aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Thursday, January 12, 2006
OSLO, Jan. 8 - On the first day of this year - and in the teeth of strenuous opposition from many Norwegian businessmen - Norway’s leftist government put into effect one of the more radical attempts to achieve sexual equality: requiring that in the next two years 40 percent of the board members of the nation’s large, publicly traded private companies be women.
“The government’s decision is to see to it that women will have a place where the power is, where leadership takes place in this society,” Karita Bekkemellem, Norway’s minister of children and equality, said in an interview here.
“This is very forceful affirmative action, but it will set an example for other centers of society,” she said.
Sullivan on King on Frey
About the best television I’ve seen in forever. Last night, Larry King interviewed James Frey, author of factually-challenged best-selling “memoir”, “A Million Little Pieces.” First off, you have the spectacle of a public person insisting that he did too do lots of crack and spend months in jail and so on and so forth. Then you have a website that usually exposes the lurid pasts of public people actually exonerating the guy, and depicting him as a nice middle-class boy, struggling with addiction. Then it dawns on you that all this will only help sales of the book. Then Larry King brings up the Jerzy Kosinski controversy as an analogy, Frey demurs, and then Larry reminds Frey that Kosiniski was so ashamed he killed himself. Then Frey’s mom shows up, and we watch mortified as this woman is asked to pick between her love for her son and his obvious deceptions. And then, just when you think it can’t get any weirder ... God descends. Oprah’s on the phone, and claims she was ringing for ages but couldn’t get through.
The Smoking Gun stresses how the graphic, four-letter, vomit-saturated nature of the book makes it not the usual Oprah fare, but Oprah and her disciples have no problem with rough stuff as long as the sinner or victim find a rainbow of redemption at the end of the alley. They wanted to believe the worst in the book because it made for a steeper arc of ascension. That’s my problem with the whole victim-survivor literary genre, apart from the iffiness of accepting anyone’s memory as an accurate account of events that happened ten, twenty years ago. (Memories blur and blend and are reshaped by the rememberer into the narrative of his or her life that s/he have adopted. People incorporate things that happened, things that didn’t happen, things they wish had happened, and things that happened to someone else into a too-smooth storyline in which everyone’s character is fixed, except the sensitive narrator’s.) I’m just automatically suspicious of every tale of woe that’s peddled as a tale of redemption. The whole concept of redemption seems fishy to me, another form of sentimentality. How many people do you know have found redemption? What does “redemption” really mean? It’s got a lofty religious sound, but the vast majority of people improve or worsen in varying degrees over time, and even those who radically turn their lives around or pull themselves out of the abyss still have to go on doing the mundane things we all do, often suffering relapses or channeling their sobriety and sadder-but-wiser maturity into passive-aggressive preening of their own moral goodness. Most change for better or worse is undramatic, incremental, seldom revealed in a blinding flash or expressed in a climactic moment of heroic resolve.
I read and I quote this in the context of my thoughts on a return to the oral tradition and my statement that I don’t mind the loss of technical accuracy. Wouldn’t that mean I have no problem with Frey?
I agree with Wolcott’s observations of people and their memories, but I believe the template for modern exaggeration and embellishment - the place where we learn to construct those too-smooth storylines - is fed by our national media. Our tales are just a variation on the theme of what good producers and writers do too; including non-fiction writers and news and documentary producers.
I read nothing but non-fiction and have watched more than my fair share of non-fiction television and I am aware of how stories are constructed and colored and how some facts are chosen to be included and others left out. Some facts must be but you’d leave out different ones than me and I think it’s good and legitimate and reasonable for an individual to have the opportunity when telling their own story to put their own version of their history out there too.
But back to Frey. He is not a function of the oral tradition I praise. Rather, his tale of woe was bought and peddled by publishers and sold to all of us by the modern media machine. He fits into this observation because he is a consequence of the “objective” and now the “balanced” press tradition, not the oral history tradition.
