the study of marriage

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Where truth matters

There are a couple of big news stories happening at the moment that concern lies told by authors and their publishers, presumably in order to get books sold. I'm referring to the James Frey and JT Leroy scandals.

Public and press reaction is varied and runs the gamut from condemnation, "When I first read that book, it rang untrue to me," to justification, "I don't care about the truth, I love their work anyway."

It occurs to me that we decide the truth doesn't matter if we are, ourselves, emotionally invested in the situation. Look at the way we react when a politician is discovered to have lied about something: If we already liked/respected/voted for that person or organization, then the lie doesn't matter; but if we disliked/disrespected/voted against them, then the lie is a terrible thing. We justify the liars with whom we identify. A lie is OK, or not so bad, or well-intentioned, if it comes from our own side.

The idea that "truth doesn't matter" worries me, when it comes to marriage. (And here, of course, I am assuming that general cultural values and attitudes translate to values that we practice in life. In my experience and studies, that is true.)

If we believe that the truth doesn't matter (when the lie is ours), then it's OK to "fall into" and continue an affair, because "as long as my spouse doesn't know, s/he isn't getting hurt."

If the truth doesn't matter, then it's OK to apply for credit cards and max them out without telling my spouse, because "I deserve the things that make me happy," without regard to what my independent actions do to my marriage or family.

Having been on both sides of this issue in marriage (the liar and the lied to), I know that the truth does matter. The truth and the lie, and the intention to deceive, matter almost more than the hurtful thing done by someone who purports to love you. "How could you do this to me, and more importantly, how could you lie like this to me?"

I really think truth matters, and in marriage most of all.


  • At January 10, 2006 6:49 PM, Blogger Ron Franscell said…

    From author/blogger Ron Franscell at ...

    American literature -- considered an oxymoron in the rest of the world -- has gone downhill fast since New York surrendered America's storytelling standards to Hollywood, where illusion -- EVEN IN TRUE STORIES -- is exactly the point. Today, the "perfect" story is determined by its film-worthiness more than its literary quality. In the name of creating Californicated literature, New York editors have blurred the line until even they don't know what's true. "It's a good story," they'll say, "so who cares if it's an utter and ballsy lie?"

    I care. Capote admitted on the bookjacket that "In Cold Blood" was fictionalized in some part. Coleridge's definition of fiction was "the willing suspension of disbelief." What if it's not willing? That's the difference between making love and rape, albeit without either the exhilaration or violence. If you thought you were reading a true story, you were conned. What if we found out next week that the famous Zapruder film was, in fact, a Hollywood dramatization passed off as a hyper-realistic eyewitness home-movie and you shoulda seen the look on your face and, oh, isn't it funny how we fooled you??

    This is the literary equivalent of Reality TV. They tell you what you're seeing is real, but it's not real at all. It's simulated reality, edited into convenient 30-minute bytes ... and we eat it up.

    In America today, we live with too much fiction posing as fact. Blogs, books, TV, videogaming -- and some would say, the news -- thrive on it. But it's not art to swear you're telling the truth and then fib. That's just common lying. The artful trick is to tell me you're lying and make me believe every word is true.


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