Recently in the news, two stories from the sporting world have had everyone's attention. Stick with me for a minute, because this does have something to do with writing. I will get to my point....eventually.
The first is Lance Armstrong's admission of using performance enhancing drugs and doping during his remarkable run of 7 Tour de France titles.
The other, is the death and subsequent reveal of Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend.
(If you have been living under a rock, yeah-Lance cheated, and Manti's was either fooled or fooled everyone.)
My first response was to shrug and continue on about my day, as I usually do when these soap opera type stories consume the national eye. Hey, I've been busy writing, there's even proof!
But as the public outcry grew, I started to get a little annoyed. Why? I wasn't really sure at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realized what was bothering me. It wasn't THAT people were interested in these stories, it was WHY they had such an emotional response. There were plenty of people out there that reacted as if they had been personally affected by the events happening to Lance and Manti. People were taking this stuff way too personally, in my opinion.
Most of them seemed to be using the "I feel lied to. It was such an inspiring, uplifting story, and now I feel like it was all a fraud," line.
Let's explore this a little bit. I've got the time.
(The rest of this piece is going to be directed at these people, because that is the most honest way I know to put it down. If you happen to not feel overly offended by these two stories, please just imagine I'm chewing out the person directly behind you, and you're stuck having to watch uncomfortably because one of us is blocking the only exit.)
Your logic is that you were lied to, that you cheered for or supported these people and they let you down. They somehow impugned your faith in the character of the human population, forever crippling your ability to trust another sports hero.
If you were able to stop being butt-hurt long enough to take an objective look at things, maybe you'd see how stupid that is. Unless you have a personal stake in either situation, as in you are close enough to either of these people to have been damaged in some legally recognizable way (loss of income, loss of career, having your credibility questioned because you were somehow mixed up in it, etc) by their lies, you are just letting the media tell you how to feel. They tell you how upset and outraged you should feel, so you stand up on the couch and start ranting with the rest of the morons.
People, think about it. These guys gave you a great story, nothing more. The fact that you thought you were reading a non-fiction book and it ended up being fiction is pretty minor. You were lied to, big frigging deal.
It's like the time that James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" ended up on Oprah's book club. Everyone loved how great a story it was, until they learned that portions of it were fictionalized. Oh, how everyone was offended, and hurt, and disappointed, and lost their faith in humanity...blah, blah blah.
Again, he lied. He also gave them a great story. The story was the thing that they signed up for, the reason they bought the book. Mission accomplished, they got their story. Then it turned out to not be 100% accurate, and everyone in Oprah's sphere of influence lost their fucking mind. She drug him on the show, and proceeded to grill him and run him into the ground until that purple Harpo logo tumbled across the screen and saved him.
You are like Oprah now. No, you're not rich, but you're both trying to save face over something that is ultimately unimportant to you. It's an excuse to bitch, that's it. People like to complain, they like to feel as though they are getting heard. They like to feel significant, and emotion sometimes convinces you that you have a legitimate right to do so when you don't.
Did Oprah have a right to explain that the book that she thought was a 100% true memoir was in fact partially fake? Absolutely. Did it warrant an entire episode? No way. And don't try to tell me that Oprah had to have him on in order to "repair her credibility." Does Oprah look like she's overly worried about her credibility? She recommended the BOOK, not that everyone loan James Frey money or trust him with their kids. Her credibility was tied to the quality of the story in the book, which I have heard is really good (I have access to a copy and will be checking it out soon).
And that brings us to my point. Basically what happened, if I'm to translate this to a literary sense, is that a few books got mislabeled as Non-Fiction when they were actually Fiction. Not the end of the world, and unless you want to personally deconstruct the stories you've already been uplifted by, not even a big deal.
We have gotten to the point where we feel that people we've only ever enjoyed as entertainers owe us something other than to be entertained. As a culture we hero worship the shit out of singers, actors/actresses, athletes, even fictional characters. It's not enough to just enjoy someones art or talent and be content with that. No, we need to feel like they are a part of the family. We need to feel like they are our friend, that they know us personally and that we have an obligation to defend them. Perhaps the problem isn't that you were sold a miscategorized story, it's that you let things get too far out of hand to begin with, and now you have egg on your face.
Why people can't just enjoy the story behind Lance Armstrong's titles, Frey's story, and Te'os performances and move on is beyond me. They showed you what was possible. Nothing more, nothing less. No one reacted like this when they found out that The Blair Witch Project wasn't really discovered footage of a group of friends betting murdered in the woods. No one picked apart the movie Troy or any of these films because they weren't 100% accurate. Just enjoy the story and stop using it as an excuse to be the loudest voice in the room.
We pay good money to be lied to by professional liars. Fiction, by definition, is the telling of a story that never happened, or did not happen the way it's depicted in the story. Stephen King's 11/22/63 reinforces the very real event of John F Kennedy's assassination with a story involving fantastical plot twists and even theoretical devices such as time travel. Nobody is claiming that King is saying that is how it went down, they just enjoy the story.
I think that we would all be a lot more content in life if we just accepted the good stories around us and stopped trying to find the fault in everything, especially when the people involved really don't owe us anything. All of these people sacrificed something to get you a great story. Unless you are personally affected by a lie, just enjoy the story and move on. Make the media tell you something new instead of getting two weeks worth of material from one story.
If you can enjoy a great story from the fiction section of life, you should be able to enjoy a story from the "based on actual events" just as much. They're both just stories, and the entertainment is the same regardless.
Stories inspire, and if you let yourself believe then it really doesn't matter if it's a true story or not. "Forrest Gump" is an inspiring story, but not true. "Rocky" is inspirational, but also not true. Fiction can inspire just as much as true events. You just have to stop trying to poke holes in the world and enjoy whats in front of you for a change.