Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Truth and Illusion

It’s news if you either don’t all ready know about it or haven’t really thought about it, right?

Yesterday afternoon I once again realized how it is nearly impossible to remain staunch in any political view. I can’t remain a loyal democrat or republican (that’s for sure) but more importantly, I can’t even remain patriotic or sympathetic or nationalistic.

Let’s back up.

I was reading a piece of news from mi niña regarding Guatemala’s Presidential elections. Rigoberta Menchú is one of the individuals running. Menchú came to international fame with her autobiography detailing her family’s life in Guatemala and the horrors of being an indigenous person opporessed by state power. A reality for too many and worthy of international attention. Except she lied. Though of Mayan stock, Menchú had a realitively easier life than most. I won’t go into the fabrications, admitted by Menchú herself, but you can read about them by typing her name in Wikipedia or going here:{2BB200C2-53D6-43CA-B055-E6EDAAF18030} I will warn you that this link will bring you to an article with significant right wing bias. Yes, the author has an axe to grind with not only Menchú but also Che Guevara and any living or dead cult figure from revolutionary Latin America, though this is not overtly expressed. I post the link for a good reason. The more people fabricate in this fashion, the worse they make my side appear.

Lesser examples of this, but no less infuriating, are the films of Michael Moore. I agree with the majority of what Moore has to say, but I hate the way he presents his views. While I was entertained by Bowling for Columbine (except for the annoying, self-righteous ending where Moore held up the dead girl’s photo for a bumbling, senile Charlton Heston) the numerous reports that followed, all citing errors, fabrications, creative editing and other intentional forms of cinematic manipulation, really sapped credibility from Moore and thus eroded meaning from the film’s point about gun control. Well, not really, but the right harped on Moore and ignored the larger message. The defenders of Moore attacked back, but again the message of the film was ignored.

Worse: Moore’s annoying. I liked him in Roger & Me and The Big One because it was new and more than a little entertaining to see a guy try and wade through bureaucratic waters, but by the time Bowling for Columbine came out I tired of his confrontational method of making people look stupid. You really don’t need to run up to a Kmart employee and ask to return discharged bullets lodged in a shooting victim or chop up a conversation with a doddering old man to make the right look bad.

So, as in the case with Moore and Menchú, the larger concern is often buried by the bullshit. Menchú got a Nobel Prize for her book (which the Nobel committee refused to take back after it was discovered that she falsified her story) but not a lot of people are talking about her fake book, not mearly the way they did with James Frey. This is for two reasons, all rooted to the same phenomenon: the cult of personality.

Frey is a bigger story because Frey’s book was picked up by Oprah Winfrey. Any book/cause/issue she agrees to place her name and aura near gets attention. People were upset when they learned Frey peppered his memoir with fiction. (Though if they knew how to read critically they might have suspected it was a tall tale in the opening of the book as Frey boards a plane covered in vomit, blood and other bodily fluids, never once stopped by airport employees, stewardesses or anyone else.) Readers felt decivied and Opray crucified Frey on her show. Whatever good Frey did by writing a book that inspired people to get sober was ignored.

Now, I think Frey is a jackass and a lousy writer, and he deserves to have his moral character called into question not because he wrote a bullshit memoir (they’re all bullshit folks, accept that or don’t read them) but because he got a swelled head from Oprah. After her book club, Frey went around rehab centers and clinics speaking with recovering addicts, all the while saying things like “If I can do it, you can do it.” Not cool. The guy never had a problem with any substance. He invented things to get some dubious credibility and publish an unpublishable novel as a memoir. And then he bought his own bullshit.

If Frey deserves to be criticized for co-opting the suffering of others, so does Menchú. She lied about experiences she didn’t have, though she may have witnessed or heard tell of them. For her efforts she won the most coveted of prizes and has been placed firmly in the eyes of the world as a social leader and spoeksperson. Even though she lied to get there.

The problem is that liberals and academics of this country are always quick to prop up someone in Menchú’s position. There needs to be a spokesperson for this cause. Once upon a time it was Fidel Castro who managed to ensnare the liberal leaning educated by revolting against the excesses of capitolism and the dominance of the United States. While it is true that Uncle Sam has long had vested interests in Latin America, the answer is not always as black and white as the Cuban Schism of the U.S.A. vs. Fidel & Co., and any liberal supporting gay rights, for example, ought to be outraged at Castro. Nevertheless, these figures take on a strange sort of cult status that enchants otherwise thinking liberals. Since Menchú is seemingly a perfect figure to represent the oppressed, why not try and downplay the facts? The usual response, and the link above points this out, is that while her facts may not line up, she drew attetion to a more than worthy cause. I might agree. I said the same thing about Frey. If his book managed to inspire people to give up their addictions, then what difference does it make if none of it ever happened?

The cause is valid and important, so much so that I think it deserves better. But people were informed, so where’s the harm? Menchú didn’t really hurt anyone, though she did exploit instances and horrors that were not hers. Are we able to fogive her for what she gained in light of what her book achieved in regard to raising social awareness? Perhaps so, but to completely discount her gains (financial being one of them, the Nobel Prize comes with a nice check) ushers in a sort of contradiction for anyone liberal quasi-socialist and member in the cult of Castro and Che. You can’t ignore that money and fame was netted by Menchú via a form of exploitation. How capitalist is that?

I don’t know why this is consuming me so much today. I read about James Frey’s new book deal, which upsets many, but this time he wrote a novel and if it gets published, who really cares? You don’t have to buy the thing. And again, no one seems to be mentioning Menchú’s fabrications as she runs for President of Gutaemala. I’ll leave that to the Guatemalans, as they are in a better position than I to make judgments, I’m just wondering where the lines are drawn and who gets to draw them.