Friday, November 24, 2006

My Schadenfreude Moment

Remember James Frey?
The man who fooled Oprah and emotionally scarred a whole nation?
Remember how so many people were betrayed and outraged when his supposed "100% true confessional" turned out to contain huge chunks of fabrication, above and beyond the expected name changes and amalgamations needed to make a memoir publishable?
I have to confess, I derived no small measure of rather mean-spirited satisfaction from the whole thing.
Not directed at Frey himself; I could care less one way or the other. And before you write me off as a complete dick (though you may still consider me a bit of one after reading this), it wasn't directed at those who've had horrific episodes with addiction etc. in their own lives and may have found some level of legitimate catharsis in his story. Though I would maintain that a work of fiction can have just as much meaning in that sense, I'm not incapable of some level of sympathy for that segment of his audience.

No, I'm talking about people with a pathological aversion to fiction. Those people who, upon learning about Frey's book, took the bait because it wasn't that icky made-up stuff! After all, it was like, real, man, and therefore not a waste of their oh-so-valuable-not-to-be-frittered-away-on-made-up-silliness time.

You know how we all have that judgemental side of us, that looks at the items in a person's home, and makes that snap decision as to whether we're ever going to really relate to them or not? Heading my "there's always going to be a massive gulf between us" list is finding the only damn bookshelf in the entire place mostly stocked with nicknacks save for six-or-less books, almost all of which are from the "Chicken Soup" or "7 Habits" series. Maybe it seems petty of me to pick on people who might just be trying to improve their lives, but I just feel plain alienated from anyone who hasn't touched a story since the last English class they were forced to take, and whose sole interaction with text is with the documents they have to deal with at work.
Related to this, and probably second on the aforementioned list, is when one's host says "feel free to put some music on" and you're confronted with, again, six-or-less discs in one corner of the shelf, all of which are gruesome compilations of the "Big Shitty Tunes" ("Now That's What I Call Shitty Music" to you Americans) variety, all of which are apparently disposed of and replaced annually (none of that "music evoking memories" messiness for them...).
But I digress.
I remember once, as quite a young child, finding myself in the old "forced to hang out with the kids of your parent's friends" situation. Already a book-loving kid, I immediately zeroed in on the bookshelf in the kid's room. I saw books on nature, a set of kid's encyclopedias, Big Golden Books of Science and the like...
But hey! Where were the stories? No Narnia? No Henry Huggins, Freddy the Pig, Homer Price, Danny Dunn, or even Hardy Boys? Not so much as a single leftover-from-infancy Dr.-fricking-Seuss?? How was I going to get a handle on who these kids were, how was I going to talk to them, how were we going to play without some common ground derived from stories we both knew?
When I asked about this gap, this gaping chasm, in their library, the reply was basically "Oh, that kind of stuff's all made up. Why would anybody want to read that?"
I could hardly wait till it was time to go home.

So anyway...
When I heard the whole Frey story, all I could think of was those people who, upon finding out that they'd been tricked into reading that "pointless made up stuff" responded in a way I just had to imagine as "Eww!! I got some of it on me! Ick!!!"

And I just couldn't resist indulging myself with an evil little laugh...


At 4:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple years ago I was talking to some friends-of-friends at a show, and dropped some not-too-esoteric reference to something or other, and one of the guys I was talking to just said, seemingly by way of apology, "I'm not very well-read." I wanted to say, "no, I'm not well-read; you're out of touch. Totally different thing."

You know this one, Ed: about the guy who wanted to produce a movie, and wanted me to script it, so I went over to his apartment and the TV was on, and it was just as Gorbachev was returning from house arrest in his dacha...and I said "wow, my whole life has been lived through the most amazing events, but this is really the first one I was old enough to totally get at the time!" and then he said "who's that guy?" and then I said "sorry, I can't write your movie for you, I have to go be far away from you now instead..."

I even met one person (again, friend-of-friend, party situation, etc.) who was actually proud of not reading. Not even the paper, he said. Just TV. Sometimes movies. "Never really liked it." He was like a real-estate guy or something, he had a white-collar job! I felt like taking a swing at him.

But I still understand all that better than I understand just not liking fiction.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger John M Osborne said...

Having read Frey's book, understanding it as fictionalized non-fiction, I was still transfixed. It was still an interesting read, but that apparently wasn't good enough to sell it.

(Not to mention that the situation the novel is about, is usually full of embellishments and exaggerations anyway.)

I think people reacted to being inspired by a (even just a partially fictionalized) "true story" as if they were sold snake oil (and yet, these people buy snake oil like the "Chicken Soup" series ALL THE TIME).

Just found your blog. Write more.

At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger sonia said...

Couldn't agree more. Reading fiction is food for the brain, essential for growing mind in particular (throughout our lives.)

Personally I don't watch Oprah, so when I read Frey's book I thought it was obvious that it was fictional in bent and read it as such. Wasn't sure what the fuss was about. Your post makes it clear, it was a fear of imagination. Excellent explanation.


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