Friday, January 27, 2006
So this is the kind of dork I am: I don't even know how to turn on the TV set. The last time I watched it with much regularity was back in the sixties when I was a kid and "Bewitched" was my favorite show. There were no remotes, no secret codes, no attached VCRs, DVD players, and Playstations to confuse the issue. You pressed the on button, and voila.
But even a dork has to watch TV every once in a while, which I did yesterday at 4 p.m. That's right. I tuned in to see Oprah's public excoriation of the memoirist, James Frey. It was literary news, I told my teenage son, as he set me up with the remote. But really, I was just taking my seat in the amphitheatre like everyone else. It's not a pretty thing to admit, but something about watching Oprah just makes me want to confess.
A lot has and will be said about the ethics involved: Frey's, the publishing industry, Oprah's and perhaps even the readers' own. But what really interested me was the psychology that was enacted on the show. Truthfully, I think that Frey's fans would have forgiven him anything but weakness. But I wondered how many who cheered on his badass persona through 400+ pages of macho posturing could accept the vulnerable, stammering man who sat opposite Oprah yesterday.
In many ways, I wanted to see the character "James Frey" jump up, and throw off the microphone, refusing to take any more bullshit, and stomp off the stage. That character would have continued to lie with angry flair about the incident at the dentist. (Medical records are confidential, right?) He would have pointed an irate finger at Oprah when she brought up Lily, and told her not to DARE question his veracity on this painful, personal issue.
He would have bluffed and raged like James Cagney or like the book's version of James Frey, maybe even kicking a table or two to prove his point. He wouldn't have just sat back and taken it; he would have attacked back: How honest was Oprah in inviting him on the show only to ambush him? How honest were the reality shows her network produced, or the news programs they presented every night at 6:30? If he lied, wasn't he a product of his culture, a response to what readers clearly wanted?
Would he have been right? Probably not--badasses usually aren't. But rectitude wasn't what people admired in Frey's "character"; toughness was. A lot of people would have seen through his bluster, but many more wouldn't have cared. The "essential truth" of the story would have remained intact--who readers believed Frey to be. As it was, even that crumbled.
One can only hope that at least one aspect of the memoir is true; and that Frey has reserves of strength and character to deal with the aftermath.