700,000 followers and has developed into a household name. It is, perhaps, the original Shit Girls Say.
Now, White Girl Problems will become a book, out Tuesday, authored by Babe Walker, a fictionalized rich girl who personifies the Twitter account’s unique combination of apathy and total excess.
The real writers of White Girl Problems couldn’t be more different from their protagonist. There’s Tanner Cohen, a 25-year-old actor who lives in Brooklyn and wears one hand painted with gray nail polish; David Oliver Cohen, his 31-year-old brother, who is married with a kid; and Lara Schoenhals, 27, a former production assistant from Oklahoma City. Together they’re the voice of Babe, a motherless Bel-Air princess who speaks West African dialect to her Jamaican nanny, winds up in rehab for a shopping addiction ($200,000 on a single trip to Barneys!), shit-talks her therapist, and says things like “I hate my horse.”
Essentially, Babe is horrible. Rude, spoiled, stuck up, and yet strangely addictive, like a slow-motion train wreck you can’t help but watch. In a way, she’s a hybrid of the detestable heroines that have defined the last decade in film and TV: the same penchant for one-liners as Cher Horowitz from Clueless; Carrie Bradshaw’s insatiable hunger for designer clothes; Serena and Blair’s love of boy drama and a good party, the blissful oblivion of the Kardashians; the crying-over-spilled-milk attitude shared by all of the Real Housewives.
“Our book is a culmination of this moment in pop culture that celebrates women who have a lot of money, a lot of shit to bitch about—but no real reason to be unhappy,” says Schoenhals. “Unless they’re Taylor Armstrong. Her problems are real problems. They’re not even White Girl Problems. They’re just Taylor Armstrong problems.” She laughs to herself. “That’s the Twitter account I’ll be starting next: “@TaylorArmstrongProblems.”
Over the course of a meal with Schoenhals and the Cohen brothers, “Babe” is talked about not only as if she were a real person—she’s referred to as the fourth friend in their clique who simply couldn’t make it to lunch. “She’d be eating at that table,” Schoenhals says. “Her back would be turned to us, and she would get the butter lettuce and tomato salad—no croutons, no shallots, no vinaigrette. One tomato.”
Although they all know WBWD—What Babe Would Do—Lara orders a burger because “everyone has been raving about it,” and because “I’m at the place in my life where I’m really craving a cheeseburger.” Both Cohens choose salads with grilled chicken. “That burger is going on record,” Tanner warns, eyeing my tape recorder.
White Girl Problems began innocently enough in the spring of 2010, when Tanner tweeted something banal and knowingly spoiled, labeling it with the hashtag “#WhiteGirlProblems.” His friends thought it was funny, so he created the Twitter account White Girl Problems, and shared access with Dave and Lara. It quickly picked up steam. The actress Emma Roberts retweeted it; followers streamed in. They experimented with different voices, “an older woman, a lesbian, a college girl, even a baby White Girl Problems,” and began taking note of which kinds of tweets had the most traction with followers. “It was an opportunity to use Twitter as a workshop of what was working,” Dave says. “Slowly, the tweets became this post-college, what-the-fuck-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life kind of girl.”
It wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling. The authors met with a range of TV executives, all interested in optioning the Twitter feed—or turning it into a TV show. But they all asked the same question: “What makes Babe likable?” To the writers, Babe’s likability wasn’t important. “That’s not why the book works, that’s not why the Twitter works,” Dave says. “It works because she’s Larry David in a way. She’s got everything she wants, and she doesn’t give a fuck what anybody thinks about her. That’s why you like her: because you want to be her.”
Tanner chips in: “You like her because she’s not likable and she doesn’t care. And we would all love to be that way.”
“The only reason people are nice is because they’re worried people are going to think they’re not nice,” Dave says.
And then—as if Babe finally had arrived at lunch, fashionably late—Tanner adds: “The only reason people are nice is because they’re poor.” Everyone laughs. The brothers look at Lara. “Lara? You gonna top it?” Dave eggs. “No presh.” Then everyone looks at me. “This is how we work.”
It may be unconventional work, but at the end of the day, making up a spoof Twitter account with your friends and landing a book deal is pretty damn fun. The book took the three writers four months to write; they each wrote a chapter a week and then edited each other’s pages to hone a singular voice. There were, of course, challenges. “With three people there are going to be problems sometimes,” Lara says. “But on the flip side, you always have people to share the work and the success and the humor.”
Babe now has her own blog, where the writers have been promoting the book, weighing in on pop culture, and answering questions from readers. “Dear Babe,” one reader writes. “My mom has this rule of NO dating until college, that also includes no dances. Is this stupid or what? Any advice how to get this idea OUT OF HER HEAD?!?!” Babe replies: “Dear Horny, Moms are always gonna do stupid things to their daughters. It’s the nature of being maternal. The truth of the matter is that your mom has made her decision, and the more you fight her, the more rigid she’ll be. So here’s what you’re going to do: become a lesbian.”
Naturally Babe’s views are controversial, and it’s clear that the writers enjoy the safety of anonymity the pseudonym affords them. When I objected to Babe’s scathing post on the hit TV show Downton Abbey, “Downton Who Gives a Fuck,” Tanner rushed to her defense. “But Downton is boring!” he insists. “I mean, I’m bored of Downton!” Then, sheepishly, he admits: “I wrote that one.”
Like Larry David or Ramona Singer on their respective shows, the success of White Girl Problems: The Book will rely on Babe’s ability to offend her readers—but not so much so that they start to hate her. “Babe is a character very much like the people in Clueless or Mean Girls,” says Lara. “But underneath all that, [the book] is subversive and making fun of the girls on The Hills and Sex and the City and Real Housewives. There’s an element of “Ha ha, we’re all in on this joke together.” Dave interjects: “At the end of the day, we’re comedy writers,” he says. “We’re not Babe Walker.”