Addicted To Sprinkles
They taste good, but they make us feel duped James frey is dying for your sins. The author of the memoir A Million Little Pieces has become the literary equivalent of a pedophile over the past eight weeks, thanks to the slowness of the season and the raked muck of a muckraking website, The Smoking Gun. (Time Warner, prop.)
A Million Little Pieces is the story of how James Frey, reprobate and drug fiend, endures a torturous rehab and emerges—if not a NASCAR dad—as a functioning human being. Interweaving the story are vignettes of his previous bad ass life, his heartbreaks, and the daily minutia of surviving second-by-second. Oprah Winfrey was, she says, so moved by the tale that she made it an Oprah Book Club pick, instantly creating a massive bestseller.
Thesmokinggun.com, stymied by a reader’s request for a mug shot of Frey that should have arisen from his description of an Ohio brawl with cops, discovered Frey wasn’t a bad ass, only a reprobate and drug fiend who went through rehab. Bookcrime! Scriving without artistic license!
Frey was not writing the Wikipedia, nor a restoration manual for an ’85 Yugo. He was not detailing the final moments of Hitler’s dog Blondi, nor writing a dissertation on the many loves of Ludwig Wittgenstein. He wrote a personal statement of a wasted life saved through the cleansing fires of a rehabilitation clinic. Or rather, despite the efforts of the clinic, curing himself on his own terms and winning the desperate faith of Oprah’s self-help-addicted legions.
But it’s not true! So? How much of the writings of Hunter S. Thompson’s writings are true? Thompson was assigned to go to Las Vegas to write about a car race for a sports magazine. Everything else became Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, an indictment of America. Would you be less impressed with the discovery that he had no tanks of ether in the trunk of the Great Red Shark? Or if you discovered his lawyer was not Samoan?
In 1999, biographer Edmund Morris published an authorised biography of former US president Ronald Reagan. As a literary device, Morris wrote the biography from the point of view of Reagan’s best friend “Dutch”, who narrated to the reader from every pivotal point in Reagan’s life — many where no third party could dream to be. Dutch, of course, never existed. Is the biography a lie?
Do authors have less moral authority than filmmakers?
Take A Beautiful Mind as a fer instance. In reality, John Nash is—he’s still alive—an arrogant prick who cheated on his wife who eventually divorced him. On the positive side, he did cheat on her with both sexes. That is author Sylvia Nasar’s researched view of him. Those who only witnessed the film based on her biography saw that Nash was a damaged genius who only managed to stay sane by the unwavering support of his wife. Russell Crowe received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Nash.
Two years before that, Denzel Washington won a Golden Globe for playing Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in the film The Hurricane. Full of wanton embellishment, the film glorifies a man still believed by most to be guilty of murder and holds him up as a charismatic race crusader.
Can a film make a statement different from the facts solely by virtue of being a film? Or does it draw on the right of an artist to make new works from the old? Do authors not hold the authority to tell their life story their own way?
As Pablo Picasso said, “Art is a lie I use to tell the truth.” Actually, we just made that quote up.