How does David Carr pull this off? The Times media critic writes in his forthcoming memoir of drug addiction that he kidnapped his children, smacked around his girlfriends and left two babies in a near-freezing car on the street for hours while he got high. This in addition to dealing drugs and fathering crack babies, which we already knew about. It's all in his book excerpt from next Sunday's Times Magazine. And yet, after reading the account, it's remarkably hard to detest the guy.
He's the one openly feeding you all of this unflattering information, first of all, and self deprecation tends to be charming. He's recovered and made some amends.
But just as important is the running meta-commentary. Carr repeatedly and self-consciously points out the autobiographer's primal, protective instinct toward self-flattery, and corrects this with his own reporting about himself. He calls many of his own memories "myths" based on this fact checking.
Carr also admits some of his unfair advantages:
When a woman, any woman, has issues with substances, has kids out of wedlock and ends up struggling as a single parent, she is identified by many names: slut, loser, welfare mom, burden on society. Take those same circumstances and array them over a man, and he becomes a crown prince. See him doing that dad thing and, with a flick of the wrist, the mom thing too! Why is it that the same series of overt acts committed by a male becomes somehow ennobled?
In the convention of the recovery narrative, readers will want to scan past the tick-tock, looking for the yucky part so that they can feel better about themselves. ( (Here's a taste: When I got to detox for what I thought was the last time, they took one look at my arms and brought me a tub filled with lukewarm water and Dreft detergent to soak my scabrous, pus-filled track marks. They dropped pills into my mouth from several inches away as if feeding a baby bird, and even the wet-brain drunks wouldn't come near me. See how that works?)
Carr's excerpt is worth a read, not only because it's a page turner, but also because it's a remarkable example of how, amid the spread of internet protocelebrity and the return of tabloid-style media wars, one inoculates oneself against smear campaigns: Smear yourself first, in the most charming way possible.