Friday, March 12, 2010

real people

As you may have surmised, while my novel is entirely fictional, it does invoke a number of “real life” celebrities from various art worlds, both highbrow and lowbrow. For a little while, I thought it would be interesting to contact some of these “real” people and give them an opportunity to deny any association with my fictional characters. I thought this might help my readers distinguish between fiction and reality.

The first person I approached was the philosopher Slavoj Žižek. I went to a talk he gave a few months ago at Cooper Union. The talk ended kind of abruptly because there was a bomb threat, but Žižek was gracious enough to stick around for a bit to sign copies of his book. I stood in line, but when I reached the front, instead of getting his autograph, I handed him a copy of my manuscript and said, “I wrote a novel and you’re a character in it.” He seemed kind of taken aback. He said, “Oh no, what, am I like that Jim Carrey character in ‘Dumb and Dumber’?”

I had inserted a brief note in the ms with my email address. I suggested that he might want to make a formal statement denying any actual association with my fictional characters. I’m afraid he didn’t write me back. I followed up with a message to his website. I thought he might want to say, “Santutxo Etxeberria is a figment of Barbara Browning’s imagination. He was never a guest at a dinner party attended by me, Analia Hounie and Gayatri Spivak. Furthermore, Cameron Diaz does seem like an interesting person. Why is this treated as a comical assertion?”

Again, he didn’t respond.

Then I thought maybe I should just pilfer some material from real interviews that were already a part of the public record. I thought maybe I could just cite them as though the celebrities were talking about my characters, but I could footnote the original sources so that any curious reader with an internet connection would quickly discover that they’d actually been talking about other things.

I ran this by a lawyer friend. Since I already mentioned that “Lacanian lawyer,” you may think I know a lot of people in the legal profession. In fact, I don’t. But I’m starting to find that lawyers can be pretty interesting people (who knew?). One of them told me I needed to worry about “rights of publicity,” which is basically exploiting somebody else’s celebrity status for your own personal gain.

I wrote one of the big shots in this legal field. I said I was thinking about trying to use a blurb from Björk that was pilfered from some random e-mail interview she’d done for the Brooklyn Rail (“i always feel i say too much...”), and maybe another from Mikhail Baryshnikov on Larry King (“Next question.”) – as though they were trying to be discreet about the identity of Vivian’s lovers. I said, “Are they likely to sue me?” He said a lawyer could really only prudently respond that anybody could sue you... He did, however, think it was an interesting idea... But very possibly actionable.

I gave it one last shot. I sent the manuscript to Laurie Anderson. She was so nice! She wrote back right away! She thought the book looked “cool”! But she declined to give me a blurb denying any association with Binh...

Binh wasn’t surprised. He said, “Laurie is a very sweet girl...”

1 comment:

Francis said...

love "maybe he was just documenting imperfection."Bravo! Francis