Saturday, January 14, 2006
Steaming Piles of It
Sometimes the first image is the best. (See Google roulette and guess which word.)
You've heard that joke where a guy has to pick out his place in hell, and he finds a room with people standing hip deep in stinking offal, but they're smoking and laughing and having cocktails, so it seems tolerable? And then, of course, as soon as he's picked his room for eternity, the devil says "Break's over! Go back to your headstands!"
What if some of those people kept smiling even as their heads went under? They're ready for Frey. Sigh.
There is a schism that has evolved, or maybe it's just becoming more evident, between those who salute James Frey's artistry and "emotional truths" about addiction and recovery, and those who think lying about your life, then lying about your lying while pandering to the distressed and addicted with false and misleading tales of personal recovery and potential isn't a nice thing to do. Not a virtue to be rewarded with a pat on the head for the precocious boy. From Frey's own lips on Larry King Live, usually the most cashmere-cuddly of all possible interrogative forums, we know that Frey and his agents knew the difference, because they tried selling the novel as a novel, and got multiple rejections before changing it into that irresistable entity, the isn't-true-life-more-amazing-than-fiction story.
Patti Davis, Reagan's daughter, has written a blubbering Newsweek article where she hopes we'll all give Frey a break, because she knows what he's going through although her experience is actually rather different. I felt the same way when the 9/11 families held yet another gathering and press conference to sidecar on West Virginia's mining tragedy. Gross. And self-absorbed. And gross.
If you're wondering, Frey deserves this exemption from accountability because he's got carpal tunnel, no wait, he hears voices, no wait, because no, because yea, because- as Jake Blues pleads with the murderous fiancee he abandoned at the altar:
"No I didn't. Honest... I ran out of gas. I, I had a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts. IT WASN'T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD."
She believed him. Again.
The real reason Patti Davis cites is the power of Frey's descriptions of addiction which she believes requires personal experience to recount. Of course, there are no other good writers out there, the world is experiencing writer scarcity. We must cherish any deceitful crap we can get, because THERE AREN'T ANY OTHER GOOD WRITERS WHO DEAL WITH ADDICTION IN THEIR WRITING, except half the folks with MFAs and a lot of people writing noir. Of course, nowhere is it mentioned that Frey may have "borrowed" the vividness of these experiences from dead junkie Eddie Little's novel, whose survivors will get none of the royalties or celebrity the living Frey and his family enjoy, just the pain of suffering a beloved's disintegration.
As John Dolan writes in Exile (link above): Compare outcomes: Little paid for his knowledge of junkie-dom and died a junkie's death; Frey stole Little's scars, tears and knowledge, skipped the weird stuff and sold you a cut-and-paste tale of tears ending with redemption, a hymn with a lot of curse words to cut the treacly taste. That's a classic H-wood trick, you know: when a screenwriter doesn't know the streety world he's trying to write, he just puts in a "fuck" every three words. It's cheap spraypaint local color, and the suckers don't mind as long as they get that fake happy ending, that Kenny Rogers redemption, at the end.
University Diaries, who draws the comparison between truly persecuted writers in the foreign world and a wealthy man caught in his own publicity trap, has put it aptly and critiqued Patti Davis' writerly critique to boot. Apparently MoDo, who's in the payhole where I can't see her, also votes for truth. I'm not sure our agreement on this topic is a first, but if it is, what better thing to agree upon?
For me, part of reclaiming a culture of independent thinkers and lives means that offense and hurt feelings don't trump reason and law and civility. Calling Frey's lies an "emotional truth" is part of the fashionable, '70s era cultural subterfuge that pretends we're just all too Shrodinger's-cat iffy about the difference between facts and fakery, and we definitely can't call people on their B.S., because it might make widdle tears weak out of their wittle, wying eyes. There are things in this crazy world that are subject to interpretation and perspective. Jail time ain't one.
So while on Big Brother, elected official George Galloway purrs in Rula Lenska's lap and licks her hands like the good kitty he's pretending to be (seriously- check the video at the Daily Ablution), I feel perfectly fine saying that the things some people will do to become rich and famous are so degraded and unscrupulous, I'd cross the street to avoid sharing even NYC's urine-bedaubed and sh**-stained pavements with them. Not because I'm better than they are, but consorting with such trash can only make what's bad in me worse.