Is Selling Out Really So Bad?

My kneejerk reaction to the statement “writers are always selling someone out” was based within the confines of John Wayne: A Love Song. In such an essay Didion sells herself out first by revealing how she has lived so long in awe of this man, but in the second part of the essay she breaks the cult of personality surrounding him, which would be considered by most to be not doing John Wayne a solid in the presentation of a now ill and cancer stricken Duke. Didion betrays the popular idea of Wayne in simply her humanization of him/added complexity—she doesn’t destroy, buy offers a grounded lens. Didion’s feelings that she is “selling out” by providing her own representation is complex; the selling out does not entail what most of us would consider—like a cheating husband, or not filing taxes—Didion’s selling out is mostly concerned with attention and involving herself in a subject’s life. A need to feel invisible is vital to Didion’s level of ability: ““My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does”—her “advantage” allows her to see how people really are and in turn break preconceived notions of self or public perception.

Writer’s need to accrue information, and Didion’s presence often allows her to be forgotten about, so is it really selling out if the subject forgot for a moment to keep his guard up? In essays like Didion’s she often sells herself out with little moments of judgment or a wink to the reader to acknowledge her involvement or possible slant within the piece—her personal judgment that makes us believe her as a little less than neutral in her delivery. Is it really so bad to sell out? Yes, it may be a betrayal of a varying scale, but is this betrayal not just an honest opinion gathered by the facts? I think that for Didion her intent was to infiltrate, and to find another side of viewpoint of her subjects, waits until she assimilates and then goes back on her new standings with the subject by simply writing about it. That seems to be the game, and nothing is really wrong with that, it may hurt but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Creative non-fiction seems to be about telling all the facts and not protecting certain people, but delivering the whole package of impression without any bows or fancy wrappings. Didion knows this, and that’s partially why her work is so compelling, not just the star status of some of her subjects.


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