February 19, 2009
Would you write a salacious, sex-booze-and-drug-filled – and completely bullshit – “tell all” about a popular celebrity you’ve never even met? Getting and keeping the money depends on maintaining the book’s veracity forever.
I just spit on one of my palms and rubbed my hands together maniacally and then laughed to myself like a crazed ‘49er. Because yes! I would totally do this. There are people (e.g., Jerry Oppenheimer, Andrew Morton, Kitty Kelley) that have built entire careers on the “unauthorized biography” racket, and they seem to get quite a bit of pleasure out of their work. The unique opportunity presented here – that of doing a completely bullshit biography – strikes me as THE way to go if you’re gonna get into the celebrity tell-all business, because you don’t have to waste any time doing crap like research and conducting interviews and trying to get reasonably close the truth. Here is an opportunity to let your imagination run wild! People want to know that Bea Arthur is a practicing cannibal. Or that Jessica Simpson has a parasitic twin living in her right boob. Or that Justin Timberlake is a werewolf.
And anyway, do you know how many of these cheesy things are published every year? I couldn’t find any stats on it but I’m pretty sure the answer is A LOT. The market is so glutted with books about who’s secretly gay and who’s maybe gay and gay this and gay that, that your book will be just another trashy read no one will care about. And if you get sued for defamation, you can just pull a Larry Flynt v. Jerry Falwell kind of thing where the absurdity of your book renders the case without merit because Justin Timberlake isn’t a werewolf (or is he?). But the really, truly beautiful part? Helping people. Because if your book does get any attention, and you somehow get the chance to do an interview, you can proudly announce that you’re a Giver, and this book is about giving back. And if just one person – ONE PERSON – who bought your book can finally come out and say, “I’m a werewolf, too, and I’m not ashamed anymore,” well, that…that makes all the difference.*
* A full-priced copy. Not a copy someone lent them or that they got in the cheap pile at Borders. It doesn’t work that way.
I don’t think so, although I’m sad to say that it’s not out of a sense of human decency. It’s that I don’t want to spend years in court and lose all of my money to legal fees, which I’m pretty sure would happen. Basically, you’d get the shit sued out of you. You really would. In the case of Hustler Magazine vs Falwell, Flynt was able to get an earlier lower court decision against him reversed because the offending material in question was labeled as “fiction” and had a parody disclaimer at the bottom. If Flynt had maintained that he was telling the truth about Falwell’s incestuous dalliance, he would have been in trouble – the same kind of trouble that you’d find yourself in if you accepted this challenge. A big part of this dare is insisting upon the accuracy of the book, and it wouldn’t take much for a celeb’s legal team to prove that you knew your cockamamie accusations weren’t true before you published. Et voila! You’ve got something called actual malice, the basis of a successful libel suit. An attorney’s wet dream, really.
But these sorts of legal challenges are only valid when dealing with libelous claims that exist within the realm of possibility. No judge is going take seriously a plantiff’s claim that being identified as a werewolf, for example, has damaged his/her reputation (hence the suggestion that you really get nutty with the accusations). The case is far more likely to be thrown out of court (especially when you start saying that you sincerely believe that Mr. Timberlake comes alive under a full moon) and, worse case scenario, printings of the book halted and a fine imposed against the profits (of which you’re likely to have made almost none). And honestly, in a real world scenario, there are very few people that would sue you for this; celebrities are too busy dealing with cases against people making actual believable allegations to care about the ones that demand complete and total suspension of disbelief (and they don’t even really have the time or the inclination to follow up on every plausible-but-false story, or a lot more gossip blogs would be in hot water). If you are opposed to doing this dare, there are plenty of moral reasons you should be. But legally, if you create a book that’s overtly wacky, your chances of being sued are very low, and the chances of the suit making it to trial are infinitesimal. Judges don’t enjoy wasting their time hearing useless cases, backing up their calendars, causing their caseloads to pile up (in fact, they throw out cases with far more validity for just that reason). Similarly, celebrities have bigger, more well-publicized and seemingly authentic fish to fry. Plus, they’re likely to decide against giving your book the free publicity to be gained by being the object of a civil suit.
An added perk to this situation is that you’re paid the million dollars by an unidentified source (who just likes giving people money for doing dares, I guess); it isn’t money you earned from sales of the book or that was paid to you by a publishing house. People who get rich off books filled with trumped up plausible stories might incur some sort of wrath from the court. You, with your book that is 1) unlikely to make it to the Times Best Seller list and 2) full of wholly unbelievable stories, not so much. Again, win -win.
P.S. And actually, as it turns out, this is all kind of moot. Per The Rules, Unless the question indicates otherwise, you will not face prosecution … for any of the evil deeds contained herein.
Rules, schmules. In that case, sure. Why not? I’ve got a few things I’d like to say about Charo.