Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Shattered Glass

Billy Ray's Shattered Glass (2003) provides an entertaining cautionary tale. Based on a journalism scandal caused by unearthing Stephen Glass's fictions-passed-off-as-facts in 1998, it shows how easily people can be duped. Worse, it shows a breakdown in editing and fact-checking, a wavering in professional nonfiction writing. Glass (played mousily by Hayden Cristensen) is finally called to task by Chuck Lane, The New Republic's new editor (played to perfection by slow-burning Peter Sarsgaard), but only after Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) of Forbes Digital questions the veracity of a Glass "nonfiction" article.

There have been so many little scandals in journalism and nonfiction publishing like this one in recent years precisely because corners are being cut at every level. The exciting breakthrough stories of the 1970s have largely given way to lame acceptance of the status quo -- or at least until the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when a broad spectrum of writers began probing and questioning official story telling again. Thanks to the internet, just about anything can be put out as fact, but just as easily, assertions can be challenged, researched, and refuted with actual facts.

I've assigned Shattered Glass in several writing classes and asked students to compose a response. Lauren, a very perceptive student, wrote this pithy take about Mr. Glass a couple years ago: "Despite the fact that many of his stories were either partially or completely fabricated, Glass was able to charm his peers into believing in his false sources, fake websites, and phony business cards because he was self-effacing and popular."

After six years of the Bush Administration, more people seem to have become healthily skeptical again. Thank God.

Today's Rune: The Self.

Birthdays: Muddy Waters, Éric Rohmer, Kitty Kelley, Hugh Masekela, Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Lynch.



Laura said...

Your so right about the becoming skeptical again with the present administration. It's hard to believe anything that comes out of a politician's mouth now a days.

Johnny Yen said...

The press has completely laid down regarding BushCo and the war, until recently.

I've been pretty impressed with Peter Sarsgaard in everything I've seen him in-- Jarhead, Garden State.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I think my skepticism, on a personal level, has grown due to my prison environment. I seem to question everything.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy the posts Erik. Could not agree more. Someone needs to follow and write about the money
trail (US not Iraq ) MW

Danny Tagalog said...

Hi Erik, Great post and hope the skepticism continues. What did you think about the stylish release of the UK soldiers who illegally entered Iranian waters?

Egg on Blair's face.

And thanks: I finally bought a Leonard Cohen album and love it: Songs of Love and Hate. Especially love Avalanche and Diamonds in the Mine.

Charles Gramlich said...

These kind of fraud's really make me angry because it's just another example of how we've slid from information toward infotainment. It seems sometimes people don't even care whether something is true or not. Thus the success of shows "based on a true story," which in many cases aren't.

Sheila said...

yes people can be very easily duped!!! I am one of them! and so now I use skepticisim and caution with almost everything.... almost

Bird on a Wire said...

Thanks for the recommendation! Very timely--I followed the whole James Frey fallout very closely (by the way, whether it was fact or fiction, his book just wasn't that good in the first place)

Anonymous said...

this is a good movie, you should have your students write it again, like a history class or something