#270 In which our hero invites Oprah Winfrey to go fuck herself.
On Google! News this morning I saw this headline: “Oprah apologizes for slamming author James Frey.”
If you don’t remember, James Frey is the guy who wrote “A Million Little Pieces” which was purportedly his wholly true autobiography; but later it came out that the author had altered some events, and completely made up some others.
There was a bit of hoopla when this information came out. And honestly, I understand none of it. I mean, I never read the book, but apparently it was good enough that people got something out of it, and well-written enough to shoot up to the top of the best seller charts (and, of course, Oprah had a lot to do with that).
But, apparently, the people who read it, and were moved by it, suddenly found all of their enjoyment negated by the fact that it was, in part, fabricated. Stories came out that they felt “betrayed” and “mislead” and other bullshit that seemed completely overblown for a book. I mean, these people weren’t duped out of the last penny of their retirement money… they spent $20 on a book which—up until the instant they learned about the made-up parts—they really enjoyed reading. Nevertheless, many of these disgruntled readers demanded their money back and—unbelievably—got it!
Now, I’ve read my share of shitty books. Some of these books were by respected authors, people who had written other books that I enjoyed. But never once did it cross my mind to demand my money back from the retailer because the “reading experience” didn’t live up to my expectations.
So I had no respect or sympathy for these dillrods who wanted some sort of retribution for reading this book. And Oprah Winfrey was at the front of the fucking bus when it came to seeking revenge.
She named “A Million Little Pieces” to her book club, which naturally catapulted it to mega-best seller status. And, to a degree, I get why she was so pissed. She talked him up, fawned over him, related how inspirational and moving the book was… and then she found out that some of BS she was spouting was based on, well, BS.
It’s her reputation on the line, and so she should protect it. But Jesus, she raked this guy over the coals. She had him on her show so she could spout venom at him and humiliate him on a national stage. For an HOUR. She was relentless in tearing him down. I felt bad for the guy; he took his lumps like a bad puppy and did little to defend himself.
Shortly after the televised beat-down, Stephen King wrote an editorial in Entertainment Weekly that I found very interesting. You can read it in its entirely here, but the part that jumped out to me was this:
“The amazing thing is that anyone—including Oprah—believed any of Frey's stories once they realized he was trying to manage good sobriety without much help, because this is a trick very few druggies and alcoholics can manage … Substance abusers lie about everything, and usually do an awesome job of it.”
King, as a recovering addict and alcoholic himself, writes with an insight that Oprah could never have. So, should Oprah have suspected ahead of time that Frey’s book just might be embellished a bit? I dunno… most non-cynical people tend to assume the best, I guess.
But I do think that when you start up the massive book-selling machine that is the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, and you pluck books out of the rank and file of mere mortals and invite them into the halcyon company of the gods (especially those books written by admitted drug addicts and liars) that you just might get burned every once in a while.
But Oprah was pissed and wasn’t shy about letting people know about it. And his guy suffered considerable fall-out. Lost his publishing deal. Had to give back millions of dollars. Was branded a fake and liar. And, let us not forget, that the part about him being a recovering addict was absolutely true… having your world crumble around you like that cannot be good for your sobriety.
And honestly, I’m willing to give Oprah her you-fuck-with-me-I’ll-fuck-with-you moment. But now, she’s going public with an apology SIX years after the fact? That reeks of hypocrisy and disingenuousness.
Let’s break it down for a moment: Oprah was angry because she took James Frey at face value… that he had a hard battle with drugs and alcohol and, through amazing force of will, emerged on the other side better and healthier. She really believed that he could stand as a shining example of what people can achieve if they put their mind to it. But then it turned out that it wasn’t (all) true.
Now, let’s go back to 1988, when Oprah revealed her amazing weight loss on her show. I don’t watch The Oprah Winfrey Show, but this event was all over the place, you could hardly miss it (wheelbarrow full of fat and all). Oprah had a long and difficult battle with her weight and, through amazing force of will, emerged on the other side better and healthier. Not only had she lost the weight, she was now committed to a healthier lifestyle that would keep the weight off. She stood as a shining example of what people can achieve if they only put their mind to it.
Only, she gained the weight back, didn’t she?
Where are the people demanding their money back for show tickets? Where are the outraged women who thought, just like Oprah, that they could lose the weight, only to find out that their example had stumbled? Where the hell is Oprah’s public lambasting for saying one thing, then doing another?
As far as Frey goes, he’s taking the high ground. He’s quoted as saying, “It was a nice surprise to hear from her, and I really appreciated the call and the sentiment.” What he didn’t say was what he was probably thinking: “But, y’know, I’m still a little pissed about her aggressively dismantling my career and life six years ago.”
I’m waiting for her to do an hour long special in which instead of the gentle platitudes about how she “let down her fans” with her yo-yoing weight loss and gain, she really tears into herself and says how she has lied and mislead everyone about her commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
THAT is an Oprah Winfrey show I’d tune in for.