If more of us - why not all of us? - had the opportunity to tell our own stories, listeners would learn how to put them in the context Wolcott describes, and appreciate the stories for it. And, too, when we’re the tellers of our stories, tell them with an authentic voice rather than an exaggerated one that cries out for attention. And book sales.
Redemption my a@#!
What crap! Frey and Oprah on Larry King:
KING: Did you, frankly, embellish a criminal past?
FREY: I mean, Larry, I’ve acknowledged I’ve changed things. I acknowledged to the Smoking Gun that I changed things. I think you get into a very sticky situation, where on one hand they’re posting documents saying that I was an alleged cocaine dealer, and they match up pretty closely with what I’m talking about, and on the other hand—and they post two mugshots of at least two events where I’ve been arrested, and on the other hand, they say that I’m a lily-white kid from the suburbs. You know, I had a very, very troubled past.
But the primary focus of the book is not crime. The primary focus of the book is drug addiction and alcoholism, and that’s why the book takes place in a treatment center. You know, it’s a book about getting better, you know. It’s a book about dealing with problems. It’s book about redemption and pain and family.
Claiming that lies are ok becuase of the redemption tale is the worst part. Lying is redemption? But even worse than that is his particular lie that he recovered from addiction without the twelve steps and so has particular authority to bash them.
Then there’s Oprah:
FREY: Hi, Oprah.
WINFREY: I wanted to say because everyone’s been asking me to release a statement. I first wanted to hear what James had to say and I didn’t want to have that colored by any personal conversation that I had. [...]
So the truth is this. I read and recommend books based on my connection with the written word and its message. And, of course, I am disappointed by this controversy surrounding “A Million Little Pieces,” because I rely on the publishers to define the category that a book falls within and also the authenticity of the work. [Ah, it’s the publisher’s fault!]
So, I’m just like everybody else. I go to the bookstore. I pick out a book I love. If it says memoir, I know that—that maybe the names and dates and the times have been compressed, because that’s what a memoir is. [It doesn’t say “memoir."]
And I feel about “A Million Little Pieces” that although some of the facts have been questioned [ARE DEMONSTRABLY AND ADMITTEDLY FALSE]—and people have a right to question, because we live in a country that lets you do that, that the underlying message of redemption in James Frey’s memoir still resonates with me. And I know that it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book and will continue to read this book.
And, you know, one of the things James says in the book, for all the people who are going through any kind of addiction, is to hold on. [Twelve Step says “Let Go"] And I just wanted to—you know, I have been calling this number and it’s been busy [wanna bet who’s dialing?], trying to get through to say to all those people out there who have received hope from reading this book, keep holding on, because the essence of that, I don’t doubt.
Whether or not the cars’ wheels rolled up on the sidewalk or whether he hit the police officer or didn’t hit the police officer is irrelevant to me. What is relevant is that he was a drug addict who spent years in turmoil, from the time he was 10 years old, drinking and—and tormenting himself and his parents.
And, out of that, stepped out of that history to be the [lying!] man that he is today, and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves. [Is she kidding???] That’s what’s important about this book and his story.
KING: One quick thing, Oprah. So, therefore, you hold him no ill will, have no less regard and still recommend the book?
WINFREY: Yes. Yes.
UPDATE: From Slate, “In building up a false bogeyman-the American recovery movement’s supposed reliance on the notion of “victimhood"-Frey has set himself up as the one, truth-telling savior. In fact, it seems clear that Frey would have been well-served by taking the kind of unflinchingly honest look at his own life that most recovery programs demand.”
I don’t even bother to record Nightline anymore, I miss what it used to be. Michel Martin was part of that, she’s great. It’s good to see she’s doing this:
Michel Martin‘s new afternoon-drive-time show will focus “on stories of importance to African Americans,” says NPR. Martin, a 14-year veteran of ABC, will continue to contribute to “Nightline” and “ABC News Now.”