Friday, March 07, 2008

The Posthumous Diary of Heath Ledger

In an era of fake memoirs, Esquire now gives us a new variation on masturbatory journalism--the fictional diary.

For "a conceivable chronicle of Heath Ledger's final days," the editors explain, "writer Lisa Taddeo visited the actor's neighborhood, talked to the store owners and bartenders who may have seen him during his last week, and read as many accounts and rumors about the events surrounding his death as possible. She filled in the rest with her imagination. The result is what we call reported fiction."

Others might call it exploitation, but the magazine has been inventing new ways of excavating reality for half a century since the days of the New Journalism, when Harold Hayes turned novelists like James Baldwin and Norman Mailer into reporters, and journalists like Tom Wolfe into novelists.

In those days of digging for more than surface truth, there was a minor figure named A. J. Weberman, who can be seen now as a media prophet. Starting with Bob Dylan, Weberman's way of deconstructing celebrities was to scour their garbage for clues to their essence. It got to the point where J. Edgar Hoover was reported to be having agents surreptitiously remove his and put out fake garbage to throw reporters off the scent.

Ms. Taddeo's "diary" is in that tradition, an attempt to turn detritus into journalistic art, starting with an invented warning by Jack Nicholson to "stay away from the god damn pills" to a coda on celebrity:

"I don't know how it will be for you, but for me, you wake up one more time and everything is really bright, like a flashbulb. Everything is clear as vodka. And then you go back to sleep again. One last punch-drunk opening of the eyes is what you get, and guess what--it's enough.

"So hey, buddy, why so serious? Chin up. It's all part of the plan."

Esquire's circulation plan perhaps, but we can only hope they don't start teaching this stuff in journalism schools.

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