I used to travel for work. Hawaii, Vermont, Kansas, Mississippi, Michigan… have flowchart, will travel. Paladin with a project plan. Most of these travel assignments required flight time, but one gig in Richmond, Virginia was just a two hour drive from my home in the DC suburbs. On my drives, I generally listed to sports-talk radio and it amazed me how much complaining everyone did with absolutely zero follow through. Hours and hours of bitching and moaning. And yet, every time the ball is tipped, kicked, or thrown out, thousands and thousands of those complaining fans pack the stadium and fill the pockets of ownership, management, and the players. So I really shouldn’t be surprised at Sunday’s news item.
After all the gnashing of teeth and beating of breast about the James Frey controversy, guess who still sells a ton of books? Yep, you got it. A Million Little Pieces still sits comfortably atop the Paperback Nonfiction bestseller list and My Friend Leonard, a memoir about time in prison that we now know didn’t happen, fell from number one to number three on the Hardcover Nonfiction list. The books are currently the number two and number twelve best selling titles on Amazon. Allegations of deceit, threats of a class-action lawsuit for consumer fraud, and general literary flagellation have dominated everyone’s attention. And it was all for nothing.
I know our culture is attracted to train wrecks. I know we feature a diverse population with a myriad of tastes. Hey, there were folks who liked Milli Vanilli and didn’t care about the whole tape issue. I get that. I realize there are people who haven’t read the books who say “I wonder what all the fuss is about” and then go buy them. But for all the bitching and moaning, I still thought sales would drop a little bit.
Sara Nelson’s well-argued Publishers Weekly column in defense of Frey claimed that this whole situation was a typical case of building someone up, and then tearing them down, all for our collective schadenfreude, I suppose. But do we really, truly tear anyone down in this culture? We punish them a bit, put them through some rough times, try to make ’em grovel a little. But we don’t tear them down.
Ashlee Simpson is caught red-handed lip sync-ing on national television, she’s embarrassed for a week or so, she goes on another show, with a whole lot of publicity about how this time she’s really gonna sing!, she makes her “comeback” as a stronger, more mature person, and the machinery keeps cashing the checks without even a moment’s pause.
Photos appear of Kate Moss sitting down with a nice little bit of narcotics, she loses her contracts, is the subject of talk show slander, goes to rehab, comes out healthy, stronger, wiser, regains all the contracts she lost and signs up some new ones. She’s been on three major magazine covers since her time in rehab.
It’s just the way we do things and I shouldn’t be shocked. One of my literary heroes F. Scott Fitzgerald said “there are no second acts in American lives.” While that might have been true in the Jazz Age, it’s bullshit today. We have second acts, third acts, encores, codas, after-party shows, and on and on. I bought my copy of A Million Little Pieces when it was first released and I loved it. So I’m not saying Frey (or any of the other celebrities that have come back from controversy) should be hunted down by villagers with pitchforks and torches, but it would be nice to see the public follow through on it’s angst for once.
How long before Frey gets a book deal to write about this experience? And that one will be a bestseller as well.