Arts The JT LeRoy Verdict
posted by June 26 at 12:25 PMon
The lady who pretended to be JT LeRoy has been found guilty of fraud by a jury and forced to pay $116,500 to Antidote International Films, the company that optioned her first book, Sarah. (I mean, JT LeRoy’s first book.) Does this seem weird to anyone else?
OK, yes, Laura Albert “lied” to everyone, including Antidote International Films but also Courtney Love and Winona Ryder and Mary Gaitskill and Dennis Cooper and lots of other musicians and writers. (I once heard a voicemail JT LeRoy left on the answering machine of a well known writer, a writer who shared an agent with JT LeRoy, and always thought this was proof that JT LeRoy existed.) But writers “lying” to readers—writing under a name that isn’t their real name!—isn’t exactly unheard of. Writers “lying” about their gender isn’t exactly unheard of. Sure, Albert furthered the confusion/deception/act by sending people out to public appearances to act as JT LeRoy, but wouldn’t George Eliot have done the same if she’d been pressured to, like, go on a book tour? Plus, hasn’t this is-he-real-or-isn’t-he? performance art that Laura Albert has been perpetuating for years been kind of wonderful to behold? It’s not like she hasn’t been working really hard at it.
What seems weird is that Antidote International Films optioned a novel called Sarah, not a human being who wrote a novel called Sarah. To get all huffy (more than huffy: to sue a writer for all this money, not just this first $116,500 but also all the legal fees) because the author of a novel—which, by definition, is a book that we are to assume is made-up—has a different name and gender and personality than the person we all thought wrote it just illustrates that Antidote’s interest in the book wasn’t actually, you know, an interest in the book. From the New York Times:
Among the various battles waged at the trial—art versus commerce, truth versus fiction, reality versus the imagination—it was perhaps the battle over JT LeRoy’s purpose in the world that was most in dispute. Before his identity (or, rather, nonidentity) was revealed last year in a series of newspaper articles, the production team at Antidote considered him that rare commodity in today’s biography-obsessed entertainment world: a gifted writer with a titillating past that only enhanced the value of the work.
Bullshit. JT LeRoy’s biography was their interest in the work. Their perception of the person who wrote it was what they liked. It was an interest in career, celebrity, the “sellability” of the author, rather than ideas.