Taking no prisoners. Including herself.

For a lit-geek such as myself, the whole JT LeRoy phenomenon is fascinating.

JT LeRoy was purported to be the newest literary celebrity who wrote a semi-autobiographical account of his experience as an abused homosexual afflicted with AIDS and spent time as a male prostitute until taken in by Laura Albert and her husband, Geoffrey Knoop.

Only that, as it turns out, JT LeRoy doesn’t exist.

JT LeRoy, The New York Magazine reports is a “family creation” and Albert is the pen behind LeRoy’s words.

As one who is titillated by social experiments and believes questioning identity and truth are essential to finding both, I can’t help but feel, well, um… like the creator of JT LeRoy knew exactly what she was doing.

Heidi Benson of the San Francisco Chronicle says it best in her article when she notes that the “scandal” calls into question the accolades we place on celebrity–and literary writers are no exception, particularly in San Francisco–as well as broader issues such as what we allow ourselves to believe, what “true identity” really means, and what is considered to be appropriate “creative license” when it comes to writing. When does fiction become deception?

Hell, I felt a bit deceived when I read Paul Aster story in the current issue of Zoetrope. Is that scandal?

I suppose the thin line falls at the place where art starts having a negative impact on people or society. So long as the end result is Thought and Change ( “Heck–at first I felt offended by this Warhol stunt, but now it makes me understand the existential patterning of every day life in a chauvinistic society”) rather than getting your kicks at another’s expense ( “Ha-ha that was really funny when I pretended I was dead to see if I could give my mother a heart attack”).

But then again, a lot of people thought Warhol was a selfish jerk.

I suppose the real issue is freedom and constraint. If a line is crossed in the interest of acknowledging the existence of a line in the first place (and possibly changing that line), then is that a reason in and of itself? It’s the same argument used by 5-year-olds everywhere:

“I do it ’cause I can.”

Okay, bad example. Consider, though, the often-used premise for freedom of the press: once we stop exercising our ability to write something, that freedom ceases to be.

Or maybe it’s all about intention and effect. The fundamental question, then, is this: the effect of JT LeRoy changes depending on whether his identity was used to make a point or to make money. And, if Albert hadn’t hidden the true identity of LeRoy, I doubt the literary community would have taken Albert’s work as seriously.

Sure, that was two questions–and they weren’t even questions. But I was exercising my creative license.

§67 · January 10, 2006 · In the News, San Francisco glory, This Modern Life · · [Print]

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