In today’s Washington Post, columnist Anne Appelbaum contrasts the pathetic lies of James Frey - whose fabricated “memoir” has become a major embarrassment for Oprah Winfrey, the high-priestess of self-obessed emoting - with the pathetic lies of Lillian Hellman who in 1973 published her supposed memoir Pentimento, in which the author cast herself as heroic anti-Nazi fighter.
Appelbaum’s compares Frey’s made-up lie of victimhood to other recent faux memoirs whose writers created tear-jerking stories of personal hardship:
These fabricators reinvent themselves not as heroes but as victims, a status they sometimes attain by changing their ethnicity. Among them are Bruno Grosjean, aka Binjamin Wilkomirski, whose touching, prize-winning, “autobiographical” tale of a childhood spent in the Majdanek concentration camp turned out to be the fantasy of the adopted son of a wealthy Swiss couple. Another was Helen Darville, aka Helen Demidenko, whose touching, prize-winning “autobiographical” tale of a Ukrainian girl whose father was a former SS officer turned out to be the fantasy of a middle-class British girl living in the suburbs of Brisbane, Australia.
And the trend continues: In the past few days, yet another prize-winning author, who calls himself “Nasdijj” and claims to be the son of a violent cowboy and an alcoholic Native American woman (and who, as a child was “hungry, raped, beaten, whipped and forced at every opportunity to work in the fields,” he told an interviewer) — has also been “outed” as a white writer of erotica named Timothy Barrus.
A parallel development is the absence of real-life military heroes in public life. Event though many have been minted in the our current wars overseas, none of them have been embraced much by the wider public, and certainly none of them has become a household name. They aren’t invited to latenight talk shows to discuss what they did and why, and they aren’t held up as role models.
To be more specific: Sales of these faux memoirs are driven by women. Why is it that women prefer lies about pretend bums over true stories about knights in (metaphorically speaking) shining armor?