Friday, March 14, 2008

A Funny Commentary on Fakers

Thanks to Kate over at FishBowlLA for sending this to me.

The Phoenix: Pants afire

Yes, if you’re impatient with the facts, if you feel they require enhancement, colorization, or “jazzing up,” now’s your moment. If you’re Tom Ashbrook, on the other hand, the times are vexed. “A program note,” announced the host of WBUR’s On Point on Tuesday, March 4, sounding unwontedly small-voiced and glum. “In our second hour on Friday, you may recall we talked with an author. Thought her name was [slight spin of sarcasm] Margaret B. Jones. Her new memoir was Love and Consequences, it was about life in South Central Los Angeles, growing up half-white, half–Native American, uh, running with gangs there, selling drugs for the Bloods . . .” A sigh. “Well, it comes out today the whole thing was a fraud . . . Story a complete, uh, fraud, the publisher now says. We’re learning this along with everybody else. It is embarrassing, it is frustrating, it’s kind of infuriating. Don’t know what to make of the memoir business in this country . . . Going to have to be a little warier in the future, and I trust you will, too.”

Poor old Ashbrook. Sing-songing his way through the Great American Conversation, with the grandest themes of the culture constellated around him in Newtonian splendor, he had collided head-on with Planet Bullshit. The deconstruction of Margaret B. Jones had been swift: a week after the publication of Love and Consequences, following a profile in the House & Home section of the New York Times (“One of the first things I did once I started making drug money was to buy a burial plot”), her real-life older sister dropped the dime on her. Margaret B. Jones, gifted ghetto survivor, was actually Margaret Seltzer, well-educated Valley Girl, and everything in her book — the guns, the drugs, the foster care — was fiction. Or rather, it wasn’t fiction, because it had been advertised as truth: it was bullshit.

And the weird thing is, if you listen to her original On Point interview, you can hear it. You can hear the conditions for bullshit being created in the ardent queries of the duped Ashbrook — “How old was Terrell when he got ‘jumped in’?”, “And how did Big Momma feel about that?” — and you can hear bullshit grooming itself in her sketchy, improvisational replies. The philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt, in his lapidary little primer On Bullshit, taught us that the focus of the true bullshitter is “panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared, so far as required, to fake the context, as well.” Or as Margaret B. told Ashbrook, parrying one of his more direct questions, “You have to take that artistic vision.”

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