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How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior Hardcover – August 31, 2010
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We all relish a good scandal—the larger the figure (governor, judge) and more shocking the particulars (diapers, cigars)—the better. But why do people feel compelled to act out their tangled psychodramas on the national stage, and why do we so enjoy watching them, hurling our condemnations while savoring every lurid detail?
With "pointed daggers of prose" (The New Yorker), Laura Kipnis examines contemporary downfall sagas to lay bare the American psyche: what we desire, what we punish, and what we disavow. She delivers virtuoso analyses of four paradigmatic cases: a lovelorn astronaut, an unhinged judge, a venomous whistleblower, and an over-imaginative memoirist. The motifs are classic—revenge, betrayal, ambition, madness—though the pitfalls are ones we all negotiate daily. After all, every one of us is a potential scandal in the making: failed self-knowledge and colossal self-deception—the necessary ingredients—are our collective plight. In How to Become a Scandal, bad behavior is the entry point for a brilliant cultural romp as well as an anti-civics lesson. "Shove your rules," says scandal, and no doubt every upright citizen, deep within, cheers the transgression—as long as it's someone else's head on the block.
Amazon Exclusive: Tina Brown, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Beast, Reviews How to Become a Scandal
A brilliant curtain-raiser on exactly why it’s so delicious to watch self-destruction, How to Become a Scandal is a must-read for anyone unable to look away from another’s fall from grace. Laura Kipnis argues that it takes two to make a scandal and cuts through the tangled relationship between the scandalized victims and us as the voyeurs, noting that the audience is equally to blame for whipping up such frenzy. A thoughtful and juicy take on familiar targets (Linda Tripp and the NASA love triangle among them), Kipnis sees what we all do: some scandals are just thinly veiled self-sabotage. And the best stories aren’t self-contained; they’re far-reaching, full-blooded dramas, complete with a cast of characters who overtake the global stage. Of course, scandal’s an all-inclusive monster, but a bigger star and more disturbing details make for an even better flameout. Kipnis astutely points out that the ceremonial shunning of whistleblowers, plagiarists, and cheaters is cathartic and neatly packages something amorphous: why America jumps on the wagon all over again each time someone violates social mores with lust and betrayal and jealousy. Reading her clever book is like sitting in a front-row seat at Scandal Theory 101—and serves as a cautionary tale for those tiptoeing on the edges of indignity. Revisiting the denouements of James Frey, Sol Wachtler et al is a strangely elegant exercise in how to crash, burn, and ultimately survive. How to Become a Scandal is as transfixing and engrossing as the tremendously chaotic tales she recounts with exacting detail.
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
"How to Become a Scandal" is filed under sociology and psychology which is misleading. Laura Kipknis is actually a professor of Radio/TV/Film and tho' she often references the likes of Freud and she is quite honest and upfront in her angles. She is discussing topics that capture 'her' attention and interest, not because they offer in significant solutions, credibility, or intellectual stimulation in the field of irregular mental behaviors. Nope! Ms. Kipknis is very honest and upfront in her true intentions: She just wants to dish.
The entire book is based on her own conjecture and speculations as to why these four very specific individuals were motivated to do what they did. It is not a particularly educated treatise or even based on actual psychological analysis so I really didn't find out what I was hoping to learn. In fact I wound up getting so depressed over Ms. Kipknis ongoing salacious flagellation of these, admittedly warped souls I was unable to finish.
Rather than summarizing this work I will tell what I like about it:
o Ms. Kepnis has a great vocabulary and her writing has zing.
o She displays a courageous and penetrating intellect. She is not afraid to be smart.
o Her work is replete with original insights and perspectives.
o Her grasp of human psychology is astute and interesting.
o She successfully combined narrative and analysis and the book is fun to read.
o She took on a huge topic, but didn't allow herself to get bogged down. She chose four excellent examples and made her argument succinctly.
Since I am interested in memoir I particularly enjoyed her description of the strengths and limitations of this genre, and her specific comments about the scandal surrounding James Frey and Opra Winfrey. I recommend this work to anyone who is attempting to write a memoir or just enjoys reading them. I also recommend it to Oprah Book Club members, or to anyone who reads the New York Post. The work is a fascinating analysis of what draws people to this type of writing (I am one of them).
Buy this book.
Not unlike Zygmunt Bauman's analysis of postmodernism in The Art of Life, the four events presented by Ms. Kiplis expounds upon our dual roles as both consumers and producers. Ms. Kiplis illuminates a process where public displays of humiliation are consumed by audiences who are anxious about which behaviors might be culturally-acceptable; even as social roles are continuously produced in an era characterized by continuous change and uncertainty.
While all four case studies have much to offer, I found the final case study to be the most interesting. Here, Ms. Kiplis brilliantly critiques the self-help movement, as personified and championed by Oprah Winfrey, for its self-serving production of insecurity as a means to exploit audiences for profit. On that point, Ms. Kiplis accords special recognition to the writer James Frey for his unabashed manipulation of his memoirs to advance his own career, finding a deliciously ironic kind of reality at work in Frey's penchant for dishonesty.
I highly recommend this exceptional book to everyone.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'll make it simple: I couldn't put the book down. After I finished it, I handed it over to a friend to read, along with high praise. Read morePublished on January 7, 2013 by exoDerek
funny as in hmmm; not as in haha
familiar as in she's at it again; not as in am I at it again
I don't know what I was expecting, but I guess I was let down. Scandals and such are generally attention getters because they titilate people. This barely kept me interested. Read morePublished on January 10, 2011 by C Wahlman
- Everybody likes to read about a good scandal
- A droll, often humorous writing style
The book is merely a rehashing of 4... Read more
Using several familiar and public scandals, Laura Kipnis explores the who's and whys of scandal. The proliferation of magazines, blogs and tell all books seem to whet the public's... Read morePublished on October 31, 2010 by Mary G. Longorio
Who doesn't love a juicy scandal? Yet however loudly we decry the bad behavior, isn't it just a tad hypocritical that we also gain a bit of enjoyment from it? Read morePublished on October 30, 2010 by jjmachshev
As a media professor, who better than the author to comment on the perfect subject matter for the media, that is, scandals. Read morePublished on October 27, 2010 by J. Grattan
This collection of "Adventures in Bad Behavior" is written by a self-admitted "scandal fan...who loves these stories: the voyeuristic glimpses into the detritus of other people's... Read morePublished on September 10, 2010 by James R. Holland
The introduction of "How To Become A Scandal" reads like something out of "The New York Review Of Books". Read morePublished on September 2, 2010 by SundayAtDusk