Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fact v Fiction and the Myersons

What to say about the gaping hole of pain which is the current Myerson family debacle? My stomach lurched when I read Jake Myerson's account in the Daily Mail, I cried when I watched Julie squirming under Paxman's unforgiving treatment, struggling to put her point across while clearly racked by both guilt and a frightened sense of injustice. My stomach turned over again when I read all the finger-pointing by journalists and the public alike: bad mother; spoilt brat.

How many of us can put up our hands and say we weren't troubled and troublesome teenagers? Not me, certainly. How many of those of us who have been parents can say we haven't made mistakes? Not I, mate. It's no coincidence that many of my radio plays and much of my prose are about the repercussions that adult behaviour can have on children's lives.

'I had to write about it,' Myerson told Paxman, and Paxman reacted with his trademark mix of regular-bloke disbelief and supercilious contempt, and the rest of the world threw up their hands in horror with accusations of selfishness (and Myerson retreated into her now familiar justification that she had to tell the world about skunk).

But the point is this: we writers have a constitutional urge to write about what moves and troubles us and seems to us of dire importance (and I'm betting that this is something Jake Myerson understood when he apparently assented to the book's publication, which makes it all a much greyer area than people seem to assume): without that urge, books would be dead things that moved no one and affected nothing.

But this is the problem: the people we are in the throes of such crises are not the people we will always be. We are not the incontrovertible 'fact' of ourselves. It seems to me that Myerson's biggest mistake was to write the book as fact and not as fiction. You can see why she did, if she felt an urgency to expose the problem of skunk, and given the supremacy of 'fact' over fiction in our culture. But it's hard not to see the tragedy for this family as the ultimate fallout from this pernicious contemporary cultural phenomenon.
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