Thursday, October 13, 2005


Back in 1993, I read a Newsweek article about Anthony Godby Johnson, a 14-year-old teenager with AIDS who had somehow survived a torrent of childhood physical and sexual abuse as well as a litany of physical illnesses (lung infections, leg amputation, the removal of a testicle), but still managed to write a heart-wrenching memoir, published in 1993 as A Rock and a Hard Place. The Newsweek article pointed out that none of Johnson's editors or many friends, including author Paul Monette, had ever met the boy in person. All communications took place via letter, fax or phone, because the boy's adoptive "mother" was incredibly protective of his safety. The conclusion left by the article was that the "mother" was actually the boy, disguising her voice on the phone.

At the time, I was taking a linguistic anthropology summer class at the University of Florida. The professor was an old school feminist. For our first project, I decided that I'd tackle the story of Johnson, because I was intrigued, and we were supposed to look at an issue involving gender. I thought this story had intriguing angles involving gender, age, sexual orientation, and disability. I turned in my proposal on a Friday. On Monday, the professor announced to the class that "some people" were proposing projects that were inherently sexist, because they involved children or the handicapped. Doing a project like that, she said, was tantamount to saying that all women are children, or all women are handicapped. It was demeaning, and not an appropriate topic for class.

The professor never said a word to me, and for all I know she didn't know who I was. But I burned with an anger that I'd never felt before. Maybe I didn't express myself very clearly in my proposal -- I was a junior in college, it's not like I was the brightest thing ever. But at the very least she could have talked to me about it before making a blanket example out of me for the rest of the class. I dropped the class that week, which meant I had to make it up with a different professor a year later. But it was all for the best, in the end.

At any rate, I was very much reminded of the Anthony Godby Johnson a few year's back, when the Kaycee Nicole blog scandal was exposed. (Short version -- a teen blogger dying of leukemia was exposed as actually being a fake person created by the blogger's "mom".)

Then, in 2000, Armistead Maupin published The Night Listener, his fictional retelling of the Johnson story. Maupin was a friend of Johnson's who slowly began to distrust as he realized that Johnson's "mother" Vicki had a voice that was nearly identical to Johnson's.

I was reminded of all this by two long interesting articles that I read today. The first is Who Is The Real JT LeRoy?, a deep look inside another potential literary hoax, this one longer lasting (LeRoy has published several books to much critical acclaim). Author Stephen Beachy makes a compelling argument for the identity of the "real" LeRoy. Read it for yourself.

Beachy brings up the many similarities to the Johnson case, including a mention of Tad Friend's lengthy New Yorker profile on the topic. This is a job for Blogging The Complete New Yorker! I fired up the search engine, which lead me right to "Virtual Love", from the November 26, 2001, issue.

Both "Who Is The Real JT LeRoy" and "Virtual Love" are strong literary detective stories, but neither answer the fundamental question: why do these women create suffering children? Is it an oddly safe form of Munchausen's by Proxy? Unless one of the perpetrators fesses up, we may never know.

Brokeback Mountain

Blogging the Complete New Yorker: 2nd in an occasional series.

Today I tracked down "Brokeback Mountain", the Annie Proulx short story from the October 13, 1997, issue of the New Yorker. I haven't had the time to read it yet, but I printed it out. Like Andy of Towleroad, I've been looking forward to the film version of this story forever; now I can go back and read the original.

Here, by the way, are the New Yorker archive keywords for the original short story (there's also a lengthy summary): Keywords: Wyoming; Death; Men; Shirts; Sheep; Homosexuals; Love Affairs; Violence; Shepherds; Cremation; Cowboy; Bisexuals. I love Shirts in that list.

Dante wrote in with serveral suggestions. First, that I track down Pauline Kael's (in)famous review of Last Tango in Paris, which is from the October 28, 1972, issue. Roger Ebert's Great Movies reappraisal of Last Tango helps explain why:
The history of "Last Tango in Paris" (1972) has and always will be dominated by Pauline Kael. "The movie breakthrough has finally come," she wrote, in what may be the most famous movie review ever published. "Bertolucci and Brando have altered the face of an art form." She said the film's premiere was an event comparable to the night in 1913 when Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" was first performed and ushered in modern music. As it has turned out, "Last Tango" was not a breakthrough but more of an elegy for the kind of film she championed. In the years since, mass Hollywood entertainments have all but crushed art films, which were much more successful then than now.
Second, Dante suggests the October 20, 2003, profile of Quentin Tarantino by Larissa MacFarquahar. Here are the keywords that the New Yorker archive assigned to that article: Keywords: Movies; Actors; Violence; Kubrick, Stanley; Directors; Godard, Jean-Luc; Parks, Michael; Irony; Pollack, Sydney; Leonard, Elmore; Schrader, Paul; Tarantino, Quentin; Bender, Lawrence; Grier, Pam; “Jackie Brown”; “Lolita”; Thurman, Uma; “Reservoir Dogs”; “The Green Mile”; “Breathless”; Remakes; “Pulp Fiction”; “Kill Bill-Vol. 1”; “A Clockwork Orange”; Madsen, Michael; Quentin Tarantino Film Festival; Menke, Sally; “True Romance”; Minutiae; “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”; “The Mezzanine”; McBride, Jim; Pop Culture; Forster, Robert;. Exactly?

Next, Dante suggests two short stories: Junot Diaz's "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" (December 25, 2000), which sounds fantastic. Here's the opening of the summary:
Short story about Oscar de Leon, a Dominican boy nicknamed Oscar Wao for looking like that fat homo Oscar Wilde, told by his college roommate who dated his older sister Lola. Oscar de Leon had good luck with girls when he was seven. Overweight and ugly by the time he entered Don Bosco Tech high school, he became a ghetto nerd. He gets along with Ana Acuna, a pretty loudmouthed gordita from his S.A.T. prep class.
Finally, Dante also suggests "Ranch Girl" by Maile Meloy, which I think is from the October 16, 2000, issue. (I don't have the DVDs on me, so I'm going by the archive, which oddly enough doesn't have titles to stories. I can see three fiction pieces by Maile Meloy between 2000 and 2003, and two of them could potentially be titled "Ranch Girl". More research necessary.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Blogging The Complete New Yorker

Yesterday I received my copy of The Complete New Yorker, the 8-DVD archive spanning 80 years of New Yorker history. I've decided to write up some of the historical articles that I've been tracking down.

The first article I searched for was actually a request from my boyfriend: Truman Capote's brutal profile of Marlon Brando. "The Duke in His Domain", from the November 9, 1957, issue (disc 5: 1957-1964), begins on page 53 and ends on page 100, albeit with plenty of luscious full-page 1950s advertising along the way. It turns out that the profile was published online at after Brando's death, an odd tribute given the tone of the piece. To quote the New York Times obituary of Brando:
It was while filming "Sayonara" (1957) that Mr. Brando agreed to an interview with Truman Capote for The New Yorker. The resulting article, "The Duke in His Own Domain," was a patronizing portrait of a somewhat dim prima donna. "People around me never say anything," Mr. Brando said. "They just seem to want to hear what I have to say. That's why I do all the talking." Mr. Capote expressed astonishment that Mr. Brando objected to the piece.
What are some other articles or stories that I should track down? I've got 80 years of issues at my fingertips, but I don't know where to begin.