Saturday, April 14, 2007

Stories for Sale

This is a slight side-step from talking about the Rolling Stone article, but it does fit a little.

Right now there's a bit of an uproar in England, a minor one maybe, because the sailors who were seized and then released by Iran have sold their stories to the media. Naturally the one female sailor has gotten the most press, and possibly the highest price, but she's not the only one who had something to tell. I'm not sure if the outrage is because the stories were sold at all, or because there was some allegation that the government was involved in the sale somehow.

Then there was another article on the BBC news website that had a quote from a newspaper editor, a man who had paid for stories throughout his career. There should, he said, be an end to this sort of thing. People should not sell their stories at all. Since this is a guy who made his living profiting from the sale of other people's stories I find this just a little hypocritical.

I'm not sure how I feel about the rest of it though, about the sailors selling their stories. I'm not entirely clear about why there is a problem with them making some money out of what must have been an horrific and terrifying experience. I also don't quite see how this differs from getting a book deal. Or is there some idea that a book deal at least entails some effort, even if it's just talking at length to a ghost writer? Of course, I live in a country where far more money is paid out for far less pain and suffering thanks to our litigious obsessions; maybe if this had happened to Americans there would not be the same righteous indignation.

There was an experiment done somewhere that involved offering people money under several carefully constructed deals. The subject was told that there were several people who would be given money, and the deals involved various distributions of the cash. Most people, it turned out, would refuse a deal that gave them a sum of money (cash we're talking, money they wouldn't otherwise get) if it seemed someone else would profit more than they would. In other words, they'd rather give up something themselves than see someone else do better.

Maybe it's like what I was told about crabs. You can keep a bunch of crabs in a bucket without trouble, or so they said, because as soon as one gets close to clambering out, the others will reach up and drag it back down. It's probably apocryphal, and even if not I doubt the crabs are thinking beyond instinctive scrabbling for any escape. Still, there are moments of pessimism when it seems all too familiar.

When Kirk first went missing I went to every length to keep the story out of the press. I thought I had to; if his story was told it could endanger his life. Of course I was aware that things might be easier for us if enough interest was raised, but there was never any question of doing that.

Since then there have been three articles - a short one in Time, the Rolling Stone article, and Susie Dow's three-part article online. I agreed to those articles for various reasons; none of them were for money. But don't give me credit for some moral integrity - I certainly did not ask to be paid, but nothing was offered either.

Still, I have no problem with those young sailors making some money from their horrific experience. I know it won't erase those memories, or solve the problems they now face. But I do hope they get some happiness out of it, even if it's short lived. There are enough crabs down here at the bottom of the bucket. I hope they make it out.

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