Monday, August 30, 2010

Hacks, Hustlers, Charlatans, Liars, Fiction Writers and Thieves

These writers, similar to Laura Albert, blur the line between hoax and reportage. They become actors, game players in their own fictions and grandiloquent memoirs, to a lesser or greater degree.

Laura Albert is more of an enigma, Warhol showman, that shoplifter of persona. The contours of opportunism, financial, careerist, are much more clear in these cases. In most cases because there's less art to the con.

This is reportage through the lens of resentment, coupled with a despairing fascination with the fleetingness of Truth, despite all the mass industries set up to present their spin on it.

Others seem to have worked out a sophisticated theory of how the sentimental potboiler intersects with a culture's trauma, with a view towards commercial success. In the cloyingly sentimental yet disquieted climate of an affluent post industrial landscape, impoverished, hopeless and/or abused youth began to suit the sentimental criteria for privileged subject.

This doomed urchin, upbraiding wealth and material accomplishment by her or his very existence, honour a latent but recurring Rousseau-like theme in America: the corruption of society by virtue of shattered innocence.

This newer genre, obeying the dictates of good showmanship, posits: always better if that abject youth is real than a story.

The prose can be titillating, sensational, excruciating, sadistic, erotic, repugnant, heart-tugging, with borrowed flourishes from the movies.

Certain motifs and conventions abound: Addiction then twelve step programs, unwholesome parents, sexual and physical abuse portrayed graphically, one might say luridly, punishment and enduring, a call for mass-cultural healing.

The redemption sought becomes not coincidentally an economic and professional boon for the writer.

Each of these authors understand journalistic realism with an eagle eye for convincing detail and colourful character. Embarked on a professional thrill ride where real money or status is at stake (one reality consistent to all these stories), charged with the gung-ho, high spirits of gamblers, they remain relatively unapologetic of their actions to the last, self-cast anti-heroes in a morally erratic capitalism gone off the rails.

Psychologically, they are often deferring, evasive, charming. In the last, they are an empty byline.

Often, the permission the author feels he or she needs to invoke begins with that convention, now invisible if  practically everywhere in our culture: I am a survivor. A noteworthy subject should also physically manifest symptoms of worrisome decline in puritanical or Utopian America: poverty, crushed egalitarianism, broken homes, suburban disillusionment, addiction, violence, moral squalor, sexual permissiveness, AIDS.

The villain in this story is unrepentant abuser (abuser both of people but also of substances, physical pleasures, sex, drugs). Heroes are the abused who have admitted their helplessness before destiny, renouncing decadent worldly pleasures, expressed in a way that touches the heart. The view is protestant, religious through and through.

In response to a hunger for such material, material that, in the words of Oprah has a "dramatic impact" on other morally sick, trembling lives, these writers inaugurate the new genre: poverty, abuse porn; tiny exploitation films cast as credible journalism, warbled or barked from the pulpit.

If one wishes to consider the contemporary lie as a naive art, here are some of its masters.

The Dubious Borderline Affair of Mr. Daisey Going to China
Transcript of the original This American Life episode: "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory."
‘This American Life’ Retracts Episode on Apple’s Suppliers in China

Dave Pelzer
Excerpts from a Child Called It.

James Fray
Also: In the New York Times
Excerpts from A Million Little Pieces.

Stephen Glass
Also, in Vanity Fair.
Also, in Slate.
Also, the original article which caused the trouble.
Other amusing hatchetjobs:
 "A Day on the Streets", for The Daily Pennsylvanian, June 6, 1991
“Mrs. Colehill Thanks God For Private Social Security”, June 1997, for Policy Review magazine. PDF format.
“Probable Claus”, published January 6 & 13, 1997
"Holy Trinity", published January 27, 1997
“Don't You D.A.R.E.”, published March 3, 1997
“Writing on the Wall”, published March 24, 1997
"Slavery Chic", published July 14 & 21, 1997
“The Young and the Feckless”, published Sept. 15, 1997

Jayson Blair
(April 19, 2003). "A NATION AT WAR: VETERANS; In Military Wards, Questions and Fears From the Wounded".
(April 7, 2003). "A NATION AT WAR: THE FAMILIES; For One Pastor, the War Hits Home".
(April 3, 2003). "A NATION AT WAR: THE HOMETOWN; Rescue in Iraq and a 'Big Stir' in West Virginia"
(March 27, 2003). "A NATION AT WAR: MILITARY FAMILIES; Relatives of Missing Soldiers Dread Hearing Worse News"
(March 3, 2003). "Making Sniper Suspect Talk Puts Detective in Spotlight" 
(February 10, 2003). "Peace and Answers Eluding Victims of the Sniper Attacks".
(October 30, 2002). "Retracing A Trail: The Investigation; U.S. Sniper Case Seen As A Barrier To A Confession"

Viki Johnson
Excerpts from a Rock and a Hard Place

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