Posts Tagged ‘Oprah’

So, people. Have we all heard of James Frey?

Neither had I, until I checked my Google reader yesterday eve, and saw John Scalzi explaining at length why Frey should be kicked in the balls. Since then, I’ve read the original NY Times Books piece on the unimaginably sleazy contracts being pimped by his company, Full Fathom Five; writer Maureen Johnson’s take on said asshatery (spoiler: it involves criticism!); Lili Wilkinson’s POV and a redux by local blogger, Megan Bourke. All of which makes me want to put Frey in a cage fight with Nicholas Sparks, and then throw in a few rabid wolves, and then set them both on fire. With napalm. (The wolves will be spared.)

So, for those of you too lazy to click the above links, here are Frey’s crimes in a nutshell. Note that I’m stealing this summary verbatim from Maureen Johnson, partly because I, too, am lazy, but mostly because her summary is awesome. Thus:

“A few years ago, James Frey (author of ‚ÄúA Million Little Pieces,‚ÄĚ the book that was claimed to be a memoir, was picked by Oprah, then turned out to be fictional, ending with an appalling session on Oprah‚Äôs couch) decided to put together a company in order to grind out YA books. The writers who sign up to this company sign mind-boggling contracts that essentially pay them more or less nothing and offer them zero protection …

“The contract says that the company can give you credit or not give you credit, as it desires. They can force you to write another book, or they can drop you like a hot potato, for no reason.

“The contract has no audit provision. What does that mean? It means that they can pay you ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY and you just have to accept that the percentage you‚Äôre getting is the percentage you are due, and that you are getting an accurate reporting of the number of books sold. And let me tell you, even on good and honest contracts, human error is common. Companies make mistakes on their reports all the time. It‚Äôs not necessarily malicious‚ÄĒthings just get messed up. So in James Frey world, his company could provide you with statements saying the book sold one thousand copies and that the advance was fifteen dollars, and you might know that the book has sold many thousands of copies and the advance was a hundred thousand dollars, but there would be nothing you could do about it. You will literally never be able to verify the advance the book sold for, the foreign rights deals, or the sales.”

So, yeah. Urge to stab, anyone?

Now, this whole thing ammounts to an exercise in weapons-grade asshatery. And I am outraged! But what really made me crazy was the following paragraph of the NY Books piece, which itself was written by one of the MFA students approached by Frey:

“It appeared that putting out my first book wouldn‚Äôt be as easy as Frey had made it seem. But Full Fathom Five was proceeding apace. In June, Almon put out word that they were looking for new writers for four untitled young-adult projects: a project about a girl raised in a cult who ‚Äúsuddenly begins to remember her previous life‚ÄĚ; an ‚Äúuntitled paranormal love story‚ÄĚ about teen lovers, one dead, in which ‚Äúwe watch the couple struggle to communicate: he miserable in heaven, and she understandably distraught‚ÄĚ; an ‚Äúuntitled apocalypse idea‚ÄĚ about a girl who enrolls in a summer camp and ‚Äúfinds herself in for a hell of a lot more than rope climbing‚ÄĚ; and a ‚Äúhigh-school revenge project‚ÄĚ in which ‚Äúfour girls from separate cliques at a high school discover they‚Äôve all been date-raped by the same guy and team up to plot vicious revenge.‚ÄĚ

Now, look. In the right hands, all of those ideas could be awesome. In fact, being as I am both a YA fantasy/SF reader and writer, there is every chance that if I picked up a book espousing one of those plots under different circumstances, I might buy it. Neither am I some sort of crazed artistic purist, viewing the relationship between creativity and money the same way a hardcore Calvinist might the relationship between the physical body and sex, viz: as two interrelated entities that can only interact at the junction of shame and pragmatism. I get that writers want to make money – I am among them! – and I also understand that this can involve assessing what sells and what doesn’t, and then acting accordingly.

But when I see someone laying down such a seedy series of contracts as Frey has done, given his history of shameless lying for sensationalism, and in the context of creating so-called marketable concepts with the aim of outsourcing them to as-yet unnamed writers, I throw up a little in my mouth.

I mean, a story about a group of teenage girls who’ve all been date-raped by the same guy and their subsequent revenge? That synopsis ought to have a restraining order issued against the phrase “wacky hijinks ensue”, and yet in the context of Frey’s production, that’s exactly what I hear next. Let’s not even go into the idea of yet another paranormal romance about the problems of one dead teenager struggling to love a live one; or rather, let’s not go there when the concept, instead of being someone’s beloved brainchild, has inevitably been chosen for its perceived marketability by Frey and then foisted off onto a different writer who, given the contract they’ll be offered, will have no artistic control whatever.

Bottom line: at this point in the proceedings, the only thing I’d pay for in relation to James Frey is to watch him be strapped down in an arena while John Scalzi, Lili Wilkinson and Maureen Johnson kicked him in the balls, over and over again.

Goddam asshats. Must they ruin everything?

