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Or there was Michael Palmer, the doctor who, inspired by the example of medical suspense novelist Robin Cook, decided to try his hand at a medical thriller. When he was about to embark on his book tour, however, he realized he wasn't getting what he called high-profile bookings. So Palmer decided to reveal that he was a recovering alcoholic and Demerol addict and was now helping other, similarly afflicted physicians. His publicists beamed over the disclosure, knowing it would generate press. Palmer's addictions thus became what he himself called a marketing device.
Slightly more savvy writers decided that if they were going to make their lives their marketing tools, they might as well make the life the book too. In part this may explain the craze for literary confessions in which writers divulge their deepest and occasionally dirtiest secrets--the autobiographical equivalent to the entertainingly lurid biographies dedicated to detailing a subject's pathologies. No matter how high-minded their professed motives, one suspects these memoirists also know the entertainment value of their tales: a poet who is a sex addict and child molester, a mopey young woman who is committed to a mental institution and another who battles anorexia, a young novelist addicted to anxiety inhibitors, another attractive young novelist who had an incestuous relationship with her father. Needless to say, plots like these make every bit as good entertainment as similar stories in the supermarket tabloids--which is to say that while confession may be good for the soul, it is also good for book sales.
But the final surrender of literature to entertainment may have come withthe discovery that a book needn't even be a vehicle for its author's life; it could be a vehicle for the author's photo. Publishers had long preferred writers who were telegenic and glib, able to hawk their books where it counted: on television. By the mid-1990s, however, there was a group of young author pinups--Paul Watkins, Douglas Coupland, Tim Willocks, movie star/novelist Ethan Hawke--whose basic selling point was their appearance. "He had a rock-star type aura that these young women project onto the author," was how a promotions director at the Waterstone bookstore in Boston described Coupland's reading there before a large audience. Playing off his aura, Tim Willocks's publisher enclosed a photo of the writer with an invitation to a promotional lunch. "He's definitely a cute author," a features editor at Mademoiselle enthused. "We're definitely biased toward cute guys."
Perhaps it was inevitable that with literature drawn into the entertainment vortex, it would also generate ancillary merchandise just as movies generated toys, clothing, books and other products. Robert James Waller, whose The Bridges of Madison County became the very paradigm of a publishing phenomenon, wound up issuing a compact disc of himself singing his own compositions inspired by his own novel. Following his trail, novelist Joyce Maynard released a compact disc of music to accompany her book Where Love Goes, Elizabeth Wurtzel planned to provide a CD soundtrack for the paperback edition of her memoir Prozac Nation, James Redfield's inspirational book The Celestine Prophecy spawned The Celestine Prophecy: A Musical Voyage and Warner Bros. signed self-help writer Deepak Chopra to a recording contract. "Each of Deepak's seven spiritual laws of success could be distilled into a song," explained a record executive. "Then the theme of each law could be distilled into a mantra."
Viewing these developments with concern, the critic Jack Miles predicted that publishing would eventually find itself divided between a very small audience of readers seeking knowledge and a much larger audience seeking entertainment--in effect, another sacralization of the sort that had divided culture in the late nineteenth century. "What is offered for everybody will be entertainment and entertainment only, and then only at a level that excludes nobody," Miles wrote. "What is offered as knowledge, by contrast, will be offered, usually not for everybody but rather for professionals who will 'consume' it as (and mostly at) work." Extrapolating from Miles's vision, one could even imagine a day when there would be for everyone what had already long existed in Hollywood: designated readers to summarize plots, so that no one would ever have to tax himself by reading more than a few pages, as Hollywood executives were never taxed.
But even these divisions were not as clean as Miles suggested, because entertainment could not be kept so easily at bay. Books that purported to be informational were increasingly invaded by entertainment, so that one had to make a new distinction between real or traditional information and entertainment in the form of information--what has been called faction. The latter was the sort of thing in which best-selling celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley specialized. When she revealed in her 1997 biography of the Windsors that the queen mother was artificially inseminated, to cite just one example of many, her evidence seemed to be that everyone knew the king's brother Edward was impotent, that impotency ran in the Windsor family and so that therefore the logical conclusion was the one she drew. It was certainly a stretch, bur Kelley could get away with it because she knew accuracy was of little consequence to her readers; entertainment was. The most important thing in the Republic of Entertainment was that the facts be provocative enough to provide a sensational show.
|1.||The Republic of Entertainment||11|
|2.||The Two-Dimensional Society||53|
|3.||The Secondary Effect||96|
|4.||The Human Entertainment||143|
|5.||The Mediated Self||192|
|A Select Bibliography||279|