Saturday, June 23, 2007

Judgment Day

It’s fitting that the trial of Antidote Films vs. Laura Albert ended with a fraud conviction accompanied by Bible-quoting closing statements in which Albert was portrayed as evil, for what has this media feeding frenzy been if not a witch hunt? This case was not about Laura Albert masquerading as a teenage, truck stop prostitute, but about getting revenge for the shame caused when one feels they’ve been suckered. Not too long ago this same level of intense mob hatred was directed at author James Frey after his supposed memoir was revealed to be fiction. But James Frey is not another one of Laura Albert’s alter egos. Mr. Frey published fantasy as hard fact. Laura Albert published JT Leroy’s “memoir” as fiction.

That those now throwing stones overlooked this simple fact until Beachy’s “New York” magazine article came out is, quite frankly, astonishing. But then people only see what they want to see, that which they need to make a film marketable. Inconvenient facts like phantom pieces of uranium in Niger are swept aside. Author identity was crucial to the producers – yet no one at Antidote questioned why they were optioning a “memoir” that hadn’t been published as memoir? The only people “deceived” were those who wanted to be.

I wonder whether the jury was really able to see the shades of gray – or only feel the black and white emotions of a dupe, the red of shame. Instinctively I knew Albert’s defense had miscalculated when they chose to address her mental health (irrelevant to the case) instead of sticking straight to the facts. This wasn’t a criminal trial, I thought, and any attempt to gain sympathy for a person able to talk her way into celebrity friendships could only backfire, with the jury instead seeing Albert as a manipulative woman hiding behind her past abuse. Playing (psychological) defense instead of turning the tables and playing (willing accomplice) offense carried an implicit admission of wrongdoing. The defense shouldn’t have taken responsibility – the bait – for a criminal act not committed. There should have been no apologies made for JT Leroy’s birth, no excuses or remorse. To paint Albert as a frail, helpless victim is absurd. She’s strong enough to have become an accomplished writer who fought for her work to get noticed, with or without her alter ego. The point isn’t that Albert didn’t know what she was doing – the point is that everyone else on some level, whether they’re willing to admit it or not, did.

Not that Antidote’s president Jeffrey Levy-Hinte ever second-guessed Albert’s fragile psychological state. “She’s liberated, in a way. It’s quite wonderful,” he told a “New York Times” reporter, referring to the loss of Albert’s alter ego, a statement which seems a bit condescending coming from a self-described “person of principle” who’d just liberated an artist of over a hundred grand she didn’t have. (But then “Sarah” could still be made into a good movie according to Levy-Hinte – which I guess would help offset Albert’s possible loss of the rights to all her books if she can’t pay the judgment.) Indeed, a true man of principle would stand up and take responsibility for having been a willing accomplice to the perpetration of JT Leroy’s existence – something Laura Albert could never have pulled off if a trick-turning, trannie boy weren’t such a lucrative exploit.

So I suppose it should come as no surprise that the company president also still respected Albert as someone who “pulled off something quite startling — all these intelligent people were taken in.” But then how intelligent could one be if he can’t tell truth from his own wishful fantasy, can’t even read the word “Fiction” on the binding of a book?

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