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Frey, Oprah, and so on - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Frey, Oprah, and so on
Chapter 12 (the one with Remus's questionable diet) is up at SQ. I added a few lines here and there.

Blah. Tried two or three openings to the next Shades segment and it hasn't really come together. I think I'm going to switch back to Tonks's point of view and get their last meet-up before Christmas. I think. Brain stutter, I guess. Maybe I'll write something else. I did figure my way into an original story I've been trying to attack for awhile.

My fiction-writer's pride is ruffled when people say, "Wow, I guess James Frey was writing fiction after all!" (For those who don't know the story, Frey wrote a supposed "memoir," hyped by the one and only Oprah, and it came to light at the Smoking Gun that it's a fraud.) No. If he could write good fiction, he wouldn't have needed to lie. He'd have just written a story about a junkie spiralling to the bottom and getting back up without a Twelve Step program. If you believe it and can write, then you write it. But no--the only way he could get anyone to take the slightest interest was to tell vast lies about himself. Fiction is and art, as acting is an art, and neither is the same thing as telling baldfaced lies.

I have to admit, I disliked this book the first time I heard about it, even thinking it might be true. I heard the description and my lip curled involuntarily. I think I lost my last shred of patience with the drug addict stories somewhere around the time Kelly got addicted to diet pills on 90210. I had some interest in them in high school, because that was a by-God issue and I was all into issues then, but it didn't take long to outgrow, and really, they're all pretty much the same.* There are enough out now that we really don't need another one. Just re-read the ones that are already there. So I have to admit to a little schadenfreude at it being trashed. My first thought was, "Hey, maybe stuff like this will make people publish actual fiction and inspire them to look for strong stories instead of emo-porn anyway!"

But my second thought was about Oprah, who's spending a lot of time being angry at him. She has a right. He duped her and used her reputation.

But she built that reputation initially as a journalist. She knows people are listening to her, and she has this guy on as a guest. And she didn't check up on him? From the SG article, it looks like critics had been questioning it for quite a while. She never investigated?

Of course not.

Because OMG, the Harpo staff was all crying.


Oh, I can't find it in my heart to be too annoyed with Oprah Winfrey, who did suffer the humiliation of being duped, but "All my staffers cried" is not enough to make a book's claims sacrosanct, and as a journalist, she should have known to do a serious check on a story like this.

And of course, that feeds right into the whole emo-porn culture, which is what produced this. We've developed and promoted a culture that loves to cry great, splashy tears over poor-poor-things who've had rough turns of fate. Victims, in other words. Every "memoir" is expected to be gaudier and splashier than the one before it. Of course people are going to start lying through their teeth--it gets them attention and sympathy. We sell these stupid sob stories and talk about them on national TV and make the people famous. Everyone wants to be petted and praised. Talk about a thousand stumbling blocks strewn around a blindmen's convention hall.

I was going to compare this guy to Lockhart, but that would be doing Lockhart a disservice. At least he had the brains to actually cover his tracks (no morality points, but brains, at least). And he told heroic stories, not fake memoirs of being a screw-up.


*It's reallly not the sameness that I mind, actually. Formula doesn't bother me. I think what gets to me is that people always treat this like it's OMGTEHWORSTTHINGEVAR! Like we're seeing something new that's somehow supposed to be all shocking and revelatory about society or something.
24 comments or Leave a comment
applegnat From: applegnat Date: January 31st, 2006 05:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Hi, I read your LJ via my lurker journal, marprelate. I just had to say cheers on this one. What astonishes me is the staggering terribleness of the writing. I wouldn't brook that sort of nonsense in anything I was reading, memoir or fiction.

I'm not too fond of issues myself, and I share your general distaste of emo-pr0n (we have fanfic for that!) but its also really harmful to have these losers using it to look macho and cool - and succeeding at it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 31st, 2006 03:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't actually read it--thought about taking a look, but after la Oprah pimped it, the hold list became insanely long, and I certainly wasn't willing to wait around for it (or buy it!). The writing is bad, too?
applegnat From: applegnat Date: February 1st, 2006 07:11 am (UTC) (Link)
I haven't read it either - just excerpts and quotes online. And I keep thinking, if these are the good bits, this is doubtless the most terrible book published in many, many years.

You can check out literaryquotes. People there tend to quote him a lot. Warning: Eyes may bleed.
prettyveela From: prettyveela Date: January 31st, 2006 06:03 am (UTC) (Link)
After the smoking gun announced some parts were fake, I went out and bought it, I just had to read it.

I have to say that the book touched me, it was just so graphic and "real", I loved it and bought his sequel "My Friend Lenorard".

Yeah I felt bad for Oprah but she seems to be mad at herself for calling Larry King in the first place to defend him.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 31st, 2006 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Shrug. Mileage varies--the whole storyline didn't appeal to me, whether true or not.
slytherincesss From: slytherincesss Date: January 31st, 2006 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, a thousand times WORD. The whole Frey debaucle is truly nauseating. Just the bits and pieces I've read from A Million Little Pieces just screamed BULLSHIT to me -- I'm familiar with addictions, though, because of my work.

