[VIEWPOINT]Accept society’s responsibility

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[VIEWPOINT]Accept society’s responsibility

The United States is in an uproar over the James Frey incident. This is the story in short: Mr. Frey became a best-selling author when he wrote about his experience with drug and alcohol addiction in his memoir, “A Million Little Pieces.” However, it was revealed on an Internet site that exposes fabrications, “thesmokinggun.com,” that Mr. Frey not only exaggerated the truth in his memoir but even lied. Although he had spent a few hours in jail, he wrote as if he spent three months in jail. He also wrote he had had root canal treatment without any anesthesia. These were not fabrications that split the sky in two, but the aftereffects were great. The biggest reason, of course, was because he violated the social contract that a memoir should be written on the basis of truth. Another reason was that the godmother of the U.S. publishing industry, Oprah Winfrey, backed the book also.
“A Million Little Pieces” was passionately recommended on Oprah’s book club.
Who then is Oprah? Isn’t she the “goddess” of truth, emotion and hope for all her viewers? When Mr. Frey’s lies were first exposed to the whole world, Oprah maintained her position of supporting the author for a while. She said in an interview with Larry King that Mr. Frey probably told little lies for the bigger truth, and that people were making a fuss over nothing. After that, people started to criticize Oprah in disappointment, and she quickly changed her position. She apologized to everyone for her mistake, and even called Mr. Frey back on to her show and rebuked him quite harshly. It was so harsh that you could almost feel sorry for Mr. Frey. But everyone agreed, “That’s our Oprah.”
Before figuring out who to blame, it is an interesting case to examine. Firstly, it is interesting that such a scandal could come about because of the fabricated contents of a memoir. I mean, in a world where even science theses are manipulated, do people really expect a perfectly non-fictional piece of work? On top of that, a memoir is a dramatic composition of the truth rather than an array of actual events. Appropriate “facts” were probably needed to make the composition right. That is why there are so many novels “based on a true story” in this world. In actual fact, Mr. Frey is said to have tried to sell his piece as a novel at first. However, the United States is a country where memoirs and autobiographies are more popular than most novels. After being rejected by many publishers, Mr. Frey presented his work as a memoir. When prominent publisher Nan Talese of Doubleday bought the work, Mr. Frey said he did not even know whether the publisher bought the manuscript as a novel or a memoir. If this book had been published as a novel, Mr. Frey would have been less successful but not a liar. So the bigger problem might be the genre of the book, rather than the fact that Mr. Frey lied. Did Mrs. Talese really think that this was a pure memoir?
Let’s just say it could cause a scandal. It is still strange that a big fuss was created over such a small incident. Of course, the reason is because so many people have read the book and it has made so much money for the author. (The book is said to have had the second-highest sales in the United States in 2005 after Harry Potter.) If only a few hundred people had read the book, the general public would not really care about the lies. They would not even have been revealed. So, in a sense, the core of the problem lies in the fact that everybody liked his lies. Even Oprah! Everybody wanted the terrifying experiences of someone else (that were not fiction).
Does one author really write a book all alone? And when a book goes through the complex process of getting published and being read by so many people, does the author have to take all the responsibility regarding the book? There is a term, “the spirit of the times.” Isn’t it possible that the readers of our times passionately demanded this book? Instead of throwing stones at the lies that float around in our society, I think it necessary to feel our social responsibility at least once.

* The writer is a painter. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Park Sang-mi
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