The Middle Ground and Assorted Media

I once read an issue of US magazine that a had cover shouting "Mary-Kate is too thin!" and an inside article blasting Brittney for being "too fat." I think the two women were within five pounds of each other at the time. I'm reminded of this issue because there's been talk recently, about literature, being either too "fake" or too "real."

Laura Albert, the author formerly known as JT LeRoy, was found guilty of fraud by a Manhattan jury last week. Albert's book Sarah was optioned by a film company, but when Albert was "exposed" as the real author, the work somehow lost merit. Personally, I think it's a load of crap. I haven't read the book, but it seems symptomatic of our sensationalist age the author's personality and back story are more important than the work itself. The author wasn't a young hustler, working the truck stops of Virginia; the author was a mother from Booklyn Heights, and that doesn't sell.
According to the New York Times "[a]fter the revelation, the company took the position that Ms. Albert had used the JT LeRoy “brand” — the same that had attracted them — as a celebrity magnet to draw attention to her books." See? The work isn't important, only the angles that will get media attention are. Sell, sell, sell. That's why movies are so shitty these days. Sensation, not content, is of the upmost importance.

In a drastically different story, an author was assaulted when he returned to his hometown in France, because the book he wrote was a bit too real for the villagers of Lussaud.
[I]n July 2005, when Jourde, whose previous works include unflinching and controversial portrayals of the worlds of literature and academic scholarship, arrived with his family for a summer break, six villagers appeared outside his house shouting insults. Blows were exchanged and stones thrown. A car window was smashed. Jourde's 15-month-old baby was slightly hurt and his mixed-race sons were called 'dirty Arabs'.

You can't win, folks. I'm sitting here trying to think of (popular?) books that just breeze by, and all I keep coming up with is controversy. Not that literature has ever been immune from this sort of thing. Literature has power, huge power, and because of that, there will always be crazies trying to ban Potter for fear of witchcraft, and people making poor King adaptations (and King writing poor novels, but I digress). I just found those two stories an interesting comparison, coming through the grapevine when they did.

In other media, Wil Murray is coming to my town next month, and he's bringing his tight pants with him. Check out the excellent article in Toronto Life and head on down to the Loop Gallery to see what happens when you "let the paint do what it wants.*" Now, someone just has to get Lee Henderson's butt out here, for the full Alberta posse effect.

*Actual quote, circa 1998. Love ya!


Steven W. Beattie said...

I fail to understand how Laura Albert can be on the hook to return the option payments for Sarah. It's not like she was pulling a James Frey and trying to pass the book off as nonfiction. Nobody ever claimed that it was anything other than a novel, and that hasn't changed. Yes, she cravenly exploited the experience of runaway teens in order to get some publicity for "herself," which is perhaps not the most praiseworthy thing to do, but it doesn't change the content of the book one iota.

Panic said...

It's not like she was pulling a James Frey
Indeed, and good example. Here's something interesting though; to my knowledge, Frey didn't get sued by anyone, did he? Not his publishing house, not Oprah, no one. So why does a guy like that get off with a public tar and feathering (and he made a LOT more money than Albert). I don't have a simple answer there, at all.

Steven W. Beattie said...

There was talk of a class action lawsuit against Random House on the part of all those readers who felt "duped" by Frey's duplicity (I don't know what they hoped to accomplish: recouping the $13.95 US they paid for the tpb?), but nothing ever came of it to my knowledge.

But, you're right, there does seem to be a double standard at work there.

Panic said...

Hey, it's America; emotional distress = big payday. If the country's not hip to pseudonym, a jury would totally buy "Frey's duplicity gave me fibromyalgia." Uh, however you spell that.

mattilda a.k.a. matt bernstein sycamore said...

An interesting quote from the end of the New York Times article, about the person suing Laura Albert:

"He went on to say that if Ms. Albert, who never made a fortune from her literary works, could not afford to pay the judgment, he might have to consider laying claim to the rights to her past and future books."

And thanks for this post!


Wil Murray said...

Strawberry Alarmist Talk Radio!
As for your suggestion for Alberta posse. I've been running an idea by some people who could actually do this kind of thing: the Alberta ex-pat festival.
Because no one trusts artists or writers who would stay in Alberta, but everyone in Alberta loves to claim their native sons and daughters. And it is the greatest excuse for everyone to go back to Calgary and play drunken prodigal son for a week.
I just got word that I will be part of the Sled Island festival's art component next I think that might build into at least the Montreal exile's chapter festival.
My world keeps getting more and more interesting by the day.

Panic said...

My world keeps getting more and more interesting by the day.
I'd think that's a pretty amazing feeling. :)
I could do Cgy in June...