Past examples have included Britney Spears, whose face I could proudly not have picked out of a line-up for some years. Ms. Spears's celebrity, alas, proved to be an unstoppable force that mowed down the immoveable object of my ignorance. Or something like that. But I tried, goddammit, I tried.
Likewise the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. Did I want to know what he did with that cigar? No, I did not. I really, really, really did not. For days, weeks, months, I did the visual equivalent of putting my hands over my ears and singing "LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!" every time a newspaper or website tried to sneak up on me with that particular tidbit. But to no avail. It took a while, but popular culture, she is an insidious bitch.
But I'm always optimistic about these things, which is why, when the television and internet first started muttering about one James Frey, I had high hopes that I could continue to wallow in the mire of ignorance that is my natural milieu. Ha. HA. Without ever reading an article, watching a TV report, or talking with an actual human being about Frey, here are thirteen pieces of information that have seeped into my reluctant brain via some sort of vile cultural osmosis:
- James Frey is a writer.
- He wrote a book.
- The book is called A Million Little Pieces.
- The book purported to be a non-fiction account of the life of a hardcore drug addict who made good. (All together now: "Awwwww...")
- Oprah read this book.
- Therefore millions of people bought and read this book.
- Then they all learned that the book was made up.
- Everyone got mad.
- Oprah got really mad.
- Oprah invited Frey on to her show and scolded him.
- He gave some excuses.
- Oprah is still mad.
- More books were sold.
I mean, I could analyze this scenario in detail and go on and on about how, on one hand, what Frey (and quite possibly his publisher; what role did they have in this?) did was dishonest, but how, on the other hand, it was understandable that they did it given that, these days, non-fiction is flying off the shelves faster than fiction.
And then I could go back to the fact that marketing this book as non-fiction was a pretty cynical move, but when you think about it, pretty much all media marketing is cynical. And then I could counter-argue that maybe that's true, but for some reason, even in this young yet jaded century, people are still idealistic about books, that they believe that writers and books and publishers somehow conform to a higher standard of honour than newspapers and movies. And I could smirk derisively and say, "Well, that's pretty naive, now, isn't it?" But at the same time, I'd sort of be agreeing with those people because I, too, have always considered books better -- in the fullest sense of the word "better" -- than any other media.
And then I could go back to my corner, mop my brow, confer with my manager, and come out swinging at the people who read Frey's book and are pissed that it wasn't "real." What's wrong with you? I'd ask. Isn't good writing enough for you? Aren't you happy that all these horrific things didn't actually happen in real life? Aren't you amazed and impressed that someone has this rare gift that lets him write so convincingly about things that he made up inside his own head? Don't you know that the best fiction is "real" in that it's even realer than real? And don't you know that all non-fiction becomes fictionalized in the process of passing through the filter of its author's mind? Is your high-minded anger at being denied in your quest for "objective truth" just masking your hunger to look under people's gory bandages and watch them vomit blood for an audience?
And I'd wonder to myself, what if Frey writes another book and frankly declares it fictional, and what if this book is amazing and has the power to inspire and change people's lives or at least temporarily elevate their souls as all great novels do, and what if nobody reads it because they still have sour grapes about his first book, and no one gets to have this transformative, transcendental experience, and Frey says to himself, "Shit, I should've said this book was true, too."
But I'm not going to write about all that. If people can't figure out these things on their own, they're not going to feel like hearing it from me. So instead I'm going to dig my cubbyhole a little deeper, retire to it, and wait and see what new, unwanted pop-culture meme manages to find me here.