This Is Why They Hate You

This Maureen Down column got me thinking more about my post last week. Dowd is at pains to show us why Tiger Woods is like Desiree Rogers:

Tiger Woods and Desiree Rogers are perfectionist high-achievers brought low. They both ran into that ubiquitous modern buzz saw of glossy celebrity wannabes -- Vegas parasites and Washington parvenus.

Tiger, titan of the tees, drove into a hazard when he refused to talk to the Florida police and come cleaner, earlier. Desiree, queen of social networking, didn't properly R.S.V.P. to the House Homeland Security Committee investigating the gate-crasher incident.

I don't really get this. But it did get me to thinking on why this whole narrative really pisses me off. When I was young, I'd hear people bitch and moan about the media and wouldn't lend said bitching and moaning much credence. But as I've gotten older, and as I've written more, I've come to understand, and even sympathize, with people who hate how writers go about the business of portraying the world.

The writer is a species of God--they create our world. There will always be limits on what we can experience and truly understand. We turn to writers to fill in the gaps. I trust, for instace, that India exists, but what I know of it has largely been shaped by what other writers have told me. I have never stepped on the soil of Africa (even if I had, that wouldn't be enough) and what I think of the continent is shaped by what's been written. Malcolm X is real, and Spiderman is not. Both are products of writing, and frankly, I'm at pains to tell you which of the two had a larger influence on my life.

I'll never know why people watch Katie Couric--not in any real sense. But, rightly or wrongly, what I do know of those reasons have been shaped by Caitlin Flanagan. I have no idea what sort of person Alec Baldwin really is--except this piece (oft-linked by me) written by Ian Parker. Even broadcast media and movies are, at the core, products of writing, and thus part of the same process. In this sense, the personally unexperienced world doesn't really exist. Writers invent it.

Now, the reader makes a decision as to whether to trust that invention. But if you're lucky enough to occupy certain offices, if you're privileged enough to be handed the megaphone by certain people, your inventions are imbued with a potency that others aren't. For all the talk about media's decline, it's still actually a lot of power. I'm a product of the machine, and so I don't have much sense of what it's like to have your portrait in the hands of people who you do not know. The older I get, the more I think writer's should be sensitive to that fact.

Do not confuse an argument for sensitivity with an argument for a soft touch. It's the opposite, in fact. So if you think someone--like say Desiree Rogers--is fucking up, you should do the hard work of figuring out how and why, and then credibly communicating that to readers. I don't make exceptions for fashion, or "social events," anymore than I make them for sports or music. I've read too many great stories about boxers. When you write about someone, in a specific way, their life is in your hands. I believe you should treat them with the respect they deserve, whether that means praising their idiosyncrasies, or burying them beneath the pile of bullshit they're attempting to foist on the public.

We want to play God. It's hard work.