Monday, January 30, 2006

If It's January, It Must be a Literary Hoax (J.T. LeRoy, James Frey and Nasdijj)

I've refrained from blogging on the James Frey debacle. Frankly, I'm getting tired of hearing about it--and about the unmasking of J.T. LeRoy, another novelist who perpetrated a hoax on his/her reading public. Over the weekend, a friend asked if I were going to blog about either scandal, and I laughingly said, "Not until God tells me to."

I opened this morning's Publishers Lunch and there was yet another item about yet another writer fraud. Okay, God, I hear you. I'm blogging.

Before we start, I'll admit up front: I'm a cynic. It probably started when I was a kid. One of our neighbors supplemented her income by writing for the "True" magazines. I was both fascinated and appalled. "How can you send them a story that's not true?" I asked in all my youthful naivete.

Her answer--echoed years later by a writing coach--was "Sweetie, in the entire history of the world, I'm sure this story happened to someone, somewhere, some time."

Thus began my career as a cynic. I'm the doubting Thomasina, always looking for the "big lie" in stories that sound too good to be true. I don't watch reality television--EVER. It's an oxymoron. Reality television. Give me a break. I'd rather watch an "honest" episode of CSI where they get DNA results back in a half hour. At least, CSI admits it's fiction up front.

When a friend tried to explain the premise of the show "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance" to me, I spoiled her spiel by saying, "Okay, so she has to convince her family she's really in love with this guy and is gonna marry him in three days? How does she explain all the television cameras following them around?"

I tried to read the copy of "A Million Little Pieces" that a friend loaned me. Didn't make it all the way through. I guess I've spent too much time with druggies and alcoholics. For four years, I worked in a hospital emergency room and another three on a mobile crisis team. To quote House on the television show of the same name, "All patients lie." God knows, I've been lied to by experts: twelve-year-olds with angel faces and sixty-year-old grandmothers with tears in their eyes. I never asked, "Do you do drugs?" I asked, "What drugs do you do?" Invariably, the person I was interviewing admitted to doing a little weed. It wasn't until the tox screen came back that we'd hear about the coke, ecstasy and prescription pain pills.

Frey just wasn't believable. He sounded more antisocial than addict. Just a wee bit too gleeful, arrogant, prideful, whatever you want to call it.

We've had three big literary scandals this month:

**James Frey uncovered by The Smoking Gun on 1/8 here--

**J.T. LeRoy uncovered by the New York Times on 1/9 here--

**Nasdijj uncovered by the The Book Standard on 1/25 here--

I think this says more about the level of titillation we, the reading audience, demand from our books than it does about the general level of honesty in the world today. Everything has to be bigger than before; more exciting than previously; more dangerous than we've ever seen. Why should we be surprised to find that the media provides what we demand?

When I was a child, the only "reality television" we had were those awful wrestling shows that my three brothers adored. I'd argue until I was blue that those shows were phony, staged, not real--all to no avail. Today's reality television is the natural offshot of that earlier nonsense. When we accept as "real" the families that are swapping and the bachelors proposing to strangers, we have no one else to blame but ourselves. When we make these shows our preferred television watching, we get what we deserve.

Until we start rewarding the quiet heroes instead of the shallow Paris Hiltons of the world, we're going to get more books and more shows where "reality" is just another word for "entertainment."

Just musing . . .


Sherrill Quinn said...

You preach it, sista. I have not watched one single episode of any "reality" show and I'm not ashamed to say so. Watching TV for me is the same as reading a book -- I want to escape reality, not watch/read someone else's version of it.

For The Trees said...

Watching TV - other than 60 Minutes - is an agony for me. I tend to suspend disbelief very easily (I'm always daydreaming, coming up with strange stories, go figure) and get swept up in the program. It's like falling into another world. Then the commercials pop in and destroy the whole mood. I have to get up and leave the room.

Movies are worse - fathomless pits of other worlds. I can chew ALL my nails off in the first twenty minutes of a very tense film. Or cry my ass off at a sad one. I really get into it.

So I have to forego the watching. I'd rather let my imagination run free.

Sadly enough, I've heard TV compared to the Circuses of Ancient Rome - a pacifier for the masses. Egad, how right that analogy is. Distract them from the fruitless wars, and feed them pap. Can you believe Michael Jackson dominated the entire media machine in America for all that time? What a waste. For God's Sake, ignore the mess in Congress...

OOPS. Sorry about the diatribe.