Is there anything more to say about Oprah and James Frey? It seems by now that everyone’s agreed that it was wrong for her to keep on promoting A Million Little Pieces after a drug counselor, someone well known to Oprah’s producers, complained about the book’s veracity.
And yes, it was wrong for her to support Frey with that misguided stand-by-your man phone call in the last minutes of The Larry King Show.
Frankly, watching Frey’s mother, who had accompanied her little boy on the program, practically ululating with joy when Oprah gave her kid a pass, was objectionable enough even before Oprah saw the error of her ways.
And by the way, mom, shouldn’t you be a little upset that your son was not only a druggie but also a liar and a con man? I know about mother’s love but, jeez, you were practically basking while he dodged and feinted in his monotone, avoiding Larry King’s bland questions.
Finally the various pundits agreed Oprah did the right thing by finally frying Frey, so to speak, on her own show. She summed up her change of heart, as if coming up with a new and important philosophical insight by declaring: “I believe the truth matters.” That statement received thunderous, Oprah-adoring applause.
But here’s what seems most significant to me about the whole overhyped mess: Isn’t it funny that nowadays people tend to exaggerate the bad things they did and the bad things others may or may not have done to them? In memoirs these days nobody makes themselves appear better than they really are. Once upon a time memoirs were filled with people taking credit for noble deeds, battles won, important decisions. Not any more.
So it seems Frey realized he would just not have been sympathetic enough if he spent not three months, but only a half hour in jail. That’s hardly worth being embarrassed about these days. And as for the root canal without Novocain, whether it happened or not, it doesn’t seem one of the more horrendous deeds every perpetrated on one man by another. But he just had to have some physical suffering along with his mental anguish. And so a trip to a “Marathon Man” dentist seemed to nicely fill the bill.
In her way, Oprah does bear a major responsibility for both creating and feeding this ‘we are all victims” mentality. We’ve been hearing victim stories on her show almost weekly for decades. (One wonders now–well, were they all really true?)
Most of the novels she has picked for her book club have been about women being abused over and over in one way or another. So when she wanted to switch to allegedly nonfiction, no wonder she was such a sucker for Frey’s little tale of degradation and victimhood.
The trend of sharing the worst about one’s self is only increasing. Nowadays there is a website, postsecrets.blogspot.com, which encourages people to post their dirty little secrets anonymously online. There is also a book PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives. Publisher Judith Regan, known for having her finger on the pulse, is planning a PostSecret segment on her Sirius satellite radio show, and a television documentary is also in the works
So what is wrong with us that we only want to hear about other’s flaws, faults, and misdeeds? And the more degraded, please, the better. Why can’t we be inspired by the good things people do even if they have never done or been subject to the bad? A topic I doubt Oprah would want to discuss.
But Frey still has another chance. There is always the comeback story. And Oprah–and her audience–loves them too. Right now he has his publishers angry and may have lost his movie deal. Oh, dear. His agent has broken with him, too, because, as she told Sara Nelson at Publisher’s Weekly, “It became impossible for me to maintain a relationship once the trust was broken.”
But Frey–and his agent–will soon be collecting big royalties from the Oprah book club sales. Frey’s share, according to PW, could be as much as $3 million and the agent’s take nearly half a million. He has claimed he has already given 15 percent of his royalties to treatment centers.
Can you just imagine him back on Oprah handing over a really big check? Wouldn’t that get the ratings and even more attention? Can’t you imagine him being forgiven by Oprah, who, having shown her stern side, could now turn the other cheek? Can’t you just imagine the even more thunderous applause?
Nowadays those who get caught get even more famous. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if such a scenario was already in the works.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.