Friday, January 27, 2006

Selling Emotion. Mortgaging Truth: 10 "True Feelings" about Memoir-Gate

I digress to a discussion of Oprah Winfrey and Memoir-Gate because (if you'll look at my chute to the left) I remain interested in preserving the culture. Truth, I think, has a role to play in this.

For a bit of background on the controversy, Oprah enthusiastically endorsed and recommended for her book club a supposed "memoir" called A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey. It turns out that the book, which Frey initially and unsuccessfully tried to market as a novel, contained a number of untruths about his life as an addict. Let me just say that, this offends and upsets my emotions. And that’s the truth. But don’t worry. I won’t have a good cry over it.

Lest I misstate the facts and unduly offend an Oprah devotee (like Rhod or Mark, ahem), here’s a synopsis of Memoir-Gate. And here is the Smoking Gun piece that outed both Oprah and Frey.

What follows are my 10 “feelings” about this matter. And if you don’t think what I say is true, at least acknowledge that I think what I am saying is true, and that it feels good for me to say it. So, here goes:

1) Oprah went on Larry King last week to defend Frey because his book, in spite of its myriad exaggerations and lies, still contained what she called "emotional truth". I get uncomfortable when people use modifiers before "truth", like for instance the term "half-truth". Sometimes we like truth, and other times it hurts. But truth, whether spoken about one's emotions, thoughts, or actions, either is or isn't. And Frey's book certainly contains some truth. But it also contains a number of falsehoods. He lies about things that he apparently doesn't need to lie about, too, such as his criminal record. Thus, the entire book is called into question, in my view. As I recently told an Oprah fan who is dear to me, if Frey is lying about immaterial things then you know that there are material falsehoods in the book. In my business, I deal with people who fudge occasionally. And I find that there is always a rational reason (absent a psychological problem) for some one to be lying. It generally has something to do with self-preservation or advancement.

2) Just a week after her vigorous defense of Frey on Larry King, Oprah appeared on her show to apologize. She was near tears … or was she? … and she was suddenly indignant about how Frey had "duped" her. She now says she is “embarrassed". But what happened in the last week? Oprah had come under increasing scrutiny and criticism by her normally reliable liberal friends in the media, that's what. And in an effort to head off criticism, she went on the air to defend Frey as the controversy continued to percolate. But the damage control didn't work. Now she is "repentant". Well, consider me unconvinced and indignant myself. Yet, I was indignant with Oprah's posterior protection from the outset.

3) Predictably, the fawning MSM applauds Oprah's "forthrightness". Yet, she sidestepped the issue and refused to even acknowledge the merit of the well-done piece by Smoking Gun until ... oh, yesterday morning. Again, what changed? Nothing. Ah, but all is forgiven by the MSM.

4) The MSM loves Oprah for a number of reasons. First, she is a liberal. Second, she is a woman. Third, she is a minority. Fourth, she doesn't "need" a man and she has all these years kept in line that poor unknown guy she shacks up with. Because of the foregoing, Oprah is crowned as "brilliant", "beloved", and an American icon by the MSM. Yet, just because you can talk well doesn't mean you are thoughtful. There are some in sales who might illustrate this point; you be the judge. But seriously, have you ever listened to what she actually says? Maybe it doesn’t sound so bad if you focus on the “emotional truth” behind what she says. Problem is, I am not sure how much of that “emotional truth” is even true. Just because something makes you feel warm inside doesn’t mean it is true. It could be soup.

Note, too, that Oprah’s guests (whether movie stars, politicians, or just women talking about how unnecessary men are) usually are licking her shoes and bowing respectfully. Why? She wields a lot of clout/money with her vast audience that views her as pretty much as a high priestess of sorts. But a high priestess of what? The High Priestess of Emotional Truth? Tears on Command? Group Hugs? Well, consider me just one of those unnecessary men who are working while her show is on. From what I have heard of her, though, here is what I can deduce: Oprah is a genius when it comes to self-promotion, but not much else.

5) If a conservative had done this, he (or even she) would be finished. And the bulk of his viewers/listeners would consider him disgraced. The MSM would be on the warpath. They would burn their way all the way to the offender’s studios.

6) Predictably, Oprah's congregation is completely satisfied with her televised contrition depicting what a big dummy she has been. They generally reserve their skepticism for the men in their lives, not Oprah. In Oprah’s world, you see, there are few consequences, little truth. Just the feelings, ma’am, if you please. If make-believing “works” and we can all have a good cry and sing Cumbayah to get ourselves together, please just go away. I mean, they are good enough, they are smart enough, and doggonit, they like Oprah. And if they feel good, dammit, then who are you to criticize?

7) The fact that a lot of people are buying a product doesn't mean it's good. It means that it's popular. And when you've got a culture that defines truth to suit its own desires rather than recognizing it for what it is, then you get lots of not-so-good things that are popular. Fortunately, many of the shows on TV that meet this description are on while I am working.

8) Kudos to the New Media for leading the charge and the way – again. True, some in the MSM started chirping lately, but it never would have happened without The Smoking Gun. While the MSM is generally trying to preserve their power, the New Media are doing the job the MSM formerly did – exposing and telling the truth.

9) You can’t make a fried egg out of a scrambled egg. You can’t be inspired by a “memoir” when you know it’s a lie. Well, you can be “inspired”, but you are deluding yourself. You can’t get better if you base your recovery on a lie. That Oprah didn’t immediately acknowledge this demonstrates, in my view, that she often manipulates her audience’s emotions at the expense of their well-being. More foundationally, like Frey, Oprah’s main desire is her main talent –- self-promotion and preservation. I think this explains, in part, her initial impulse to defend him. He was only doing what she was: Selling Feelings. Mortgaging Truth. But when the kitchen got hot, Oprah was frying James. Remember your first principles, James. You would have done the same thing. As those in recovery would say, man, you need a program. It seems to me, too, that the discrediting of Frey (who completely discounts traditional Twelve-Step Programs such as AA) should encourage and vindicate those who are in recovery and attempting to deal with their addictions honestly.

10) Finally, to those who think I am being unfair, I would like to offer what I think would have been a suitable apology by Oprah.

That is, this troglodyte wouldn’t have written this post, if Oprah had said something like this:

"I am deeply sorry for my colossal error in judgment that I made by endorsing James Frey's book and by going to bat for him. The book is full of falsehoods, and I became an accomplice in spreading them. In fact, I have been doing this for a long time. I have put my own feelings above what I know to be true. Why? Well, it gets me ratings. The media has fawned over me, and I have a lot of women watching who just adore me. Frankly, I think I have been unthinking, as have a lot of you for being fans of mine. I am going to turn over a new leaf and be honest, even if it doesn't help me promote myself ... even if it doesn’t fit my liberal, feminist agenda. I am sorry. I have been a self-absorbed bag of hot gas, and I am going to retire now.”

Wouldn’t that have been much better? But of course, turning over such a new leaf would have necessitated Oprah’s going off the air or having a vastly smaller afternoon audience.

Then again, we’d have a similar result if our culture valued truth more.