Friday, January 27, 2006

Our own James Frey

Much as been made of James Frey, the now infamous author of A Million Little Pieces. He wrote a "memoir" that turned out to be more fiction than fact and has incurred the wrath of such notables as Oprah, Frank Rich, Maureed Dowd. In fact, on yesterday's very special Oprah, he was held up as an example of what is wrong with our society, perhaps even mankind. Oprah et al implied that people like Frey are akin to Holocaust deniers and his lying undermined the very integrity of the field of journalism. Heavy stuff for a guy who lied about spending time in jail.

So if Frey is this devil, what to do with Nasdijj? The LA Weekly recently published a fascinating peice about a guy named Nasdijj who claims to be half-Navajo from the Rez and had quite the life. He has had some big success in the publishing world, including winning praise as a New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award and winner of the Salon Book Award.

Unfortunately, although not altogether surprisingly, it turns out Nasdijj, this "achingly honest" author, is completely full of it. So much so that he's not even Native. Fiction, sure. Memoir, no way. I'll leave the details of his con and the publishing world's patsy to the excellent LA Weekly article. It's enough to disgust anyone.

I would simply ask two questions. Why? Why this need to appropriate Indian voices? When white people speak for Indians, they silence the real Indians. Our voices become secondary to the outside world who would much rather believe the likes of a Nasdijj with his tragic tragic Indian stories of people living in the equivalent of tipis, never having seen a library and all suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome. What's the appeal? It is that non-Natives are comfortable with that representation of Natives somehow? It fits the reservation mythology? It keeps Natives in the past, so "other" as to be unreal?

And second, didn't someone, anyone in the publishing world, bother to ask an Indian? It's not hard. The Navajo Nation actually has a website. And email. But, as the article details, even when such well-respected Native authors as Sherman Alexie tried to raise concerns, they were mostly dismissed because the story was more important than the truth.

So in the aftermath of the Oprah take-down of James Frey, I would ask what is the greater harm here? A pattern of white appropriation of Native identity and voices to make a buck which, in the process, does real damage to the public perception of Natives by non-Natives? Or some idiot who lied about getting a root canal without Novacaine?

You decide.

3 Comments:

Blogger Shepen said...

What gets me about this is that as I understand it, Frey's book will now carry an "author's note" and a "Publisher's note" in future editions, so he basically still gets to make money off of this. It isn't even called a disclaimer, which is what it is. At least with Nasdijj (Actually a former porn writer named Timothy Barrus,) his publisher has stopped publishing his books and stores can return unsold copies, if I recall the the article I read in the Wall Street Journal correctly. So he's at least being punished. And it's not like accurate books about Navajos (even ones written by non-Navajos) won't sell; Tony Hillerman anyone? The key is he does research and calls what he does fiction.

I blame our obsession with "reality" everything. Reality must be better than fiction, even if it is a load of crap or a glorified game show. Also, both books seem to be about Victims, which we Americans also love.

I guess the moral of the story is don't read a book just because it's popular or because Oprah told you to...

2:31 AM  
Anonymous DF said...

Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

I'm linking this post to my blog at Breakfast with Pandora, where I have a couple of posts on Frey and Nasdijj.

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so upset about the Oprah show that just aired today. I don't understand how someone could just walk away from such a tragic and horrific injustice that I just witnessed. A mother holding her child not sure if she was going to have food to feed her. I am crying so hard that I can barely type. What the hell was up with the POWWOW . How about focusing in on the poor living conditions being forced on one of the greatest and honorable races on the earth. How can america look at this show and not see the people in need . What is wrong with our goverment. Billions in aid give to foriegn countries that do not even like america. I am so furios my thoughts are running together. Where is the media ,where is the out cry for these people. How can we just turn the channel and our hearts to such horrible injustice. GET OFF YOUR LAZY SELF RIGHTOUS ASSES AND DO SOMETHING FOR THESE PEOPLE. WHAT THE HELL DO WE PAY TAXES FOR. I WANT MINE TO GO TO THE AMERICANS WHO NEED IT THE MOST AND DESERVE IT. THE USA GOVERNMENT CAN NOT CONTINUE TO INGORE THIS. HELP THESE PEOPLE. WATER ,SEWEGE ,FOOD ,SHELTER ,CLOTHING, AND SCHOOLING SHOULD BE THE FIRST PRIORTY FOR THE NAVAJO. WE MUST FIND A WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A VERY HEARTBROKEN MOM IN PA.

7:50 PM  

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