Thursday, January 12, 2006


We were talking about this just the other day, Bush, if you remember. The subject came up in the context of Howard Stern's new satellite venture, and the Larry King interview in which he insisted that all he wanted was to expose the deepest, darkest truth about himself. Now comes the case of James Frey and "A Million Little Pieces", which supposedly chronicles his recovery from a life of depravation and addiction, including an inspirational spell in jail. Submitted to publishers originally as fiction, the book is apparently just that: made up. For the most part, anyway. His eventual publisher, though, thought it might market better as non-fiction, and lo! it has climbed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and brought tears to Oprah Winfrey's eyes for its redemptive truth.

It would be too easy, Bush, to simply dismiss this as the work of a scam artist. There's something deeper and more troubling here. I mean, I think in the same breath of the lies you have told and the deceptions you have perpetrated with apparent sincerity--all of which has been swallowed whole by a large segment of the American populace. Distasteful as his book might be--and I confess here that I haven't read it--in order to persuade so many people to suspend their disbelief, this Frey character must have hit upon some deep inner truth about himself and the path to redemption, even if his report is on the face of things far from factual. Well, a pack of lies. To be "authentic", in other words, does not necessarly entail sticking to the mundane facts. Same with you, Bush. While I may judge the complete opposite--as indeed I do--I know that a huge number of people see you to be sincere, authentic, as transparent and honest as the day is long. Including many who must surely be intelligent, thoughtful, and sincere themselves. I suspect you yourself might believe it with equal fervor. Interesting, huh?

Still and all, the book IS a pack of lies. There was that "road to good health" book, too, quote recently, that shot to the top of the bestseller list. I've mercifully forgotten both the title and the author, but you'll remember what I'm talking about. The guy was unmasked as a total fake, a proven con artist with zero knowledge of medical science, and hundreds of thousands of people still flocked to buy his book. And then there's all those stories about journalists, in the last couple of years, who invented stories, or wrote them to order, and presented them as independently researched "news"...

All of which--along with your own story, Bush--goes to show, perhaps, that we Americans are a gullible bunch, quick to believe what we're told, quick to dig into our pockets for the snake oil that promises some kind of improvement in our lives. Having achieved the kind of material comfort that was undreamed of in past generations of human history, we have discovered that possessions alone do not buy the happiness we consider to be our birthright. So we chase after spiritual redemption and the perfection of our bodies, grasping on to any straw that presents itself as salvation. We have learned, sadly, to believe without question in both what we're sold, and what we're told.

How can lies be authentic, then? Is it all in the belief system? There are those who speak with scorn about the "moral relativism" they claim to infect our society, and who long for a return to the days when they believe that absolute truth held sway. You yourself, Bush, speak of good and evil as though there were some absolute distinction between the two: you see the world in black and white. I wish it were that easy. For myself, I find I have to muddle through the confusion as best I can on any given day. What's "fiction"? What's "nonfiction"? Is James Frey to be seen as a reprehensible hack, in it for the money? Or a man with his finger on the true pulse of contemporary American culture? You seem to have the answers, Bush. You tell me. (But I won't guarentee I'll believe you when you do!)

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