We here at RMR simply can't help ourselves: we have to jump into the salacious, uh, Frey-fray. Please forgive us in advance.

You see, what's so daggone compelling about the whole snafu--check out
The Smoking Gun's damning expose if, by some chance, you've been hiding under a rock for these last few weeks and don't know what the heck we're talking about--is the core question of authenticity and how little of it there is in the contemporary world of ideas.

(Whoa--we just read the last part of that sentence aloud and, man, does it sound harsh. We'll leave it for now.)

Let's also leave Frey for a while--he can use the time to gather up the million little pieces of his career--and first consider Ms. Winfrey. What she has to sell is not so much authenticity but its sexy first cousin once removed, intimacy. In a culture that's increasingly spread out, exurban, "red" or "blue" and factionalized, that's a hot commodity, indeed. So it's not surprising that, as Letterman likes to say, Oprah's got all the money. She does not sell information or entertainment or even herself. She sells the notion that she is a dear friend we can count on, especially if we're women aged 34-65.

There is also a vaguely creepy subset of intimacy: vicariousness. Oprah sells us that too. She is smart, she is from humble beginnings, she and/or her boyfriend seems to grapple with some degree of commitment phobia, and her figure has fluctuated more than Robert DeNiro's on the set of Raging Bull. She's also rich, powerful, and enormously popular. In short, Oprah is us and not us all at once; she is our friend with normal foibles who has somehow risen to lord over the ubiquitous entertainment industry. Best of all, she's done all the hard work so we don't have to! All we have to do is tune in every afternoon to see who's jumping on her couch or blinking at her sheepishly.

Which leads us back to Frey: Isn't some of the ferocious backlash against him rooted in that same sandy ground? People feel betrayed: social workers and recovering addicts alike have passed around his book as if it is a new millenium panacea for all manner of self-abuse. We trusted him. We thought he was one of those special and audacious few who had "done it so we didn't have to"--and, after living to tell about it, he'd brought back Wisdom and Insight from the brink of annihilation. Like all great heroes and seekers.

Alas, more like a dime-a-dozen, fratboy ne'er-do-well, Frey was mostly just cooking up his smack in a silver spoon. Should we have expected anything else, though? After all, he as much as tells us that his biggest problem is and always has been an inability to hold himself accountable to the truth. Is it really such a shock that his memoir is chock full of fudging, fabrication, and outright lies?

But many readers are mad at him anyway because that kind of problem sounds way, way, way too much like one of our own. And, damn it, if he's that much like us, then he shouldn't have a bunch of fancy houses and famous friends and movie deals. Get your pitchforks and torches: Let's sue the hell out of him! (We at RMR can't help but be reminded of Steve Martin's classic movie, The Jerk, where after a similar sort of ruination, Martin's character, Navin, has to refund the outraged consumers he's [unwittingly] duped--one $1.09-check at a time.)

We say let Frey keep his money. We say let's have him as our faux J.D. Salinger. Of course, it's particularly fitting that our "Salinger" drops off the scene not because of a genius-confirming eccentricity but because, in a classic close-the-barn-door-after-the-cow's-long-gone maneuver, his agent dropped him and he's presumably radioactive as a writer. At least for a while. What better emblem for the state of present-day commercial publishing than a filthy rich and famous--okay, infamous--man who must rest on the laurels of a life and work built out of smoke and mirrors?

So who gets the blame?

Maybe Power Editor Nan Talese, who took the bullet for the rest of her there-but-for-the-grace-of-Oprah Big Publishing colleagues by absorbing Winfrey's TV tongue lashing (check out
The Slate for a discussion of just when Nan really knew what she knew).

Maybe it's the big O herself, who--despite her mea culpa redux--should be seen for what she is: a businesswoman whose chief commodity is her ability to create her own sort of fiction, the idea that she is her audience's primary champion.

But we think it's a little more diffuse than all that. We think there's plenty of blame that falls on us as readers and consumers of contemporary culture. Shame on us for buying--hook, line, and $14.95-sinker--what in hindsight now seems like so much blaringly obvious braggadocio.

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