Frey is a contemptible, odious NOTHING. I hope every time he looks at that stupid tattoo of his, he burns with shame inside. Honestly, I'm disgusted with the whole thing.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 31st, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
It set off my bullshit detectors, too, but all memoirs do, the gaudier the louder. (A Child Called It has them ringing at huge volume, but only that NYT guy really seems to have ripped it. If TSG nabs Pelzer, it will make my life.)

The BS factor is bad, but I think the reason it cheeses me off so much is the culture we have that bought into it, and which the odious jerk totally manipulated.
frenchbraider From: frenchbraider Date: January 31st, 2006 07:37 am (UTC) (Link)

right on

"Emo-porn" is the perfect phrase to describe this book. It downright whores itself out to people's emotions; no subtlety whatsoever.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 31st, 2006 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: right on

I did a rant on the subject awhile back, but I don't remember where it is. Sadly, when I googled to try and find it, it turned out that "emo-porn" seems to be being used for RPS for emo bands.

karintheswede From: karintheswede Date: January 31st, 2006 01:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Emo-porn is a brilliant word. Thanks for that.

As for Frey's stunt, I think it's hilarious. He knew there was a market for the kind of book he wanted to write, he had a story to tell - with a little polishing - and he was ruthless enough to exploit the readers and frigging Oprah. Basically I think it serves Oprah right. I hope that it has finally saturated the market, because I'm sick and tired of so called "true stories".

Also, I think you'll appreciate this, speaking of emo-porn: yesterday a girl came into the bookstore and wanted to sell a book she'd made. She'd taken a couple of emo-porn books - Betty Mahmody's book (the one that started it all) and cut them all together. Voila the emo-porn remix.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 31st, 2006 03:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, it predates Betty Mahmoody--Go Ask Alice was originally published as a "memoir," and heck, Twain satirizes it in Huck Finn, so I think it's been around awhile. And it's probably not going anywhere. But godawmighty, it drives me batshit.

And yeah, there's something comic in exactly how far over the top Frey went, and people still believed it.
karintheswede From: karintheswede Date: January 31st, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
"The kids at Bahnhof Zoo" is another example.

Mahmody's book set some kind of precedent - there have been so many books after it with the same kind of story. You know: western woman marries middle eastern man, things go to hell, she makes a perilous escape with children back to "safety in the western world". There's something really distasteful about that particular sub-genre, isn't there?

What makes Frey's con extra funny is that people are so mad at him. Yes, he lied and exploited the public, but that whole genre of books, not only the sob stories, do that. A memoir has a major problem: the author is biased. You want to show yourself as better, bigger, badder than you are, this is a part of human nature.

In Frey's case someone made the effort to disprove what he was saying. If you do research into those horrible (horribly bad) "boy named it"-books you'll probably be able to disprove a lot of what that author is saying. People disproved Voltaire's memoirs. I firmly believe that if you take the trouble to reseach basically any memoir you want, but especially the emo-porn, you'll be able to find at least one incident about which the author is not entirely truthful. If not an outright lie, then an exaggeration.

To end it all, I love that Oprah got conned. Such an amateurish mistake.
arclevel From: arclevel Date: January 31st, 2006 02:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't been following this closely, but a column I read about this said that he originally *did* try to publish this as fiction, and couldn't find anyone to publish it. It wasn't good enough. Apparently, though, publishers have significantly lower standards for memoirs. That was actually the point that finally convinced a co-worker of mine that, yes, what Frey did actually mattered and was underhanded, and it wasn't only a difference in what you called it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 31st, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I saw that in the Smoking Gun article, which is part of what really makes me boggle that a (former) journalist never caught it and it wasn't splashed all over the place from the time it came out.

And publishers need to set higher standards for memoirs. There's no excuse for bad writing in any genre.
sreya From: sreya Date: January 31st, 2006 02:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
We've developed and promoted a culture that loves to cry great, splashy tears over poor-poor-things who've had rough turns of fate.

Ugh, I'm definitely losing patience with this trend myself. I'll admit I've always been sucked into particular genres of victim-stories (generally Holocaust literature), but even then it wasn't so much to get an emotional thrill out of it - for some reason I just wanted to read everything on this type of stuff, fiction or non. And now, I'm working on asylum cases and hopefully will move into a career working on conflict resolution.

In other words, I don't just sit at home and cry about a heart-touching story because something horrible has happened to people. I'm going to go out and do something about it. Maybe if the rest of those sobbers would volunteer their time fixing whatever problems touch their hearts, there wouldn't be so much to sob over.

Or at the very least, stop throwing their money at something glamorizing victimization.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 31st, 2006 03:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
there wouldn't be so much to sob over.

