Saturday, January 14, 2006


As you might have guessed from, oh, reading anything I've posted on here ever (or, rather, even looking at the text without letting the sweet, sweet nonsense pass into your consciousness), you'll know I'm not one for short posts. That said, this'll be a short post. Links to brilliant other things, mostly.

  • If you're the kind of person that's been near a video game in the past decade, you may not be able to resist finding this quite hilarious. Well written in that Lore Sjöberg kind of way, slightly saddening because it predicts that people will be ever-so-slightly more consumed by World of Warcraft in 2010. Which doesn't actually count as "surprising", but you'll have that.

  • The world turned on its head as everyone everywhere realized that even the almighty Oprah can be hoodwinked, following the revelation that James Frey might not have been telling the truth. I cannot emphasize strongly enough the sense of "whatever" that I'm feeling toward this. A columnist for the Chicago Tribune's free tabloid-like Red Eye (which makes for a compact and free thing to read during the first few weeks of my daily trek to Northwestern on the CTA, before everyone gets into the whole cannibalism thing and we all abandon all hope of making it past Jarvis) contends that it matters a great deal that he made his story of drug-addicting and redemption up, as no one could expect a reasonable person to take away any inspiration from mere fiction. I happen to disagree strongly with the opinion that having a "nonfiction" lying renders it useless (I would disagree less were this, say, my organometallics book), simply because I think more people have been inspired by fiction over the years. And that I still can't quite conceive of the fact that there are things that exist beyond my own line of sight and the book very well may have simply materialized. In which case it doesn't matter if the void from which it arose is lying or not. Particularly because I've got far too many other things to read at the moment to worry about it.

  • While writing that paragraph, one of the two worst acted lines in the Star Wars series came out of my TV. Specifically, it's "We're coming in too hot." I'm not one to nitpick about the acting, and a long, long time ago I wrote a post defending the constantly attacked Prequel Trilogy, but that combined with the "No." that Palpatine says, like a defiant five year old (note: not Vader's "Nooo") are just... they just kill it.

    Incidentally, while those two about tie, the third worst acted line is, as any self respecting geek should know, concerns Tasche station and power converters.

  • Incidentally, that thing at the top about this being short, or these all being links doesn't count.


    Hal said...

    I dunno. Another blogger I read had this comment about it:

    "Now, I want you to think about something: if a substitute teacher in, say, NJ, stood up in front of her class of, say, 8-yr-olds and began telling them that the facts of some lesson don't matter, but the emotional truth matters, would she be teaching them a lie, or would she be teaching them the truth?"

    The 'emotional truth' part is what Frey said in response to criticism.

    Despite the (supposed, I've no way of verifying it) fact that only small portions of the book are lies, I think I see this as a problem. No matter how inspiring something may be, if you know it's false and you proclaim it as truth, it's still a lie.

    I mean, how rotten would you find an atheist working as a Catholic priest? "Yeah, I think it's all garbage, but it inspires the people, so I think I'm doing good work."

    -Murphy said...

    But it differs in two important ways. Firstly, that he's not instructing people, really, or giving them information in any really useful way, which is the job of the substitute teacher (to relay information). I could write a book right now about my life as a pineapple addict, and if someone picks up my book without knowing for certain whether I've made it up (as one does with most biographies) and kicks the pineapple habit, then I say bully for him. The danger in lying comes if the former pineapple addict has invested so much of his quitting in just this book and not, say, the wonderful benefits of being prone to scurvy (or, were the pineapple something a bit more sinister, the benefits of being able to stop stealing his mother's dvd player to buy smack), and relapses out of desperation upon learning he's been had. That is different from a substitute teacher in that what we're looking at is, essentially, the moral of a story. That's all his book is; a story. His happens to be a story that's been embellished so that he can sell more copies.

    And it's not that he doesn't believe the importance of his message (which is, in this case, to stop screwing around and get one's life on track). The lies are exaggerations of his personal arrest record. So it's not akin to an atheist working as a priest. It's akin to a priest who claimed that he found religion when he was living as a bum and was given a dollar by a clergy member, when the truth is that he decided to go into the priesthood after joining his youth group.

    What the entire thing rings of to me is of people feeling like they've been had, and feeling dumb for not realizing it earlier. The people that I've noticed are most strongly critical of Frey (the columnist for RedEye) probably haven't quit a heroin addiction over the book. They've just been fooled, and it appears to be tendency to lash out at who hoodwinked them out of anger at being made to look stupid.

    As for whether or not he claims it to be truth, I'm not sure. I'm going to Borders anyway today (completing, hopefully, my Romero "Dead" film collection by purchasing the worst one (Day of the Dead)) and I'll look inside the cover to see if he explicitly states that what follows is fact. If not, I'm confused as to why people demonize Frey for lying but not, say, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was most likely exaggerated, but is told as a travelogue.

    That isn't to say, of course, that H. S. Thompson's work is free of criticism. Just that most people wouldn't get all huffity if they learned that he was lying.

    Rory said...

    I was really hoping these two comments were going to be about Star Wars :<

    Hal said...

    Mmmm . . . I wouldn't say Hollywood is free of such criticisms. Consider Spielburg's Munich. I've been reading about a great deal of heat it's getting for really messing with the record of everything that happened with that event.

    When I mentioned this whole incident to a friend of mine, it reminded him of a story from the 2000 election. Gore told a story of a school where many of the students had to stand for an entire semester because the school couldn't afford more desks. The true story, it turned out, was not as embellished; one girl showed up one morning to find that the room was short one desk. She sat in a chair that day, and they moved in another desk for the next day. When confronted with the truth of the story, Gore's reaction was that while the exact details were inaccurate, it still holds true that schools are underfunded and he would fix that.

    Is this the exact same thing? No. Frey isn't a politician. Most examples I can come up with fall short because Frey just wrote a book about kicking his drug habits. However, I still put a good deal of value on the truth, especially when this guy is putting himself out into the public arena. Yeah, it doesn't have a big effect on anyone that he lied about some of his stories, but I'm not sure I want to consider a lie 'okay' based on the number of people hurt and the severity of their hurt.

    -Murphy said...

    Hollywood isn't free of such criticisms. Munich has been receiving its fair share of criticisms, but then again Spielberg's been advertising it as historical fiction the whole time (he's admitting up front that it's not entirely accurate and for entertainment purposes only) and it didn't actually happen to him, which is why I tried to find an example of where an author was probably embellishing things about their own personal history, amid much less criticism than Frey's getting.

    I think that what I'm trying to understand is why this guy's case is such a huge deal, considering this happens quite often and the only thing I can see that's different is that Oprah and her Book Club feel mislead. Lying's not a good thing, and I don't think that lies should be overlooked even if a greater truth is upheld, but what seems to be happening is that people are making Frey into a straw man because of some kind of pride issue (not wanting to have been "had"). No, he didn't undergo back-to-back root canals without lidocaine, but that doesn't mean the premise of "hey drugs are bad, mmkay." fails. Lying (even if only exaggerating personal truths) isn't a valid way to go about getting a point out there, but he's also probably not Saddam Hussein in disguise. I don't think it's a matter of "how many people were hurt", but, from my perspective outside the thing, I'm just left wondering why we're jumping on this guy and not inaccuracies, in, say, Paris Hilton's auto-biography. It might be clean, but it may contain just as many or more lies, which may be more severe, but for some reason I don't imagine we'd be jumping on her autobiography as an example of the decline of culture.

    The fact that Paris Hilton exists is enough proof of that.