In the West at twilight 1

To say this is the funniest Mark Steyn column yet is not possible because so many of his columns are, so to speak, the funniest. But it is very funny. These samples should tempt you to read the whole column. 

Courtesy of David Maraniss’ new book [Barack Obama: The Story], we now know that yet another key prop of Barack Obama’s identity is false: His Kenyan grandfather was not brutally tortured or even non-brutally detained by his British colonial masters. The composite gram’pa joins an ever-swelling cast of characters from Barack’s “memoir” who, to put it discreetly, differ somewhat in reality from their bit parts in the grand Obama narrative. The best friend at school portrayed in Obama’s autobiography as “a symbol of young blackness” was, in fact, half Japanese, and not a close friend. The white girlfriend he took to an off-Broadway play that prompted an angry post-show exchange about race never saw the play, dated Obama in an entirely different time zone, and had no such world-historically significant conversation with him. His Indonesian step-grandfather, supposedly killed by Dutch soldiers during his people’s valiant struggle against colonialism, met his actual demise when he “fell off a chair at his home while trying to hang drapes.”

In recent years, the Left has turned the fake memoir into one of the most prestigious literary genres: Oprah’s Book Club recommended James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” hailed by Bret Easton Ellis as a “heartbreaking memoir” of “poetic honesty,” but subsequently revealed to be heavy on the “poetic” and rather light on the “honesty.” The “heartbreaking memoir” of a drug-addled street punk who got tossed in the slammer after brawling with cops while high on crack with his narco-hooker girlfriend proved to be the work of some suburban Pat Boone type with a couple of parking tickets. (I exaggerate, but not as much as he did.)

Oprah was also smitten by “The Education of Little Tree” [by Asa Earl Carter under the pseudonym Forrest Carter], the heartwarmingly honest memoir of a Cherokee childhood which turned out to be concocted by a former Klansman whose only previous notable literary work was George Wallace’s “Segregation Forever” speech.

“Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood” is a heartbreakingly honest, poetically searing, searingly painful, painfully honest, etc., account of Binjamin Wilkomirski’s unimaginably horrific boyhood in the Jewish ghetto of Riga and the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. After his memoir won America’s respected National Jewish Book Award, Mr. Wilkomirski was inevitably discovered to have been born in Switzerland and spent the war in a prosperous neighborhood of Zurich being raised by a nice middle-class couple. … The “unimaginable” horror of his book turned out to be all too easily imagined.

Exploitation of the Holocaust for personal – or any – financial gain is especially repugnant.

Fake memoirs have won the Nobel Peace Prize and are taught at Ivy League schools to the scions of middle-class families who take on six-figure debts for the privilege (“I, Rigoberta Menchu”). They’re handed out by the Pentagon to senior officers embarking on a tour of Afghanistan (Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea”) on the entirely reasonable grounds that a complete fantasy could hardly be less credible than current NATO strategy.

In such a world, it was surely only a matter of time before a fake memoirist got elected as president of the United States. …

You’ll notice that, in the examples listed above, the invention only goes one way. No Cherokee orphan, Holocaust survivor or recovering drug addict pretends to be George Wallace’s speechwriter. Instead, the beneficiaries of boring middle-class Western life seek to appropriate the narratives and thereby enjoy the electric frisson of fashionable victim groups.

And so it goes with public policy in the West at twilight.

  • Liz

    Great piece by Stein!
    Remember how the press used to bash Reagan for being a former actor?  The implication was that he was using his fictitious image as a big screen hero to prop himself up, and he really had no substance to stand on. (Never mind that he was governor of California all those years.)
    Now Obama, who barely made senator, makes up his own heroic, fictitious image and claims it as reality, and they don’t bat an eye!