If your father presided over a blood-drinking sex cult whose membership also included the mailman, the doctor, the town drunk, and representatives of the local judiciary; if you ran with wolves as a young person, and had your cuts and grazes healed by their antiseptic saliva; if you have Multiple Personalities, one of which (the Countess of Orzabal) is allergic to strawberries and one of which (Lil’ Pete) is not; if you’ve been abducted by aliens; if you believe that the Twin Towers were brought down, not by the impact of two enormous airplanes and the subsequent 1400-degree fire, but by a sequence of controlled explosions engineered by Mossad; if The Da Vinci Code made you think again about Christianity; if you’re a Boston firefighter who cheated on his promotional exam by sending text-messages from the bathroom; if you’re Eliot Spitzer; if you’re James Frey; if you’re Jonny Fairplay; if you’re Roger Clemens; if you’re Mitt Romney: congratulations! You’re a fully accredited and paid-up citizen of Fabrication Nation — and history is on your side.
False Memory Syndrome, False Memoir Syndrome, False Syndrome Syndrome . . . The ratio of falsehood to truth in the universe has not, of course, altered one jot since the world began. From the day we learned how to talk, by and large, we’ve been lying our heads off. Nor can it be said that we have grown more credulous. To us, the most precious certainties of our gaping and rustic predecessors are a great joke: they believed what?! Those idiots!
But something’s afoot. Fakery has a new license, a new swagger. Who is responsible for this? Who did this to Truth? Was it postmodernism? Blame the French. Was it New Journalism? Blame Tom Wolfe. Blame Google! Or better yet, gentle reader, blame yourself, because I know you feel it, too: reality — it’s just not good enough anymore.
Yes, if you’re impatient with the facts, if you feel they require enhancement, colorization, or “jazzing up,” now’s your moment. If you’re Tom Ashbrook, on the other hand, the times are vexed. “A program note,” announced the host of WBUR’s On Point on Tuesday, March 4, sounding unwontedly small-voiced and glum. “In our second hour on Friday, you may recall we talked with an author. Thought her name was [slight spin of sarcasm] Margaret B. Jones. Her new memoir was Love and Consequences, it was about life in South Central Los Angeles, growing up half-white, half–Native American, uh, running with gangs there, selling drugs for the Bloods . . .” A sigh. “Well, it comes out today the whole thing was a fraud . . . Story a complete, uh, fraud, the publisher now says. We’re learning this along with everybody else. It is embarrassing, it is frustrating, it’s kind of infuriating. Don’t know what to make of the memoir business in this country . . . Going to have to be a little warier in the future, and I trust you will, too.”