Shooting #Catfish in a Barrel

***I wrote this a while ago and just re-discovered it. It brings up questions I'm always curious about, so I thought I'd share and hear what you think*** One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was around the time when there were all sorts of scandalous reports challenging the accuracy of James Frey’s memoirs, A Million Little Pieces and his follow up, My Friend Leonard.  Jt Leroy, the troubled, young, writing wunderkind, had also just been outed as a creative scheme with a middle-aged San Francisco woman at the helm. In all honesty, despite my intellectual musings about how all our stories are ultimately fiction, I felt sad and disappointed, and a bit of a fool. I had devoured James Frey’s A Milion Little Pieces. I cried when his words sang into the hollows of my own despair; I sighed when his imagery echoed the experiences of my own father’s struggle with substance abuse; I laughed when his self-conscious inner monologues sounded all too familiar. Needless to say, I was moved. Just as I was moved reading JT Leroy’s far more raw and provocative works. Evidently, I’d read all his books before he became a counter-culture icon; Asia Argento directing and starring in the film version of one of his books. I was a fan. I had friends who were “friends” with him. I’d even met him at a film festival party in Toronto. I was too shy to introduce myself or share how much I’d enjoyed his work. As was typical, he was wearing massive sunglasses, a hat and I think even a wig. He had a whole persona. He was brilliant, shy, tortured and innocent all at once. That’s what made him so appealing.

So what does it mean when our illusions are shattered? When what we think is real—people, stories, events—turns out to be fiction? Does it matter? Yes, it matters. Of course it matters. If we don’t have truth, then what are we left with? Well, I think that’s the most important question of all, because in the end, there is no truth. The past doesn’t exist in the way we think it does, or want to believe it does. There’s no magical history book that documents life’s events, ensuring an accurate record we can reference at will. No, the past only exists in our experience, in the present. And since time is always moving forward (presumably), and the present is always changing, so are we—along with our thoughts and memories. So when I ask again, does it matter if our stories are fact or fiction? Does it make our tears any less real if we discover a tale to be tall? My answer is no. It shouldn’t. Or at least I don’t think it should, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel compelled to protest against false advertising (which is really the underlying moral issue). No, I have those feelings because I’m a human being and I want to feel like I know what’s real and what’s not. It even makes me more survivable to know the difference between a real tiger and an Imax 3D one. The only real danger is when I’m so afraid of the feeling of unpredictability that I think the tiger isn’t real when it is.

I feel like I’m sort of shooting fish in a barrel here, since I was fortunate enough to play a character on tv who was faced with this exact struggle. Très apropos. Everything she knew to be true was dismantled right before her eyes. I mean, we’ve all had experiences when the truth stung, when the cold, dismal reality of someone not being who we thought left us shattered and untrusting, but you have to admit Cally met a particularly unfortunate fate. Not only was her husband not who he said *spoiler alert* (she was torn up at the idea of him having a measly affair), but he turned out to be the epitome of everything she feared and had fought against her entire life. He wasn’t just not human, he was the enemy. And he wasn’t just her husband, he was the father of her child and the only person she ever truly trusted. So yeah, pretty harsh. Needless to say, she didn’t handle it very well, and who can blame her? But it’s unsettling to recognize how much our identity is wrapped up in what we think we know. Not to get too spiritual or anything, but I have a hard time believing we’re solely made up of atoms and energy that ferments into some sort of “consciousness.” I believe we are more than just our bodies, more than our minds even. And if we knew this, maybe we wouldn’t disintegrate if we discovered something we thought was true to be false. We would simply be “ourselves” with a new perspective. Is that really so bad? It certainly feels like it at times, but perhaps that’s the beauty of being human—discovering the truth beyond “knowledge.”

