He admitted that he had pumped up the Dix episode to tell a funnier yarn and that the juicy details with Clarence didn't take place.Yeah, and? This isn't that fake-druggy guy (James Frey) that Oprah held up as a model of redemption and then had to publically discipline for telling fibs and not having such a hard-knock life after all. David Sedaris is a essayist. A humorist essayist at that. He tells funny, semi-autobiographical short stories based on his life experiences, made punchier for your pleasure. And for this he deserves how much ink in TNR? Now, the TNR writer specifically states is ISN'T going the Frey route, yet he does "fact-chec[k]" four of Sedaris's books. Fact-check? Seriously?
That seems beyond the boundaries of comic exaggeration. It's fine to use absurdly embellished descriptions for laughs--this is an essential tool for any humorist. If I write, "I was so hungover, I threw up my own skeleton," you know I'm kidding. It's not fine to pretend--in a long and detailed scene--that you performed outlandish, dangerous tasks at a mental hospital when you didn't.
And Sedaris definitely didn't. When I asked him about his duties at Dix, he said, in that gentle voice so many people know and love, "It would have been more like helping set up parties." That cleared it up. Everything in Naked was true, except for the parts that weren't.
TNR man says that he, like many Sedaris readers, found himself wondering if it were all true.
I have never wondered.
I have never cared.
Because truth - literal, fact-checkable truth - isn't the point of Sedaris's work. Any thoughtful reader should know that after their first Sedaris story.
None of the arguments made in the TNR piece resonate with me. They don't change my mind about Sedaris, nor about the genre in which he exists. I find them sad, tiresome, argumentative, without foundation, merit, or point, and down-right silly.
On the humor defense:
I imagine Sedaris's defenders would argue that, since it's just humor, none of this is a big deal. But humor is powerful stuff--in Glass's fabrications, the faked humor was often the only thing his stories had going for them--and writers reap tangible rewards when they present their humor as nonfiction. Things that seem stupid as fiction somehow seem hilarious if they're perceived to be real.Humor is absolutely powerful. But all humor is neither equal nor intended to the same ends. If the Daily Show fabricated the stories on which it bases its jokes, would it be as funny, powerful, or credible a show? No. When elements are added, they are clearly added. Mostly, however, the humor derives particularly from the veracity of the underlying subject. Sedaris, however, isn't seeking to enlighten your political views, move public policy, shine a light on darkened corners or governmental action, or any such thing.
Whether Sedaris understands the difference between fiction and nonfiction is moot at this point--he could label his next book "hallucinations" and it would sell--but the principle still matters. The editors and radio producers who packaged Sedaris's earlier work certainly understood the difference. They knew that, in our time, nonfiction is bankable in ways that fiction is not. What bugs me is that they milked the term for all its value, while laughing off any of the ethical requirements it entails.Wrong, wrong wrong.
And who died and made this dude the defender of the rest of the Sedaris family? Not to mention of our own, apparently weak minds?
This whole thing is an excellent companion to VoteForTheWorst.com - the site encouraging people to keep scary Sanjaya around as long as possible on American Idol. Their purported purpose is to draw back the curtain on a carefully crafted Hollywood production that's about ratings and advertising dollars, not solely vocal talent.
We should encourage more independent thought and discourage the trend to paint humanity as a fragile, impressionable victim of forces beyond its control. Excercise some judgment and apply a bit of analysis to the world around you, I beg you.
At least I now know what to do with all the TNR subscription solicitations I get.