So I read on the news recently that yet another would be ‘hard luck life’ autobiographer has been outed as a fraudulent middle class voyeur. What is it that people feel the need to pretend their lives are other than they are to sell decent fiction? Or is it society’s obsession with the hardships of others that makes it so easy to make the non-fiction bestseller list? Either way I find the subject rather curious. Both because I have been enrolled in a few of these faux journeys and because I wonder why a story becomes more meaningful when we imagine it actually happened.
In reality, we can’t really prove that anything did or didn’t occur; we can merely hypothesize based on our memories and assumptions that even our own experience is real. So why is it that a story that supposedly “really” happened is more appealing than one that is a pure product of the imagination? It reminds me a little of the Santa Claus conundrum. (Hopefully no one reading this is still under parental supervision). Does believing in Santa Claus make him real? Does it matter? I’m not claiming to have the answer, nor there necessarily to be one, but I challenge why people need things to be real in order to care, and I challenge those who make things up to get noticed.
Back when James Frey’s “autobiography” first came out, I had a read a brief review that piqued my interest. I bought it in hard cover and devoured it. I thought he had an intriguing story that he told in a way that was both eloquent and 'brutally honest.' I even read the follow up book as soon as it came out. I have to admit, there were times when it seemed just a little too good to be true, but sometimes I feel like life is like that so I voted for the law of attraction. But when it was all over the news that the story was a fraud, or at least that there were facts that did not check out, I was pretty disappointed. I felt like the James Frey I “knew” was no longer there; like finding out a relative you grew up with is not actually a relative. I mean, does it really change anything? I never really knew the guy. He lied, it’s true. Does it change that it was affected by his story? No. Does it change how I think about him now and how I feel when I reflect on his story? Definitely. So I’m not sure if it’s worth it in all honesty. But if you have a message to share and it’s the only way to get it out, who’s to say?
It happened again when JT Leroy (a supposed teenage male prostitute) was exposed as being a 40 year old woman whose wig wearing sister in law posed as JT in real life. I even had friends who were “friends” with him. Naturally, it was a let down. But in a sense, everyone we relate with is a projection of our own creation. What does it mean to really know someone? We make assumptions based on our own experiences as to who someone is or why they do what they do. If I all of a sudden revealed that I'm really from Ohio and have 7 sisters and brothers, would you care? I suppose for me, it comes down to the question of why. If one is trying to express and iterate the essence of how they see and experience the world, I think it's a beautiful thing. But what does it mean that he or she does it under false pretenses? Is it for the sake of art, justice, social commentary? Or is it just another way to grasp those 15 minutes of fame?
I think my autobiography might be called “I was here. I think.”