Are We WRITERS Or Are We Amoebas?
The latest celebrity memoir…this time by the “ugly” girl from 90210, Tori Spelling (can you say ’nepotism’?)…has proven once again that despite any scandals involving the memoir genre this year, the public thirst for it has not at all slaked. We must be an instrument of change in the public taste. Younger people are reading more now, they are the readers of tomorrow, and if they see that a lot of what is being written is still of interest to them…even moreso than the latest tell-all memoir…we have a fighting chance to save the life of the serious writer.
If you’ve been reading my posts here, then you know by now how I feel about memoir. For the sake of any newcomers, let me reiterate my position once again. Memoir is a bullshit genre that takes the food out of real writers’ mouths, and forces us into ever-smaller boxes where we must fight to survive, even going so far as inventing whole personas in order to maintain a fighting chance in the ever more vicious publishing world. Now, let me be clear here: I’m not saying that everyone who has written a memoir is not a “real” writer…many of my writer friends have written memoirs that I truly appreciate and in which I find great worth. Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s memoir, I AM NOT MYSELF THESE DAYS, for example, just has some incredible, beautifully written passages within. But I think his book would have been even more effective had it been sold as a novel. When a writer is forced to prostitute himself in order to fit the latest marketing trend, everybody loses.
I was reading over an issue of Poets & Writers the other day. There was an article within by Azita Osanloo called The Pressure To Be Exotic. Osanloo asserts that, with the unfortunate emphasis on memoirs these days, many writers feel the need to ratchet up their own real-life credentials in order to be at all marketable. She says, “Current marketing trends that stress the importance of the writer’s star quality can seduce a writer into stretching the boundaries of his identity, allowing it to fit neatly into an attractive publishing niche. What’s the fallout? Little by little, as editors become marketing experts and novels become memoirs, writers will increasingly become sales technicians, and the artists themselves, along with their art, will be lost to posterity.”
She hits the nail on the head here. And what’s possibly even more interesting is that in response to this same article, yet another disgraced writer from 2006, one Nasdiij (Tim Barrus), wrote in to the magazine the following level-headed diatribe: “Azita Osanloo’s thoughtful article on the writing life is the first I’ve read that ’gets it.’ Almost everything written up to this point…especially in blogs…dealing with the ’literary scandals’ of 2006 has been so vitriolic, personal, and mean that any balance or shift toward the bigger picture has not simply been ephemeral, it has been nonexistent. All of this, with the exception of Osanloo’s article [he obviously hasn’t been reading my posts on the matter], has only reinforced my own perceptions about publishing as a business. I am not what threatens publishing. What threatens publishing is the idea that it is fast becoming irrelevant.” Needless to say, you know I think he’s right. And we’d all be better off if we started realizing this very genuine reality.
Some have approached me regarding my constant defense of these scandalized writers (Frey, Barrus, Leroy), and have asked me why I’m so vehement about defending these writers who have been defamed as “morally inferior,” writers who have “besmirched the fair name of authors everywhere.” If this year has anything to teach writers, especially those of us still trying to find footing within the establishment, it is that the current negative climate in publishing has literally bred the desperate acts of these “disgraced” writers. These writers decided to cease attempting the formally tried and true route toward getting published in favor of fabricating identities. And really, what are the alternatives? For the fiction writer, for the writer trying to break through, there is little reception with Big Publishing. Because the bottom line in this business, as in any business, is cash money. Writers are expendable. We are cattle.
As an alternative to this mess I’d like to propose a course of action similar to that of the renowned British graffiti artist BANKSY. He is the biggest thing to hit the art world in years, and yet remains completely anonymous, preferring to his let his work speak for him. He has a mythos and a mystique surrounding him, and this has increased the public perception of him, and the fervor for his work.
I’ll close with a couple of pretty poignant quotations. The first from a Washington Post article (my italics) regarding how the film industry is dealing with the critical hoopla surrounding Mel Gibson’s latest movie, the second from a scene in one of my favorite films, WAKING LIFE.
“Other studio chiefs have said they would not work with Mr. Gibson in the future but would not say so for attribution because they didn’t want to endanger their future business dealings. At least one influential publicist has declined to work on an “Apocalypto” Oscar campaign because of objections to Mr. Gibson’s views, but would not say so publicly for similar reasons.” i.e. Don’t want to publicly decry Gibson because he might just still have a few million more bucks to make ’em.
(Guy with a bullhorn is driving through the city streets yelling)
“You can’t fight city hall, death and taxes. Don’t talk about politics or religion. This is all the equivalent of enemy propaganda rolling across the picket line. ’Lay down, G.I. Lay down, G.I.’ We saw it all through the 20th Century. And now in the 21st Century, it’s time to stand up and realize that we should not allow ourselves to be crammed into this rat maze. We should not submit to dehumanization. I don’t know about you, but I’m concerned with what’s happening in this world. I’m concerned with the structure. I’m concerned with the systems of control, those that control my life and those that seek to control it even more! I want freedom! That’s what I want! And that’s what you should want!
It’s up to each and every one of us to turn loose and show them the greed, the hatred, the envy, and yes, the insecurities because that is the central mode of control – make us feel pathetic, small so we’ll willingly give up our sovereignty, our liberty, our destiny. We have got to realize that we’re being conditioned on a mass scale. Start challenging this corporate slave state! The 21st Century is going to be a new century, not the century of slavery, not the century of lies and issues of no significance and classism and statism and all the rest of the modes of control! It’s going to be the age of humankind standing up for something pure and something right!
Do you got me? Resistance is not futile. We’re gonna win this thing. Humankind is too good! We’re not a bunch of underachievers! We’re gonna stand up and we’re gonna be human beings! We’re gonna get fired up about the real things, the things that matter: creativity and the dynamic human spirit that refuses to submit! Well that’s it! That’s all I got to say! It’s in your court.”
More next time.