Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Of Hoaxes and Fraud

Poor Laura Albert. The woman behind (her alter-ego, “It” boy) JT Leroy is being sued for fraud by Antidote Films. And heaven help artists everywhere if the company wins their case. Antidote optioned the rights to JT Leroy’s “Sarah” in 2003, but now claims the deal should be rendered null and void because JT Leroy does not exist. Huh? Since when does obtaining the rights to a book allow a producer to lay claim to the flesh and blood author as well? Production companies are optioning human beings now, too? (Not to mention “Sarah” was never published as memoir or autobiography – and Antidote never explicitly bought the rights to JT Leroy’s life. Seems the only intelligent move the producers did make was to bring Steven Shainberg onboard as the movie’s director.)

Laura Albert was first outed in an article in “New York” magazine that bore the headline “IS JT LEROY A HOAX?” on its cover. I remember thinking, WHO CARES? But then I read Stephen Beachy’s piece and my questions became both deeper and darker. Was JT Leroy’s writing overrated? Definitely. Was JT Leroy’s writing worthy of being published? Most certainly. Would JT Leroy’s writing have been published if penned as a work of fiction from a thirty-something musician with no literary connections to speak of? Would novelist Dennis Cooper have given a talented unknown named Laura Albert so much as the time of day?

If JT Leroy was a hoax then Laura Albert was a scapegoat, the article’s real red herring. It’s a reflection of our reality TV world that all the talent in the universe will get you nowhere without a gimmick or connections. Laura Albert should have been applauded for creating JT Leroy, for giving birth to such a beautiful child, humbly eschewing both the credit and subsequent fame – in other words, letting her art speak for itself without her image attached. It seemed Albert’s foremost concern was to get her work out there, like an ego-less mother driven to care only for the welfare of the kid, having conceived not for vanity but for the sake of the creation. (The rumor that Asia Argento, the director behind another movie based on a JT Leroy book, had given birth to Leroy’s child was, in fact, completely plausible – for what is a movie to its director if not her child?) It was those who could not see the metaphorical as truth – as much if not truer than the literal – that were to blame if they felt “tricked.” The best art is never literal, making Albert the purest of artists. So I found the notion of Laura Albert as JT Leroy very touching. She had given hope to artists everywhere.

And yet JT Leroy was not simply a work of fiction. JT Leroy did not spring from the whole cloth of Laura Albert's mind. JT Leroy was a living, breathing amalgam of street children everywhere. And the worst that Albert did was to give them all a much-needed voice. It is the public that craves live flesh, literary figures and celebrities that forced “Wigs and Sunglasses” (the Leroy stand-in) into being. It was they who demanded a literal truth. Albert only responded. The word “hoax” implies an intention to deceive. Albert’s intention seemed to be to enlighten, to force us to go beyond the literal into the metaphorical. Thus, JT Leroy was, unequivocally, no hoax.

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