My James Frey Essay
This feels like turning in a term paper a month late, but here's an idea I've been playing with: James Frey blew it.
Or rather, James Frey blew it twice. First, he blew it by writing a mediocre fictional tale and passing it off as the truth. But then, he blew it again by posturing as guilty and sorrowful and repentant and worst of all -- tedious.
Hear me out.
Do you remember how Jason Blair handled his succès de scandale? Bold, without regret. How about the author of Sokal Text? With absolute glee. Sure, these are different scenarios (Blair was trapped; Sokal's entire plan was to expose the academic publishing as fraudulent), but they open a glimpse into a radical alternate history, one in which James Frey had scoffed at Oprah's wimpy "embarrassment" and laughed this in her face:
"Ha, ha, gotchya sucka."
Frey could have quickly followed it up with a perfectly lucid explanation: he was merely trying to expose the slippery line between fact and fiction that our age has created. He could have pointed out that his book isn't all that different from, say, Brett Easton Ellis' novel Lunar Park. In fact, Lunar Park has probably as much truth in it as A Million Little Pieces, and everyone wanted to know which of the stories were real. He could have laughed in the face of authenticity, chuckled at the do-gooders and their truthiness. He could have cited that Harold Pinter nobel speech that everyone surprisingly saw online. He could have ripped apart the artifice of reality tv and MySpace profiles and tabloids. He could have torn down the curtain that is PR being passed as news -- and don't forget our government's staged news events. Instead of the pathetic villain, James Frey could have been the heroic villain, the necessary foil that exposes the weakness of all you self-righteous supermen.
Who oh why, James, didn't you just suck it up and call the whole damn thing a sham, one big fucking Matrix, dude.
Imagine for a moment how the punditocracy would have reacted. Would Gawker have applauded him? Would Oprah book clubbers have gasped? Would Jon Stewart have called him wile? What the hell would the Situation Room have said? Who would get the next night's interview -- Charlie Rose? Or just Larry King? Would he have sold more books? Would Gawker have changed its mind by the end of the day and condemned him?
Would Oprah have recanted?
James, I wish you could go back and do it all over again -- not erase the lies, but dared us to live with them. Alternate histories are always the scariest.