Spy Magazine, that wonderful satirical magazine that slowly started losing subscribers as it slowly devolved into a bitch fest, had a great feature called “Logrolling In Our Time” which presented two members of American intelligentsia giving favorable, often glowing critiques of each other on their respective pulpits. It was surprising how many pairs of mutual admirers they could find to keep the feature fed for as many issues as they did. This is a different kind of logrolling, more in line with birling, where a lumberjack perches on a log in the water and spins it with his feet in order to keep his balance. This is an essay inspired by a movie based on a book about a man who wrote a book about a real life event. It is, therefore, at least five times removed from anything that could possibly be considered important to anyone. And so I roll the log.
The movie, of course, is Infamous, which I finally saw last night on cable, about Truman Capote writing his masterpiece (and artistic swan song) In Cold Blood. In this movie Sandra Bullock proves she can really act, disappearing completely into her role. I don’t know if she accurately portrayed Harper Lee, I’ve never met, seen or watched video of the diminutive writer, but Bullock convinced me, at the very least, that she was someone other than Sandra Bullock. It is also a movie in which Daniel James Bond Craig plays one of at least two conflicted gay men he has portrayed on-screen. This essay, you may have guessed, is not about them. The log continues to spin under my feet.
It is, moreover, not about why we are as fascinated by the masterful In Cold Blood as we are by Capote, the silly, pretentious little gossip who wrote it. So fascinated that, within a year, there were two movies made about him creating it. (And there was a movie based on the “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood. And there was the Broadway play, called Tru, about Truman’s last years, as he faded into obscurity after bitterly betraying his high society friends by telling all their tales in one of the few books he was able to write after finishing In Cold Blood. And the television special based on the play. It’s not about those, either.) I think the reasons we are fascinated by him and by it, even though he and it seem on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, are really one thing: Voyeurism. We are a nation of voyeurs. We love getting inside the minds of criminals, watching them plan and execute their crimes. And then we love watching them be caught and punished for the crimes. We also love a gossip. And we surely love watching a gossip crumble and die. We love watching. And I love watching us watch. I’m a voyeur of voyeurs. Even though I’ve never read the book In Cold Blood. But, as you may have surmised, this essay is about none of that. I almost lost my balance for a moment, there.
So what, exactly, is this essay about? It started with a description of how a defunct magazine feature relates to a movie based on a book about a man who wrote a book about a real life event, then moved into a condemnation (or celebration, perhaps) of voyeurism and a confession of talking about something I don’t know anything about. It is about the random connections our spinning minds make, connecting immediate input with data stored so long ago its accuracy might be questioned, and thinking, in the moment the connections occur and coalesce in our conscious minds, that we have discovered or realized something brilliant that others will be moved or intrigued to read or hear. I have just plunged into the icy water and the log is now spinning on its own, quite out of my reach.
It’s not about anything, ultimately. It is logrolling. There is a website that sells a tee shirt that says, “More people have read this shirt than your blog”. I think I’ll buy that shirt. It makes me laugh every time I think about it.
Geoff Hoff is co-author of the best selling satirical novel Weeping Willow: Welcome to River Bend