So I just finished watching the movie Catfish. *spoiler alert - watch it!* Let me just start by saying I thought it was brilliant. Intentional or not, the fact it pissed people off and caused speculation as to its “authenticity” is win/win. I was so uncomfortable through the whole thing. I was uncomfortable with what was happening in the film, enthralled with its characters and their unlikely story, and I was uncomfortable with what was happening in my living room, frustrated with my own inability categorize what I was seeing and make sense of my own emotions. I fell into this recursive loop of existential uncertainty, only to be sucked in by scenes where I thought to myself, “You couldn’t make this shit up!” Only to be violently pulled in the other direction, thinking, "There's no way this is real!" I’m not going to give an opinion as to whether I think the film is real or fake because, quite honestly, I don’t care, and it doesn't matter. That’s the best part! It was so well done and the questions it raised are questions we should all be asking regardless; whether it’s by projecting on people having experiences in a documentary, or whether it’s through our own experience watching a “documentary” and speculating its legitimacy. Like a chinese finger trap, hating on it only distracts you from the truth, wrapping you tighter in your own limiting and warped delusions. And yet, I am only human after all, and I would just sleep a little sounder if I knew, like, was that shit for real or what?!?!

Further reading...

review of Catfish on The Documentary Blog

musings on "authenticity" by Andrew Potter

"Jt Leroy"

James Frey on Oprah

Merry Christmas to the Ground!!!

Christmas shopping is pretty low on the totem pole of priorities for me, but this year I had a hilarious experience as I attempted to avoid complete Scrooge status. It unfolded like an after-school-special: too good, and too absurd, to be true. It started when I heard some guy talking on the radio about the Stanley Cup. I just happened on it after all the usual channels were playing garbage (and I don’t mean the band). The guy was the author of a new book detailing the adventures and exploits of hockey’s coveted prize, along with its faithful handlers. Apparently every player of the winning team gets to spend twenty-four hours with the cup, no matter where they are in the world, and no matter what they want to do with it. All I can say is, if that thing could talk... But anyway, I immediately thought of a good friend of mine who I would endearingly label a “sports junkie.” I met up with him at a sports bar once and when we left, we got into his car only to listen to the game on the radio all the way home... Where he proceeded to turn on the television... Well, you get the idea. So naturally, I thought the book would be perfect! And it was just a few days before Christmas! Score! Needless to say, I was disheartened to learn it was completely sold out at both Barnes & Noble AND Borders--it was even out of stock on Amazon! I didn’t know that was even possible! Cut to December 23rd, I was driving past a little local bookstore. On a whim, I decided to go in and check. You never know, right? Stranger things have happened. So I ran in. It was five minutes before they closed. They didn’t have the book. The guy informed me that even the distributors were out, so he didn’t know when they’d be getting them in. Then he asked if I’d tried their other store. I told him I hadn’t. So he gave them a call and, to my joy and disbelief, they had it! To be more specific, they had one copy. So I gave him my name and went on my merry way. I had it all planned out. The next day was Christmas Eve and I would stop by a couple stores to get some goodies for friends, pick up some food for dinner that night, then get to the bookstore before it closed and pick up the holy grail of gifts. I got to the store in plenty of time. I gave the guy behind the counter my name and he dipped under the counter to grab the book. It was to good to be true. Everything was working out perfectly. I proceeded to tell the guy how hard it was to find and how I couldn’t believe my luck. He shrugged a little and raised his eye-brows in rapport. I told him I would just grab it because I wanted to look around for a bit. He said they had a special place behind the counter and I could just pick it up when I was ready. Seemed logical enough, so I looked around for about ten minutes. Nothing jumped out at me, so I headed to the counter and asked for my book. That’s when the slow motion kicked in. He looked on the counter then under, his eyes getting wider with each glance, until his eyes finally met mine. He didn’t know where it was. He looked horrified, like a kid who came home from the playground, only to find his mom saying, “Where’s your little sister?” It was pretty entertaining actually. I don’t even think there was one moment where I felt angry or upset, I was laughing too hard on the inside. Murphy’s law was at it again. He went all over the place looking for it, but ultimately gave up and deduced he had mixed it with another pile of books and put it in the previous customer’s bag-which only sweetens the story really. It’s not like someone came along and bought it. Someone was going to open their bag and find a book they didn’t buy and didn’t even want. I tried to convince myself they might see the mistake and bring it back to the store, but no such luck. So to that customer: Merry Christmas!!! As for my friend the sports fan, he got a hilarious story instead. Oh, and an empty amazon box containing a picture of the book.

