So they reinvent a fake history for ourselves that doesn’t deal with the complexities. And I think in some ways that’s what the south and the upper Midwest have in common is that there’s a delusion at work about who we were. And that’s why we have a hard time about who we are. So that the kind of self congratulatory history that passes for heritage keeps us from seeing ourselves and doing better.
As Sedaris told me, the Dusty quote is partly fabricated and the other two are made up. So what? Well, it’s one thing for a humorist to recreate dialogue that captures the general spirit of how a conversation unfolded. It’s another to manufacture lines like a playwright, a technique that lets you sidestep a problem that hobbles nonfiction writers all the time: Often, nothing interesting happens when you report a story. But that’s exactly what Sedaris does. When reality sags, he opens the funny-dialogue nozzle. Sometimes in Naked, these rants aren’t just the glue holding his stories together; they are the story.
This is fascinating. I’m under no impression that Mike Daisey’s piece is the first story This American Life has broadcast that has contained major factual inaccuracies or outright fabrications—they’ve done more than 400 episodes; that seems impossible to avoid. It does make sense to me that his would be the first they retracted in this way, given that it was a massively popular episode and that Daisey’s show has factored so heavily into the conversation about Apple and its Chinese factories and labor practices in general. I think the stakes are just higher when you enter into that kind of terrain—and they’re less high when it comes to dealing with depictions of your adolescent music teachers or old summer jobs. Still, a nagging feeling that David Sedaris’ wild, true stories were actually not all that true has kept me from loving his work as much as many people have probably thought I should/would, and I’m glad this New Republic piece has been churned up by the Daisey stuff, because I missed it the first time.
So, right, I’m not shocked at all that many of the most fantastic details of Sedaris’ most beloved pieces aren’t wholly true, or even a little bit true, but this still bugs me so much. Really makes me sick, on kind of a stupid personal level, because it would be pretty great if I could make a career out of writing books full of funny, true stories about my dumb weird life (dreeeammmzz!), but more and more it’s seeming like in order to do that a person has to be able to stretch her own truth much, much further than I’m willing. Whomp!
It’s interesting, too, that Daisey and John D’Agata have been painted, or at least received, as raging egomaniacs, but Sedaris is still very much beloved—I guess this New Republic thing hit just before the Internet As Public-ish Evisceration Forum really congealed (oh, 2007—sweet, sweet 2007). He should be grateful for that, I suppose.
Ira Glass: I have such a weird mix of feelings about this, because I simultaneously feel terrible, for you, and also, I feel lied to. And also I stuck my neck out for you. You know I feel like, I feel like, like I vouched for you. With our audience. Based on your word. Mike Daisey: I’m sorry.
This is how to make mistakes.
My favorite episodes of This American Life, because this is a question I sometimes get asked
And by “sometimes” I guess that shakes out to maybe just twice in the last few months? Once was Dave just now and I kind of brain-dumped on Twitter, then realized perhaps it would be helpful and /or benevolent to collect them all in one place. (I always assume everyone listens to the show already but obviously this isn’t true, but either anyway it’s basically just one of my favorite things, and has been very important for me as A Writer, so anytime you want to talk about it with me, just go for it.)
First, my favorites as of 2009, compiled in a list for Paste. Recordings for Someone (specifically, the insane Little Mermaid story) was the first episode I ever heard, in reruns sometime around 2006, so I like to suggest that as a starting place if you’ve somehow never listened. Oh and I think Notes on Camp was the first one that made me cry.
Recent favorites (which I’ve heard via the iPhone app, which is excellent and very much worth whatever few dollars it costs—you can stream every single episode ever for free once you buy it!) include Back to Penn State and The Incredible Case of the P.I. Moms.
I also really love Georgia Rambler from 2010. And Trail of Tears, which is just an hour of Sarah Vowell tracing her Cherokee ancestors’ path on the Trail of Tears (including an amazingly hilarious and righteously angry stop in my hometown) and which aired in 1998, I just heard for the first time recently and may be my all-time favorite.
All this was prompted by my exhortation that if you own stuff, you should probably listen to the most recent episode, which is, frankly, gutting.
“Look at Vogue. Oh my God. Vogue and Harper’s once were very well designed magazines. I mean they were exciting to look at. You could not give a shit about fashion and be excited by the whole look of the magazine. You look at Vogue now: it’s not even designed. What a difference. You pick up a Vogue back in the days of [Condé Nast’s Alexander] Lieberman and those guys, and you look at it now, and it’s a disgrace. “
George Lois said this. He designed the iconic Esquire covers that have been dry humped for thirty years by mag hacks.
He was also a Mad Man. Lois and Julian Keonig broke off to become their own agency Papert, Keonig, Lois—after creating the revolutionary ‘Think Small’ campaign under DDB’s agency (all of this is mentioned in Mad Men). It was the first agency that had an art director (Lois) on the masthead.
This American Life’s “Origin Story” episode has a segment about Julian Koenig and George Lois, reported by Koenig’s daughter Sarah (one of the show’s producers), in which it becomes clear that Lois might not have done all the work he’s credited with. I’ve seen this Black Book interview floating around the Internet today with little tagged on bits of praise for Lois but no one’s mentioned this, that I’ve seen at least.
Regardless, something else he says in the interview really struck me—the bit about magazines being designed like websites now, with tons of information crammed onto every page, dulling the once-visceral experience of luxurious, carefully-designed full-page spreads:
Very few magazines do you look through — and I’m not talking as a designer, I’m talking as a normal person — do you look through something and you open a spread and it takes your breath away a little bit. Vogue will do their normal full page photograph of fashion, but when they get into any kind of a story it’s like jam, jam, jam, jam. I’m just kind of suffocated when I look through them.
I can’t speak for Vogue, of course, but for most magazines I know it’s an issue less of trying to replicate the web in-book and more an issue of, you know, trying to make maximum use of an ever-shrinking number of print pages. I think anyone would enjoy the luxury of being able to let their content “breathe.” But with how magazines are right now, it’s just that—a luxury.