Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Oh, the James Frey Fracas Continues…

It has been a supreme act of self-discipline on my part not to spend much of my working day reading about James Frey. I hate that guy so much. And he is such an addict! He still doesn’t appear to really, truly understand how his distortions of the truth were unethical. His answers still attempt to save some face, to make other’s recollections possibly incorrect as well, to salvage some of his reputation. It reads false, STILL. I don’t believe this has chastened him or made him change his behavior. My instinct is that he is predominantly thinking: shit! I wish they’d never have found out. I got screwed!

I think people who adhere to truth, no matter how painful, boring, or un-beneficial to themselves, are those people that I admire the most. And in some ways I’m so GLAD all this happened because this is what my book is all about. Finding a method for exacting truth or as close as possible to what we can agree truth is, and then going with it. This is basically the opposite of what I was taught by my family and by the church. What I was taught was: look, it makes you feel better to believe such and such, so just go ahead!

Oprah did a good thing to have the show denouncing him, but she did this only when she basically had no other choice. Her knee jerk reaction was not only to defend him (which really means she’s defending her very public support of him) but also, to call in to Larry King about it – to come to Frey’s defense. Only when it all spun out of her control did she jump on the bandwagon condemning his assertions.

But still, even though there was still self-interest on Oprah’s part for admonishing him to his face with all those reporters, etc. I am glad she did this. It made me like her even more. And I really hope this experience ends up meaning something to her. About how important truth is, in general. Not just at how meticulously researched memoirs are for accuracy.

I didn’t even speak to my mother about this until today. Of course she defends Frey. She says he only lied a couple of times and she feels bad for him. OF COURSE. Because truth is not a value for her. Now, that sounds awful, but I think she would agree with me. She often says: if it makes me feel better, I’ll believe it. And I will offer my usual disclaimer here: I love my mother deeply and we get along well in spite of this difference between us. But it is a fact that truth was constantly suppressed in our home in favor of what might be more appealing or less inflammatory or convenient or comforting. And I think it’s had detrimental effects.

Of course this is exactly what the Catholic Church taught me too. Look the other way, don’t look too closely: see how comforted people are by this lie we tell them. And then people train themselves to devalue truth. They say truth is relative and that what people believe is true, IS true. It lulls people into this P.C. slackness that means they don’t offend anyone and that reality is just in the mind of the beholder. ARGH. The worst sin of all is that the Church lies about death and life. It encourages people to do things for a later reward that they full well know isn’t coming to them.

The thing I am grappling with is that I think my mother may actually be happier than I am. And I’m pretty happy – don’t get me wrong. But this policy of believing what is convenient or comforting seems to work from a happiness quotient. That’s what KILLS ME. But I have traded that comfort for authenticity. And when I am deeply happy, I feel I am happy for reasons that are as close to truth as I can decipher. And those moments of deep happiness are worth seeing all the horror of reality or feeling very depressed, often, about what’s happening in our world or even in my own life. Plus, what is more important to me, even more than happiness, is purposefulness and meaning.

The Catholic Church in Spokane, the Spokane Diocese, is flooded with lawsuits right now about priests abusing young children. The diocese may even go bankrupt over it. I mean, I have my own problems with this happening – because I know memory is so unreliable and it’s hard -- it’s a difficult problem of our penal system – when there are no witnesses besides the people involved. But still, my mother’s comment about it all was: What I have to say to those people who are suing the priests is this: get over it. Lots of bad things happen to kids. They get over it.

That’s what my mother wishes she could say to those people.

And believe me, I have a lot of “just get over it” inside me. Twenty years ago or so I was kidnapped for several hours and beaten up and – well anyway, I went to a Victim’s Group Therapy for women afterwards for people who had been abducted. And that’s what I thought too: get over it. These people were redefining themselves because of this one unfortunate crime. So, in that sense, I understand where my mother is coming from.

On the other hand, it’s another example of a knee jerk reaction to side with authority and suppress the truth. And that’s just what Bush is doing, that’s just what the Catholic Church is doing, that’s just the same mindset that allows Frey to write what he feels like writing without a flinch – with no deep wrestling inside him over what is true and what isn’t.

It really gets me riled up.



Sheldon said...

I've been obsessed with the Frey story since it first burst onto the scene with's expose'. I hadn't heard of him before, and stopped following Oprah when she transitioned from Talk Show Host into Cult of Personality Leader some years back. I hadn't made the Catholic Church connection, however, until your post, and you're right. Blind obedience is blind obedience, especially when one's belief system is at stake. The spin the Vatican has put on the molestation cases, however, has been ingenius...albeit evil. Namely, they came out very publicly against gay priests, and vowed to "root them out" in the name of all things holy. This was an obvious attempt to evince a "cleansing" since most of the world views homosexuality and pedophilia as the same thing.

Lynne said...

I agree with you that people who seek and adhere to the truth are most admirable. I do not agree, however, that we must agree to what the truth is. The truth is not a democracy, or even a republic. The truth just is. Isn’t that the meaning of the truth? That which exists. Does this seem naive? Can we ever be sure of anything? We certainly can - we must, in fact, in order to survive. And if in the pursuit of the truth we discover that our beliefs conflict with reality, we must amend those beliefs to adhere to reality.

By the way, I loved the line (a few posts back) about how you never understood how people could hit their kids until you had one, and now you can’t understand how people don’t hit their kids. It’s just amazing how they can push all those buttons at one time!

Keep up the good work. I can’t wait to read the memoirs (something I have never done so can’t join in the Frey fray).

Mike said...

I wonder how some people decide whether they're acting out of faith or gullibility. If their actions hurt someone, thay can claim faith as an excuse, since faith is a virtue. But not if they hurt someone because of gullibility.

Danny said...

I couldn't agree with you more about James Frey. I have relatives who are addicts and his brand of lying and denial seem SO familiar. I'm glad Oprah finally came to her senses but found the chastising show a little hard to stomach. Why on earth would he even go on there again--is he clueless or self-serving?

I'm so glad you're blogging more often these days, your blogging voice is so much like your stage persona which is such a breath of fresh air and these days like the voice of reason. Loved your play and hope you do NOT change the name.

Anonymous said...

Scott McLemee catches up with the field of Oprah studies, leaving his brain in a million little pieces" at Inside Higher Ed:

“Oprah studies”... has a substantial literature, including four academic books and numerous journal articles, most of which I have read over the past few days. Some of it is smart and insightful. Some of it consists of banalities gussied up with footnotes. In other words, it’s like Shakespeare criticism, only there isn’t as much of it. ...

He also quotes Steve Martin!

valerie said...

I found Oprah hard to take on the James Frey show. She acted like a petulant child, pouting at him and questioning him on thing after thing. I agree that the truth matters, but to me the truth was that Lily took her life. The fact was that she cut her wrists not hung (hanged?) herself.

I think Oprah likes to read more than she likes to think. I don't mean that in a cruel way, but I think she wants things presented to her in a clear, truthful way so that she doesn't have to think ctitically about the story.

Stan said...

That happiness quotient thing is pretty powerful. Even Martin Gardner chooses to believe in God just ofor this reason.

On the other hand, I've always said, "I don't want to be happy - the only happy people I know are idiots".

Marky said...

A Chicagoland observer writes about our dear "brand" Oprah
(who shares the same CAA manager as Frey, btw)

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