James Frey, J.T. Leroy, Nasdijj. These literary frauds recently captured headlines and office gossip around the gin-coolers of publishing houses everywhere. Oprah, feigning ignorance of the book biz, blamed the publishing companies for not checking their facts. The publishing companies pointed the finger at economic realities and said it’s not financially feasible to examine every claim made in a memoir.
And meanwhile, these scandals occur during a time when everyone is complaining of flat sales, declining readerships, and loss of the public’s attention to television.
So allow me to suggest this modest proposal. Publishers, utilize reality television shows to perform your fact checking. This strategy gets the authorial dirt, exposes books to reality TV’s considerable audience, and provides a fantastic example of synergy for the mega-entertainment companies like Time Warner.
Plus, seeing The Dog sink his prominent canines into J.T. Leroy’s ass would simply be fantastic entertainment.
Let’s look at the three cases of literary fraud mentioned above and see how reality television could have solved the crime.
James Frey on Syndicated Television’s Cheaters
Appearing in more than 200 markets nationwide, Cheaters stops at nothing to root out and expose infidelity. “Both dedicated to the faithful and presented to the false-hearted to encourage their renewal of temperance and virtue,” the crack investigators of Cheaters could have discovered the extent of James Frey’s falsehoods.
Just imagine… instead of grainy black and white surveillance films of Ray Ray getting it on with the Tammy after finishing the second shift at the Taco Bell, the show could have revealed footage of college student Frey chilling out in the conference room at the Granville, OH police station.
Phone taps could have recorded Frey making his call, “yeah, man, I’m going down. I’m facing a serious stretch here! This place is full of hardcore killers. I’ma have to mob up!” while in actuality, he adjusts his white button-down shirt, puts his feet up on the conference room table, sips his soda and counts down the three hours until freedom.
Most entertaining of all would have been host Joey Greco and his camera crew slam on the brakes in their minivan. They pile out, surrounding a disoriented Frey in the dark parking lot of the Granville, OH police station. Greco confronts Frey about his falsehoods while the cornered writer repeatedly blinks in the spotlight and stutters, “I mean again, we’re dealing with a very subjective memory.”
Nasdijj on MTV’s Room Raiders
Contestants on this show inspect the living conditions of three suitors. They are given a forensics kit, including the all important black light, and they scour bedrooms in an effort to learn about the personalities of their potential dates. Usually, the contestants of this show head straight for the underwear drawer, looking for porn, used tissues, or frightening stains.
The format of Room Raiders could have been altered in such a way that would have undeniably revealed the true identity of supposed-Native American writer Nasdijj.
An examination of his room would have turned up gay pornography, cowboy hats (but not the style featured in westerns we watched as kids, I can assure you that), and identification materials that have nothing to do with membership in the Navajo nation. Instead the IDs would be for for Tim Barrus, a twice-married Caucasian best known for producing S&M fiction.
Room Raiders could have gotten to the bottom of Nasdijj/Barrus’ sock drawer much quicker than the LA Weekly article that ultimately exposed him.
J.T. Leroy on Dog the Bounty Hunter
Dog Chapman usually hunts down bail-jumping cons in paradise’s seamy side. Aided by his Super Friends cadre of trackers, including his wife Beth Smith (often dressed in her own red, white, and blue version of Wonder Woman’s outfit), and family members Tim and Leland, Dog is determined to stamp out crime in Hawaii. However, he will make a trip to mainland in order to get his man. So he could have tracked down the J.T. Leroy story long ago.
Major media outlets spent months on the Leroy saga. Dog could have wrapped that shit up in one or two episodes. As the hunter says, “you gotta run with them in order to catch them,” so imagine the sight of Dog, with his kevlar, mace canister holsters, Oakley Thump sunglasses, and padded gloves striding into the middle of the tweed-jacket-masses at one of Leroy’s publishing appearances.
Dog always looks for the weakest link so he would have broken someone involved in the J.T. Leroy cover-up. And once he finds his quarry, the SUVs screech to a halt, and he sprints in his cowboy boots to grab the author in big sunglasses, blonde wig, and big hat. Dog throws Leroy up against his SUV and cuffs him. But then Dog tries to get through to Leroy, tries to convince him/her to turn his life around. “You gotta leave behind da lies, brah,” Dog would say to his capture. “Lying to people, manipulating their good will, preying on their sympathies is no way to live.”
So there you have it, publishing companies and reality television producers. A humble suggestion to solve the quandary of fact checking memoirs while providing new reality programming and exposing books to millions of people. If they can make reality shows about stitching clothes and running on treadmills, then why can’t a book about scouring the Earth for literary truth and publishing justice succeed?