Please note, the clerk was incredibly apologetic and kind. He gave me a gift certificate and phoned me as soon as the book came in. And my friend says it’s a great read! Highly recommended!!!

eating animals

The subject of eating animals has often been a topic of heavy debate in this little mind of mine. Not so much whether to eat them or not – I’ve been a vegetarian since I was twelve – but what it means to treat a living thing as an object or a vehicle for satiation; also, how to be ethical in a system that uses animal products for so many things. I thought it would be pertinent to write about this since I just read an article in the New Yorker about Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book (non-fiction this time) named, aptly, “Eating Animals.” Well, and with it being Thanksgiving and all, I suppose it's somewhat relevant.  I have yet to finish the 352 page foray into the well-traveled world of omnivorous ethical dilemmas, but I already have the sense he takes a slightly different approach than most. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his previous novels, “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” The latter of which I devoured audiobook-style during my first drive/move to LA from Vancouver; I made it all the way to Sacramento, compelled by the humble and engaging characters, unable to put them to rest. This time, his characters are living, both internally and externally, sharing both insightful investigations and factual fodder. Inspired by the birth of his son, and the desire for a consistent and informed moral foundation, his journey takes him far beyond the reaches of a writer’s study, into factory farms, slaughter houses, and even the sensual smells of his Grandmother’s kitchen. Despite the obvious soapbox trap, his voice remains, like his fiction, compelling, humble, insightful and humorous. Since I was 9 years old, when I realized the stuff inside my McDonald’s hamburger was the same stuff that amounted to my hamster, guinea pig, and rabbit, I felt conflicted about ingesting this mysterious, yet delicious, substance. For a few years, I went back and forth, often swayed by my school's “hamburger day” or an exciting Thanksgiving feast; following the norm was also just easier. Eating the lasagna my friend’s mom made for dinner, shoving the pangs of guilt into the pocket of my Guess jeans, was much easier to swallow than thought of causing trouble with my pickiness. But after a particular, some might say spiritual, experience when I was twelve, I never (knowingly) ate another animal. One misty autumn afternoon I was running along the dyke near my house and stopped at the one farm left in our newly developed neighborhood. By the fence, solemnly, stood a lone cow - not eating, not mooing not even walking, just staring... at me. I stared back, and with the earnestness and intensity only a twelve year old can come by honestly, said simply, “I can’t eat you.” As sentimental as it may seem, my decision grew more from the discomfort with my logical inconsistency than a heartfelt emotional reaction, however that was probably what pushed me over the edge. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved animals, even my stuffed ones were deserving of my affection at one time. Growing up, our house was rarely rendered petless. So I asked myself, how could I love and nurture animals of all shapes and sizes, and yet support their slaughter and consumption for nothing more than human enjoyment. (I say enjoyment because I don’t believe humans need to eat meat to survive, at least not in our technologically advanced society.) I could possibly produce a similarly sized publication as Foer’s if I were to knead out the complexities of my ongoing internal struggle, the issue is far from black or white, but overall I’ve come to terms with the fact that it involves a constant evaluation and re-evaluation of my values. I’ve never been one to preach about my choices and for some reason this particular one is something I've felt solid about ever since I made the decision to stop eating meat, but I do think it’s important for people to at least ask themselves how they feel about it and why. Aside from the effects on the earth and the animals themselves, I think by the worst effect is the destruction of our own humanity that results from objectifying living beings. The disconnect between our actions and our values, when left unexplored, leaves an ever-widening gap in our experience of ourselves.

I encourage you to explore your own feelings on the subject, or even check out Foer’s if it interests you. Here are what some other reviewers and essayists have to say...

‘You Know That Chicken Is Chicken, Right?’ by Michiko Kakutani

'Mau-Mauing the Flesh Eaters' By Jennifer Schuessler