Hayden's Ferry Review


Memoirs and Biographies Galore

Over the past couple of decades, it seems that the biography and the memoir have become more and more popular. One can even get an MFA with an emphasis in Creative Nonfiction, which finds its strongest form in memoir and memoir-ish short stories. In fact, the pre-release press surrounding most memoirs or biographies far outstrips the attention that most books get even after they've been released, even the best-selling ones. Whether it's Madonna's brother from several months ago or Hillary Clinton from a couple of years ago, readers can't get enough of the books that offer a look into the life and mind of some of the most public personae in recent history. And for those who don't feel inclined to tell their story or for those who are no longer able to share it, there is an army of biographers waiting with pens and books at the ready to catch that yet-unseen glimpse of a life well-known. But where does (auto)biography end and memoir begin? And what are the proper politics of these genre? Should they be used for image-building or should the facts always be more important? The texts currently being released seem to be flirting with these questions in particular.

Most notably, the controversy being raised by Rupert Murdoch over his yet-to-be released biography The Man Who Owns the News. The news mogul objects to what he claims are defamatory depictions of his character and relationships to his two #2 men who run Fox and National Corp. But the biographer, Michael Wolff, says he has over 50 hours of interviews with the man himself on tape and more from family and friends and that these confirm the Murdoch on the page to be the same as the one in real life. It is, to me, a little disconcerting that Murdoch, a man whose business it is to build and destroy public images, should get to have such a close look, and therefore more of a say, in how he is portrayed. If making himself look good was the goal, he should have written the book himself. That's what the memoir is for. Lucky for Donald Spato, whose third installment of Alfred Hitchcock biographies Spellbound by Beauty was recently released, he doesn't have to worry about consulting with the late great filmmaker—who undoubtedly would not have liked such close look at his fetishes and their manifestations on screen and on set. Probably a more touchy subject than who Murdoch wears a social mask for. But perhaps I'm wrong about this. I would like to know what you think the relationship should be between the biographer and the biographied. Is it complicated when the subject is still alive? Should that matter in the least?

I don't see any reason why Murdoch could not have picked up the pen himself, or, for that matter I don't see what's stopping him from writing a response to Wolff's work if it really is that inaccurate. After all, if Eminem can take on the task of writing a memoir for his fans, I'm sure it would be a piece of cake for just about anyone else. Eminem certainly has so much material to work from (and controversial material, at that) a story about corporate success and a life spent problematizing this nation's industry and standards of journalism (a fascinating story, but ultimately devoid of emotion, except the reader's, and therefore much easier to approach) should present relatively little difficulty. He's in the media, he ought to know how to sell an image. He could even take the Jose Conseco route and produce a tell-all that he can later declaim and "regret," which really ends up only selling even more copies of the "regretted" book.

But I digress. What do you think, dear Reader? What role should biography play? Is it the same as memoir, or do they necessarily have different goals? What should the rules of engagement be for the subjects of biography? And any other points you want to make on the subject?