Sunday, March 7, 2010

But Enough About Me ... Or Maybe Too Much

I'll post an interesting quotations that I recently read. It comes from a review by Daniel Mendelsohn published in the Jan. 25, 2010 issue of The New Yorker. It's about memoirs in general and the book Memoir: A History by Ben Yagoda.

The quote appears on page 73. It goes:

A question that Yagoda never really explores is why, now in particular, there seems to be so much blurring between reality and fiction ... The answer to this question suggests why it's hard not to feel that there is, in fact, something distinctive about the current cycle of memoir proliferation and anti-memoir backlash.

Realty itself is a term that is rapidly being devalued. Take reality TV: On these shows, "real" people (that is, people who aren't professional actors) are placed in artificial situations -- they go on elaborately arranged dates, are abandoned on desert islands, have their ugly apartments redecorated, or are dumped into takes of worms or scorpions -- in order to provoke the "real" emotions that the audience tunes in to witness (disappointment, desire, joy, gratitude, terror). This craving on the part of audiences for real-life displays of increasingly extreme emotion (over, say, the carefully rehearsed emotions that are provided to us when we go to the theatre or the movies) surely stems from the rise, in the seventies, of talk shows whose hosts put ordinary people and their problems in the Spotlight: First, Phil Donahue and, later, Sally Jessy Raphael and Montel Williams. These TV shows helped crate and promulgate their wider culture of self-discussion and self-exposure without which the recently flurry of memoir-writing and reading would be unthinkable.

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