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We need to talk about Alec, but can’t

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The discussion about actor Alec Baldwin’s recently published memoir Nevertheless perfectly encapsulates why reasonable conversation is impossible in this culture at the moment.

First, of interest to us as writers… Focus now, focus.

Baldwin took to Facebook to complain about typos in his memoir and smear the publisher for not editing enough. Typos are, indeed, embarrassing to both the author and the publisher. I would argue that both of them bear responsibility so its in bad form for Baldwin to put all the blame on his publisher, HarperCollins. (Full disclosure: I am published by HarperCollins.)

But then, Baldwin goes a step further in his criticism. He points out that the book appears to be a bit “lean” in terms of photographs. Well, he or his team would have seen proofs for weeks, if not months, prior to the publication. If Baldwin is surprised by the final product in terms of pictures, then he’s not paid attention for the last six months. Or, like many celebrities, he’s been completely disengaged and only interrupted when it’s time to cash the check.

So, from a strict writing perspective, that’s that. But here’s where it gets impossible to discuss.

First, many of our brothers and sisters in the media seem to think that uninformed social media comments somehow influence a story. So in many of the articles dealing with the Baldwin complaints, we see this the following online interaction shared. A Baldwin fan wrote, “The author is not responsible for typos and grammatical errors, folks. That’s why you hire an editor. Clearly, they did not provide the service for which they were paid.” This comment stretches the boundaries of ignorance. Baldwin did not hire HarperCollins, he did not pay them. They paid him. Yet, in an effort to be “interactive” and also to fill column space with free content, media publications have repeated this asinine comment over and over again.

Second, because of Baldwin’s politics, you cannot discuss this situation without the encountering the SNL Trump affect. Supporters of President Donald Trump are so incensed by Baldwin’s portrayal of the country’s leader that nothing else matters. You could say, “Alec Baldwin just cured cancer” or “Alec Baldwin just murdered a puppy” and you’ll get overwhelmed with comments from Trump admirers attacking him for something completely unrelated to the discussion at hand.

All of which to say is that — for writers and people in publishing — there is a very valid lesson to be learned here. There is a valuable discussion possible in the nature of celebrity memoirs, ghostwriters, publishing, and involvement. We could even talk about how basketball star Charles Barkley said he was misquoted in his own book.

But we can’t. Not in today’s age.

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