See, the problem is that the whole point is the sobbing, which proves what fine sentiments one has.

buffyannotater From: buffyannotater Date: January 31st, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is why my favorite memoir is Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, because it is the only one I've seen that actually satirizes the genre, even in its title. Eggers does have a story to tell about overcoming life's odds and that sort of thing, like any other memoir-writer, but, unlike others, he is self-deprecating and self-aware and plays with meta when he has dialogue in his memoir of people calling him on how this isn't how this or that happened and how he's just writing it this way to make himself seem more important. And he then responds to them, and they have a discussion about the book they are in, in a Vonnegut kind of way. The whole book becomes both a memoir and a comment on memoirs. It's like a high-wire act of someone trying to impress everyone with the depth of the suffering he had to go through, and then realizing how egotistical that is and mocking himself for trying to do that, which is what ends up making him, as a narrator, so down-to-earth and relatable. Because he seems to really understand that his story isn't and shouldn't be important to someone who isn't him. That he isn't really all that special or unique, and that he isn't going to be changing anyone's life. That every single person on Earth feels their story is important enough to be "a heartbreaking work of staggering genius." In some spots, the character of himself that he projects in his book reminds me of Buffy in the seventh season, with her combined superiority complex and inferiority-complex-due-to-her-superiority-complex.
buffyannotater From: buffyannotater Date: January 31st, 2006 05:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Also, in the first paperback edition of the book (no longer in print, or in the later editions), he included a long appendix with annotations that explained in detail every single thing that he made up, embellished, or changed in the course of the book. If Frey did that, it would be longer than his original book!
sneaky_rhae From: sneaky_rhae Date: January 31st, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I will admit, I usually shop around in O's book club simply because she might get me to read something that I might never have otherwise. When she announced this "memoir" though, I was a little skeptical. I mean, it is one thing to glorify someone's talent for fiction (which to me makes her book club a ginormous art gallery of sorts), but with this she could be glofiying this guy's life, and apparently fake life after all. I just had a niggle in the back of my head that said, "How do we know it's true?" Guess we know now it's not.

Also, I find it funny the the comic strip "Fox Trot" has been having young Jason write his memoir for the past week or so. He mentions lots of things like "Millenium Falcon" and "killing warriors bare-handed." He he.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 31st, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Also, I find it funny the the comic strip "Fox Trot" has been having young Jason write his memoir for the past week or so. He mentions lots of things like "Millenium Falcon" and "killing warriors bare-handed." He he.

Gee, think we might be getting societally sick of memoirs?

And yes, the idea that she's pimping someone's life, as opposed to art, would always be a squick for me. Even if the person were Gandhi or Mother Teresa or someone who deserved it. The book still has to stand on its own.
olympe_maxime From: olympe_maxime Date: January 31st, 2006 03:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
You know what I hate the most? Even now, with people all calling Frey a jerk and a scumbag and a liar (all very deserved epithets) they seem to not want to go all out and name the whole issue: this jerk lied for only ONE reason - to con his way into getting money. On the Oprah show, this guy was alternately in tears or unable to speak, and Oprah kept going about how he'd lied, but he had an answer to that: "It was therapeutic for me, it did me a lot of good emotionally to write the book, and that's why I did it." No, dumbass, that's not why you did it, you did it coz you wanted to be rich and famous and get your book published. No noble therapeutic reasons, that's bull. He's really no different from the con artist who sells you the Golden Gate bridge.

And Fern, yes, the writing was apparently terrible. I've read snippets of the book, and it's truly appalling. I guess the memoirs market has less exacting standards when it comes to quality of prose, and that's why he chose to say this was all true. There's a poor frustrated writer in him somewhere, I'm sure. Which just makes him all the more SCUM.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 31st, 2006 03:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
this jerk lied for only ONE reason - to con his way into getting money

Probably also to see if he could pull off the con, but yeah--definitely about the money. If he shopped it around as fiction first, then turned around and made it nonfiction to sell it... well, that's pretty much the proof.
rose_in_shadow From: rose_in_shadow Date: February 1st, 2006 12:26 am (UTC) (Link)
What irks me from a writer's perspective is that this guy didn't even have to do any work. Oprah said "hey read this" and BAM, his book is on the best-sellers list.

Oh, and WORD on everything you said, the emo-porn, etc. Lockhart, at least, was good for some laughs.
laureate05 From: laureate05 Date: February 1st, 2006 12:48 am (UTC) (Link)
This emo-pr0n reminds me of something I read ages ago about what makes a great dramatic movie. Most dramas go for the sucker punch; they hit you where you're weak. Everyone is always gonna cry at the beautiful young mother eaten away by cancer; lovers torn apart by cirumstance; the murder of a small child. Cheap shots. A great drama hits you where you think you're strong.

Emo-pr0n is just emotional sucker punching. It's there to indulge the need to feel emotional in way that feels safe. I can understand wanting to have a good cry every now and again without having to dig into myself very deeply. What I can't understand is wanting to this frequently and refusing to acknowledge that it's just emotional fast food.

Another recovered junkie is not a surprising psychological treat. Nor are most of the books people wet themselves over pretending they are. IMHO, if you want to be really and truly gutted, pick up an old kids' book like Winnie the Pooh, Le Petit Prince, or Wind in the Willows and really think about it.

As for this Frey kid, he's batshit and people need to get away from him with a quickness. He obviously has no conscious and is still a junkie (an attention junkie). He needs serious therapy, and everyone else needs to just stop thinking about him.
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