Sunday, January 15, 2006

Consumer Culture: Truth and Inconsequence

This week the news reported that super-best-selling author James Frey made up some of the significant moments in his “memoir,” A Thousand Little Pieces. He fictionalized what was touted as the truth. Problem is, his book was received with overwhelming accolades because of how inspiring the story is supposed to be, inspiring because purportedly true.

After the truth was revealed that he didn’t tell the truth (how layered it all becomes), Frey's biggest fan, Oprah, came out and said it didn’t matter, that the book was still so powerful that the fact he lied didn’t matter.

But I have my doubts that the book would have received such heightened attention if it had been peddled as a novel. And surely Frey wouldn’t have made the kind of money he has off the dramatic sales. Instead, in keeping with the times, Frey seems to be profiting off his lies.

What is happening here? I seem to recall a time when I was young that lying was punishable by grounding or, more dramatically, by being forced to go back and confess the truth. I always knew when I was lying, and I usually felt kind of thrilled when I told a lie but also pretty guilty about it. If I were James Frey, I would be utterly humiliated not only for lying but for going on national TV and coming clean. For whether it was him or his publisher who decided to hawk his heart-breaking tale as the god’s honest truth, the fact remains that he stood behind the lie and made the bucks with his eyes wide open.

If a redemption story is told through lies, does it somehow betray the redeemed?

But I digress. Because my real point is that these days it seems that lying is not only more and more the norm, but it is also met with less and less resistance. People don’t seem to be getting outraged when their leaders, political or cultural, lie to them. Instead, we seem to be growing increasingly complacent. There is no recourse against high-profile liars. What's more, the liars seem to be ever less concerned about covering their tracks. The cheating CEOs of Tyco and Enron are not in prison. Our President is not undergoing impeachment proceedings. Instead they just shrug their shoulders and kick a little dirt over the wet spot. Though maybe their time will come.

Perhaps we are just exhausted from the daily slights against us. Perhaps we are numb. Maybe our increasing hipness to the white lies of advertising has rendered us immune to truth.

Back in college I liked to watch The X-Files. I was always compelled by David Duchovny’s character not only because I had a crush on him, but also because he was so enamored of finding The Truth. This driving mission didn’t really resonate with me at the time, but I found his valor sexy. I think I was more interested in impressions and subjective experiences at that time.

But lately I am finding myself increasingly distressed about the state the truth in our society. People probably still get mad at their kids when they lie, but how can they when high-profile role models lie and get away with it, even benefit from it? And even if people are bothered, are they, are we, willing to fight for the truth? To fight for the truth for Truth’s sake?

The X-Files always promised in the end “the truth is out there.” I don’t think anyone doubts that. But the question is, does anyone care?

3 comments:

Mad said...

The truth is often so subjective. Certainly Truth is more often than not a matter of personal experience. But, having integrity around telling the truth, being upfront and outspoken about it, does seem an unpopular approach to "spin" these days. There's a sense that the truth isn't enough? But, as you say, Amy, more will be revealed in the long run, their time will come. Truth is stranger than fiction and in fact more exciting. Moral tales based on myth have merit and fiction can be inspiring. But telling the truth is an arduous, slow road, which has always won out. It is the truth that will change the world. Not the lies.

Betsy Palmieri said...

Amy, thank you for a thought provoking post on a challenging subject. Mary Anne Davis referred me to your blog. I look forward to more conversations in the future. (And checking out Greenjeans stuff too!)
Sincerely, Betsy Palmieri

CarolGert said...

Ain't that the truth!