After several days, it is still my considered opinion that with this post, The Dish became the most important media outlet in America, at least for those of us who value serious discussion of current issues.
A reader shares a harrowing series of stories and insights on corporal punishment, which at times borders on torture:
via “Psychological Suspense That No Child Is Equipped To Manage” « The Dish.
The anonymity of the post, however, raises an important question: what if it's fake? What would that mean? Does it matter if this is real or fiction? In other words, how would my reaction to this piece change if I knew:
- That the author was an "ambitious but unknown writer" who deceived The Dish into publishing a short story as if it were heartfelt personal testimony?
- That the author was an "activist for abused children" who felt it necessary to trick The Dish into publishing a composite narrative as if it were heartfelt personal testimony?
- That the author was a "parent abused by the legal system" who seeks to discredit the anti-spanking movement by planting, and later on revealing, a hoax?
- That the author was an unknown "ordinary person" who really had experienced the events she describes? (In other words, that the piece really is exactly what it seems to be.)
- That the author was a "famous person" who really had experienced the events she describes? (In other words, that the piece pretty much what it seems to be, except that the author is famous.)
Personally, it makes a great deal of difference to me. I would feel cheated if I learned that the writer's lines about struggling to put this experience into words turned out to be a literary device, not the simple confession of someone who in fact struggled to put lived experience into words. And I'm quite sure that the piece is pretty much exactly what it seems. If one wanted to discredit the anti-spanking movement with a hoax, one would never write a piece so eloquent, detailed, and grounded. I also doubt that the "ambitious but unknown writer" could pull off anything this good. That leaves the "activist for abused children" who might combine the stories of several abused-but-now-grown-children into a single searing narrative. That would still bother me, as did the revelations about Mike Daisey's monologue about the Apple factories in China.
But the piece is anonymous, and we can't check it out. So we have to trust Andrew and the team at The Dish.
In some ways, we respond this piece -- this piece of anonymous but (presumably) vetted personal testimony -- the way we respond to fiction. We can't check the facts, so we rely on the voice, the internal evidence: yes, this feels real, this is the way things are. In many other ways, however, we respond to in way utterly different than our response to fiction. It matters that there is a real person behind it, that these things actually happened in the life of one specific person (even if we don't know who that person is.) Fiction (at least literary fiction in the tradition descended from Chekov) asks us to enter into a world where the facts may or may not be true but the themes and the emotions and the struggles achieve some sort of universality. Testimony is something different, more immediate. It's part of a current debate about public events. We give it credence not for it's literary merit (though it is very well-written, it isn't--and better not be--a piece of crafted artifice) but because we presume there is a real person behind it saying: Here's what I know about this issue. This is what happened to me.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If there were a name attached to the piece, I suspect there would already be investigative reports on cable news and subpoenas to appear in front of congressional committees. Does our national conversation have room for voices like this one: passionate, eloquent, personal, and anonymous?