The following poem comes courtesy of e. e. cummings:

 

“Humanity i love you

because you would rather black the boots of

success than enquire whose soul dangles from his

watch-chain which would be embarrassing for both


 
parties and because you

unflinchingly applaud all

songs containing the words country home and

mother when sung at the old howard
 

Humanity i love you because

when you’re hard up you pawn your

intelligence to buy a drink and when

you’re flush pride keeps

 

you from the pawn shop and

because you are continually committing

nuisances but more

especially in your own house

 

Humanity i love you because you

are perpetually putting the secret of

life in your pants and forgetting

it’s there and sitting down

 

on it

and because you are

forever making poems in the lap

of death Humanity

 

i hate you”

 

The following¬† headlines come from a glance at today’s Time:

 

Why Rookie Lawyers Get $60,000 Paid Vacations

Russia to Gays: Get Back into the Closet

Spray-On Condoms: Still A Hard Sell

Holy Union: A Polish Monk’s Divine-Sex Guide

Zombies: Do They Exist?

 

Conclusion: My species is doomed. Weird, predictable, sad and doomed. And frequently absurd.

First, some links:

Clay Shirky on the collapse of traditional newspapers and the need to find alternative means of journalism;

Natalia Morar, who organised an anti-government flashmob on Twitter and is now hiding from arrest;

Oprah and other celebrities battling to be the first on Twitter with a million followers; and

SR7,  a company for hire that specialises in digging up dirt on employees for other companies.

Now, some thoughts, in no particular order:

¬†1. Journalism is essential. People both like and need to know what’s going on. However, journalism is not a naturally occuring resource. People must go out, obtain information, then analyse, write and relay it, a time-consuming process traditionally¬†deemed¬†deserving of monetary compensation. No matter how easy it is to copy an existing source online, that source first needs to come from somewhere; and before that, someone must decide that the source itself is newsworthy.

2. As has always been true of all creative endeavours (singing, painting, dancing), there are vastly more people who participate in these activities than are paid to do so. Largely, this is a question of enjoyment, creative expression and ease. Blogs have tapped into this in a big way. Most bloggers make no money. Many blogs are read by only a tiny handful of people known to the writer, or not at all. And yet, they are prolific, because even without monetary compensation, the vast majority of people simply enjoy writing them. Many readers employ a similar logic.

3. Despite having been around for a number of years, Twitter has only just hit the collective journalistic hivemind. Recent weeks have seen an explosion of articles on how it is being used, why it is damaging people, whether the concept is utterly pointless, and the implications of its ongoing development. Diverse examples of all these include:

– the now-notorious #amazonfail incident and its aftermath;

the Times bemoaning Twitter as a ‘rolling news service of the ego’ and then promptly signing up;

a warning that social networking sites are damaging kids’ brains¬†at the same time¬†Twitter is being added to the Brittish school curriculum; and

Рthe use of Twitter in both the Mumbai bombings and hyperlocal news sites.

4. Writing on the collapse of newspapers as we know them, Clay Shirky sums up the process of social revolutions thusly: “The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn‚Äôt apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can‚Äôt predict what will happen.” He concludes by saying that what we need is a “collection of new experiments” to help us figure out how journalism – as distinct from newspapers – can keep working.

5. TV news isn’t going anywhere. Neither is radio, which has survived bigger technological upheavals. Print journalism is failing because the internet has ruined its monopoly on exclusive media. Unlike free-to-air radio and television, which have always had to contend with the notion that a¬†majority of listeners won’t be paying directly for their content, newspapers have thrived as a one-to-one exchange: a set amount of money per customer per paper, with very few exceptions. It’s not that the internet devalues the written word, or that¬†making journalism¬†freely available is inimical to notions of profit: it’s that, without being able to charge on that one-to-one basis, newspapers cannot command anything like their previous volume of revenue.¬†They’ve simply never had to compete with a medium that could do the same thing, better, for a fraction of the cost. And now they’re floundering.

6.¬†¬†Spare a moment to consider the notion of Digital Rights Management – DRM – and its relationship to the newspaper fiasco. Although concerned parimarily with digital music copyright, the ongoing debate about encryption for games and, with¬†the advent of the Kindle and other such devices, the pirateability of digital books and audiobook rights, the¬†underlying problem is the same in both instances:¬†defining notions of ownership for both¬†users and creators in an era¬†where digital copies are readily available. Books in particular have always been subject to the whims of borrowing and lending without falling apart, but might their new digital formats change that? Or are they an exception to the rule? For long stints of time, it’s nicer to read on a page than a screen, but¬†what if screens are improved, or some other technology developed that is just as comfortable to use as paper? Will we still crave tactile connections?¬†

7. People might not like to pay for content, but¬†as Wikipedia,¬†YouTube¬†and Linus Torvalds¬†have already¬†proven, many are¬†ready, willing and able to create content for free. Open source principles clearly predate the current revolution, and consciously or not, they’re informing it.¬†Remove money from the equation (or at least, give it a drastically reduced emphasis) and¬†gaze anew at the crisis of print journalism. Blogs, tweets, viral news: many of the new news staples are ungoverned, unruly, disparate products of the hivemind – flashmobs, crowdsourcing – but that doesn’t mean they go utterly unpoliced or work without change or criticism. Hey, it’s a revolution, folks. We’re breaking and making at the speed of thought. Give us time to learn the ropes.

8. Way back in 1995, ¬†Major Motoko Kusanagi once¬†mused, “And where does the newborn go from here? The net is vast and infinite.” In 2006, she reaffirmed the sentiment. We’re not yet ghosts in the shell, but let’s keep an open mind. The future rests in us.