January 26, 2006

James Freyed

Unless Gawker is punking everyone, James Frey is right now getting the smackdown of his life at the hands of his former champion, Oprah Winfrey. Cool by me, but isn't Oprah being a little disingenous? She initially defended Frey not because she thought he was telling the truth, but because she agreed with him that truth doesn't matter, as long as the lies feel true. Apparently she apologizes to her audience at the top of the show, but I hope she makes it clear that she's retracting that statement.

Because my guess is that that's what this is all about. That Oprah, who is used to dealing with individual struggles, honestly believed the "underlying message" argument — and has only recently had some sense smacked into her by Elie Wiesel. The question is: Is Oprah's conversion honestly won, or is it just a PR move to short-circuit the possibility of becoming the woman whose endorsement cast doubt on the Holocaust?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


This may be the first time ever that I've wanted to watch Oprah, even if it's just an episode of shameless face-saving. The stairwell James Frey is falling down simply can't be long enough for my bloodthirsty enjoyment.

I saw a few clips on my tv and some things occurred to me.

1) While passing fict off as fact is bad, that's not what I see as his real crime. His real crime is writing in the Rehab Memoir genre, fict or non-fict, and Oprah was not objecting to that.

2) For whatever crime Oprah is smacking him down it should not be done in front of an audience of lumpenviewers, ready to murmur in the appropriate key at every pronouncement or confession. That's just indecorous.

3) It was a show trial and actual 'criminals' require actual trials. This sort of display delegitimizes everything it touches. It may also lead to widespread and inefficient truth-purity witch hunts on the back end of the industry, tying up resources and propagating the notion that anything that is not factual is bad.

Whenever Oprah and her book club make the news I must ask 'how will this serve fiction?' While condemnation of Frey seems to serve fiction this grotesquerie did not and will not. To drive this point home she chose for her penance an unassailable non-fiction work. A great and literary piece of non-fiction that, yes, everybody should read, but not fiction. Not that she's under any obligation whatsoever.

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