Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion -Jia Tolentino published by 4th Estate (£14.99)

“I want to be seen here in my simple, natural, ordinary fashion, without straining or artifice, for it is myself that I portray. My defects will here be read to the life, and also my natural form as far as respect for the public has allowed. Had I been placed among those nations which are said to live still in sweet freedom of nature’s first laws, I assure you I should very gladly have portrayed myself here entire and wholly naked.”

Michel de Montaigne

“It’s hard…to keep one’s illusions about anything in Paris. Everything is taxed, everything is sold, everything is manufactured, even success”

[Balzac/Hunt, 1837/1971: Lost Illusions

“There are some persons who may do anything; they may behave totally irrationally, anything becomes them, and it is who shall be first to justify their conduct; then, on the other hand, there are those on whom the world is unaccountably severe, they must do everything well, they are not allowed to fail nor to make mistakes, at their peril they do anything foolish”

[Balzac/Hunt, 1837/1971: Lost Illusions

“These are the prisms through which I have come to know myself. I tried to undo their acts of refraction.”

Jia Tolentino

A staff writer for the New Yorker since 2016, Jia Tolentino’s book is a collection of sophisticated, semi-insightful, and well-written essays on subjects including religion, drugs, feminism, the cult of the difficult woman, and the Internet.

While not quite at Michel de Montaigne’s intellectual level, Tolentino mirrors his attempt to understand the world. She joins a growing number of young women writing about their experiences. Some have done a better job than others.[1] 

What sets this book apart from the rest is Tolentino’s attempt to place her own life and the subject matter she writes about in a social, economic and political context. It must be said that it has become unfashionable to do such a thing. While certainly not a Marxist, and unless I am mistaken, Tolentino has not read Karl Marx but does have a certain amount of intuitive insight. Also, she highlights the relationship between base and superstructure on a very limited basis.

As Marx beautifully wrote, “men (and women) inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework in which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.”[2]

Perhaps one of the most interesting essays concentrates on the huge number of scams that are now part and parcel of capitalist society.  The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams: presents a damning indictment of capitalist society. While concentrating on a few obvious scams, Tolentino ignores a large number of prominent scams, which could probably fill another book. It would be interesting to see her thoughts on economic cons like the Wirecard Scam, which shows the true nature of capitalism. As Peter Schwarz writes, “the political establishment and the media are trying to portray the Wirecard scandal either as the result of the machinations of a brilliant impostor or the failure of state institutions, which can be corrected by some administrative changes. Wirecard is not some terrible lapse but shows the true face of capitalism in the 21st century. The accumulation of wealth and assets has completely detached itself from the real economy for a long time. The result is unprecedented social polarisation and the criminalisation of all sectors of the capitalist economy.”[3]

Another scam left out of the book is that of the so-called “romance scams”.[4]In 2020 I wrote a series of articles on one aspect of this nasty scam which has conned many people out of millions. After two years of research, certain things can be said to warn others. The first job of a scammer who proliferates the various online dating sites is to get their prey off the original dating website and onto sites such as Gmail and WhatsApp. Gmail is a favourite hunting ground for your African scammers. It is a simple scam.

They send you a picture of a gorgeous voluptuous woman usually lifted from a porn site. Most men think, yum, I am in here. They don’t ask why this beautiful 25-year-old woman would have anything to do with a balding middle-aged man. Unperturbed most men would want to see this hot girl on video chat. This is the first part of the scam. To see this beautiful woman, you need to purchase an Amazon card or other such items for them to get an internet connection for the video call. When they finally agree to your demand to see them in the flesh, you do not see the beautiful young thing in the flesh, but a rather clumsy video these amateurs have somehow managed to upload onto Gmail. On one occasion, I could see the real person behind the scam as his hand slipped, revealing his real identity. Suffice to say; he was not a gorgeous blonde woman.

The second great scam not touched upon in the book centres on the launch of the Facebook dating app in 2019. This free dating app was a means by which Facebook sought to promote the launch of its own digital currency Meta. Facebook is riddled with fake profiles. In the first quarter of 2022, Facebook removed 1.6 billion fake accounts. This is down from 1.7 billion in the previous quarter. In 2019, in one quarter alone 2.2 billion counterfeit bills were removed.

Their dating app was full of fake profiles, and these people were allowed to act with impunity by Meta. The few that were real promoted the use of cryptocurrency. Many counterfeit profiles, although not all, came from China, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

These gorgeous-looking Asian women were not interested in dating. They used Facebook to lure punters into a Cryptocurrency scam. They would take your money, saying they will invest it in Cryptocurrency. The reality is that they take the money and run along with their uncles. It was amazing that all these girls had fantastic relatives willing to help others get rich. When yours truly threatened to report these scammers, he was on the receiving end of some very nasty death threats and one ugly video threatening DECAPITATION. Facebook turned a blind eye to the whole scam. After all, a significant number of these Asian scammers were promoting Facebook’s digital currency, Meta. We all know how that turned out.

Some of the strongest pieces in Trick Mirror deal with the commodification of the self or, to be more precise, the commodification of sex. Jia Tolentino writes in the book that “commerce has filtered into our identities and relationships.”

To her credit, Tolentino is critical of sites like Tik Tok and Instagram, whose main purpose seems to make money out of a large number of scantily clad men and women shaking their bits. To be brutally honest, sites like Tik Tok are nothing more than glorified soft pornography.

Pornography, as Emanuele Saccarelli so perceptively writes, “is the commodification of sexual relations; a more modern, sanitised, impersonal, and therefore more peculiarly bourgeois form of prostitution. Instead of accepting the moralistic posturing of the defenders of the status quo, one must consider the possibility that, far from being a perverse deviation from the dominant values of a capitalist society, pornography might, in fact, be the most logical and limpid translation of bourgeois values into the sexual sphere. Acts and relations that are natural and spontaneous are turned into commodities to be purchased and sold.”[5]

While it is wrong to over-generalise about Tik Tok, there appears to be a significant connection between the sexy videos on the platform and outright prostitution. While researching dating sites, one girl offered to have sex with me if I paid her £300. This was very tempting given that she was a gorgeous Brazilian beauty. Her main mistake was to give me her real name and photo. I did a title and image search on Google. Low and behold, it turns out that aside from having a loud voice, she has 2.6m followers on Tik Tok. Apart from making money as an influencer, she was a part-time hooker earning £300 for two hours of work. A case of life imitating art or art imitating life I am not sure which.

There is not much point in recommending this book as it has already sold many copies. It is worth reading and is packed with a significant number of essays that require further reading. Tolentino could have done with a little more study of academic papers on her chosen subjects, and the scams she chooses, while interesting only scratch the surface of the criminality of life under capitalism.

Further Reading

Pornocracy Generalized: Fetishizing the Body and Selling the Process as Empowerment-Fouad Mami-

A comment on the viral TikTok “Devious Licks” trend-Renae Cassimeda

6 October 2021-

[1] See -A Lot of Sex But Not Much Revolution-Unmastered:-Katherine Angel 10.99 Paperback 368 Pages / Published: 03/07/2014- See Also: My Body by Emily Ratajkowski’s-Hardcover – November 9 2021-A Quercus publication.

[2] Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy



[5] A comment on Boogie Nights- 

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