Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Great Divide
Why The Rest of The Rest of America Has Gone Completely Insane

This weekend, while waiting at the Port Authority terminal for my bus to Atlantic City, I killed some time in the PA bookstore. I walked around, checked out the new titles, promising myself I wouldn't buy anything (I already had 2 books in my travel bag). To me, there's nothing more peaceful and invigorating than hanging around a bookstore, and I can't wait to see my first novel on those shelves next summer.

There were two girls in their mid-late twenties perusing the stacks as well. And like I do every time I hear people discussing books, I eavesdropped on their conversation. I'm always fascinated to hear people talking about which books they do and don't like, and why. So the chattier of the two girls starts talking about how she's currently reading A MILLION LITTLE PIECES. Then she says to her friend, "I love James Frey, I'm addicted to his writing."

The fact that she said this without any irony whatsoever should have set off a warning bell.

She proceeded to ask the clerk if Frey's second book, MY FRIEND LEONARD, was out yet in paperback. The clerk said he'd just cracked open the boxes, and gave her a fresh copy. The girl keeps telling her friend how wonderful Frey is, and how she feels he got a raw deal from the Smoking Gun and from Oprah. And then she drops the bombshell.

"I don't think what he did was wrong. You're allowed to lie when you write a book. You know, poetic license."

It took everything I had to not run up to her and scream WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!?!?!?

Is that really how people see things? Perhaps it's no coincidence then, that months after the Smoking Gun scandal broke, months after Frey's public humiliation on national television, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES is still high up on the New York Times bestseller list. For years everybody's been saying how out of touch the media--especially New York--is with the rest of America. It goes beyond blue state vs. red state, and bleeds into arts and entertainment. This is why, I assume, movies like "Rush Hour 2" can make over $200,000,000 at the box office, while "L.A. Confidential" barely ekes out $50,000,000. There's a huge divide between what the "cultured elite" like, and what the rest of America likes.

There was a very funny sketch at the Oscars a few years ago when Chris Rock was hosting, where he interviewed a bunch of people, most of whom chose "White Chicks" as the best movie of the year. The sketch made a point. People go to movies, read books, and listen to music primarily to be entertained. It said that cultural snobbery is hopelessly outdated, that the rest of America doesn't care what we give awards to, because they vote with their pocketbooks.

Well, if this mentality is what spurred the girl to believe non-fiction writers have poetic license to lie, in my opinion "The Rest of America" is stupid and ignorant. What person, who claims any sort of intelligence or integrity, can say, "You're allowed to lie when you write a book." Sure you can lie when you write. If you write novels.

I bet it would go over real well if, say, in James Swanson's MANHUNT, a book about the search for Abraham Lincoln's killer, the author decided to take "Poetic License" and claim that not only did John Wilkes Booth escape the authorities in a helicopter, he proceeded to lead Nazi Germany into World War II after adopting the moniker "El Guapo." I mean Booth was an evil dude. All Swanson would be doing is extrapolating, right? It's poetic license, right?

Is this really how the "Rest of America" should be? And am I wrong in saying that anyone who answers 'yes' deserves to spend the rest of their life watching Pauly Shore movies in a continuous loop?

One of the funniest statements I ever heard took place a couple of years ago, during a conversation between my father and a business acquaintance of his. They were discussing their hobbies. My father mentioned he liked to play the guitar, and read literary fiction.

The acquaintance responded, completely seriously, "Literary fiction? You mean like James Patterson?"

Thanks, "Rest of America." I rest my case.


Blogger Stacia said...

Don't you mean the infamous El Guapo?

I know just what you mean. I originally wanted to read AMLP after seeing it at Target about a year before the scandal broke. I didn;t get it then, though, I decided I didn't want to spend the money on something I wasn't sure I would like so went home to check Amazon, which was already full of claims Frey's story wasn't true-enough to make me decide not to get the book, after all.

I just don't understand. There are people out there who remain convinced Patricia Cornwell nailed Jsck the Ripper, too, and no amount of actual facts will change their minds. It's like they don't see what they don't want to see at all.

6:01 AM  
Blogger s.w. vaughn said...

It's hopeless. Completely hopeless. We are a nation of people who believes what "they" tell us to believe. If it's in a book or on television, it has to be true.

What more can we expect from a general populace who watches reality television instead of participating in reality?

Of course, my opinions are simply sour grapes. The Rest of America disagrees, making me the geek in the corner at the high school prom who's secretly planning to detonate King Football Quarterback and Queen Cheerleader while the rest of the kids fawn and beg for a scrap of their attention.

We never grow up, and we never learn.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Jason Pinter said...

I think there's definitely something in people's brains where, if you tell them the same thing for long enough, they accept it as fact despite all notions to the contrary.

With James Frey, there was so much media coverage--didn't matter if it was positive or negative--that impressionable people said, "Hey, this book is important!"

I can't watch reality T.V. for that reason. I know it's not "really" real, and therefore I just can't enjoy it on that level. I'd rather read a novel or watch a sitcom. In a weird way it's more comforting to know I'm being lied to.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Brett Battles said...

I was trying to think of something witty to say...but I can't get my mind to move in that direction.

This is sad. Very.

Maybe we should move the population around a bit and create the read states and the where's-my-head states.

Think I'll go crawl into a hole until then.

2:53 PM  
Blogger JT Ellison said...

I don't disagree with what you said at all. There is one tiny silver lining in the otherwise groaning cloud -- at least they were reading. I was out the other night, talking to this guy about The DaVinci Code. I said something inane about the book and he said, and I'm not kidding -- I thought it was a movie, not a book.
Can I option the rights to Miss Snark's Clue Gun?

3:15 PM  
Blogger Jason Pinter said...

Good point JT. Reading a bad book rots your brain at a slower pace than watching, say, "America's Next Top Model."

But I might still find myself digging a hole next to Brett.

4:12 PM  

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