Thursday, January 26, 2006

Oprah and Frey: The Last Post (One Fervently Hopes)

For those who missed it, Oprah reduced James Frey to a stoic-looking-but-quivering-on-the-inside mass on her show today, even forcing him, in the waning minutes, to say things like, "After today, hopefully I'm a better person." (I'm paraphrasing; I would've written down exactly what he said, but I was too busy zipping up the body bag on Western civilization.)

I only caught the final segment. I'm told that most of the show was devoted to a panel of cultural talking heads taking Frey to task. The schoolmarms included Frank Rich (America’s schoolmarm laureate) and an anonymous geek from the Poynter Institute tying the moment to a larger social trend of dishonesty. As my friend Nick rightfully asked, “What’s new about lying?” Sadly, it seems that what’s new is lying to Oprah. No one will directly say that, of course, but this entire story arc -- from the book’s enormous commercial success to the blow-up about its fabrications to today’s circus of castigation and insincere atonement -- only exists because of O’s orchestration. I’ve always thought her self-righteousness was her least appealing trait, and I had seen signs that it was abating, despite her ever-increasing fame. But today had to be a new low, when she allowed people to say, with a straight face, that discovering the truth of this situation is partly important because of movements like Holocaust denial. Because, you see, a fame-hungry memoirist’s self-aggrandizing is the equivalent of people denying systematic genocide. (And don’t bring up slippery slopes -- to me, this correlation is as absurd as implying that gay marriage will lead to the union of man and cat.)

The more platitudinous and therapeutic the whole thing became, the more the exercise backfired on Oprah, reinforcing her role as the dupe rather than turning her into a healer (more accurately, she sought to become a double-healer today -- first helping save her audience by introducing it to Frey's tale of redemption, and then rushing, if sternly, to FREY'S aid when it turned out he, the pathological liar, was the one who needed her). But anyone who knows anyone with similar ambitions could see that Frey had been triumphant and would remain so, despite what must have been the most humiliating 60 minutes of his life. This was not a member of the parade of everyday Americans who kneel with good intentions before Oprah or Dr. Phil hoping to magically learn how to shed pounds, or save more money, or get along better with their spouse. Frey's a calculating, ego-driven writer who’s been milking his lies in the media since the day the book was published, and his goal was to write something that got him national attention, truckloads of money, and another bestselling book or two. He didn't get much of any of those at first, since the consensus seemed to be that the book, entirely true or not, wasn't particularly good. But thanks to Oprah, he got all of it, and no matter how many times she puts him on the couch, she can’t reverse that. Both of them can only look worse and worse from here on out, and they seem devoted to doing just that.


***

Meanwhile, Nick and I trawled through some past Oprah transcripts and found that falling prey to famous works of literature is nothing new for her. With the help of our pal PF, we exhumed a few other examples of original titles that somehow became inflated in the editing and publishing process. I think you’ll be shocked:

Forty-five Minutes of Solitude

The Pretty Good Gatsby

Love in the Time of Post-Nasal Drip

The Second Cousins Karamazov

The Middle-Aged Man and the Pond

Duluth According to Garp

Indigestion of a Salesman

To Catch and Release a Mockingbird

Breakfast at Macy’s

Squabble on the Bounty

Gulliver's Armchair

As I Lay Napping

Bright Lights, Philadelphia

Zhivago the Med Student

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Dread Pirate said...

You forgot these notables:

A sentence or two of a couple of large crowds

Foldable map of Newark Shrugged

Escalated shouting and Peace

In Sight of the Road

1983

The Rouge Letter

Paradise Temporarily Misplaced

Tropic of Skin Rash

The Art of Slap Fighting

7:12 AM  
Anonymous Dread Pirate said...

The Grapes of Mild Irritation

Expectations

7:24 AM  
Anonymous JIS said...

Well said, JW, well said!

11:03 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

I was stumped trying to come up with something for Atlas Shrugged. Inspired work, Pirate. (I was focusing on the second word, which made it rough going.) Once again, you've proved yourself the better man.

12:37 AM  
Anonymous Dread Pirate said...

Not better - just of the same cloth - not to toot my own horn but 1983 was my fav.

12:55 PM  

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