I’ve been reading Lawrence Grobel’s CONVERSATIONS WITH CAPOTE and it’s as entertaining as anything Capote wrote. It made me realize that one of the reasons the movie CAPOTE is so good is that it features the two greatest characters Capote ever created — himself and Perry Smith. (I’ll pass on Holly Golightly who I’ve always seen as a coded male hustler). One of the tests of a good character is that it can be played differently by two different actors with success — Robert Blake (cast as a murderer? No!) playing Smith in the film of IN COLD BLOOD and Clifton Collins, Jr. doing the gentle slaughterer in CAPOTE. Philip Seymour Hoffman, of course, does the titular character, while Truman Steckfus Persons played him in real life, and I have to say, given the latter’s precipitous decline, Hoffman probably does Capote better than Capote did at the end. That’s the problem — characters are good fictional approximations of humans in culture, but a real person who makes a character out of himself runs the risk of becoming a caricature. That was the triumph and the downfall of Truman — he killed on television and popular culture because he was so easily recognizable in a few simple strokes, an early master of the sound bite. In today’s world where resolution and depth are becoming smaller and slighter only the overblown translates to all the T.V., phone, computer screens and emerges over all the other noise constantly thrown at us. Look at Pam Anderson (another "author") — she’s the reigning sex bomb because she’s so completely over determined, with silicon pumped breasts, collagen laden lips, tattooed eyes and peroxided hair — so over the top she’s a female female impersonator, able to be understood to represent "sexy" in any language, on any kind of grainy media. Truman’s wit, candor and spirit are admirable, and IN COLD BLOOD is a hell of a book, but you have to find him responsible, or at least a harbinger of, that kind of devolution in our world. If, as he says in CONVERSATIONS literature is gossip, then gossip can pose as literature. If writers become celebrities, then celebrities can become writers leading to such abominations as Nicole Richie’s novel or Madonna’s children’s books. His fascination with criminals and his elevation of them to modern celebrity has led us to garbage like GROWING UP GOTTI (Victoria Gotti yet another "writer"), and a society that makes no differentiation between talent and notoriety. His blurring of the distinction between fact and fiction, the "non-fiction" novel, is echoed in the horror of "reality" T.V. Even a contemporary literary figure like Dave Eggers can write a best-selling memoir and then set himself up as the literary light of the world, castigating honest novelists like Updike and Roth, men who have spent their lives writing novels and not just transcribing their life. In my own neck of the woods there’s a local cover boy named Davey Rothbart who had the high concept of starting a magazine called FOUND containing "found" notes, etc. (though some of them do seem quite made up) and achieved success and national talk show fame and on the strength of that published a book of short stories with a major publisher, though how printing found notes translates into an ability to write an exacting art form is unclear to me, as it would be to anyone who read said book. I just finished an alleged piece of journalism he wrote containing such brilliant, erudite observations as "It was fucking amazing." In short in a culture so jammed with entertainment there seems to be a crucial lack of imagination. Even 9/11 can be seen as a result of this lack — Bush and his cronies just couldn’t imagine that something like that would happen, the same way they were so totally unable to picture what would happen in Iraq beside their own fantasies. They tell you in grade school how important imagination is, but out in the real world it’s considered highly suspect and dangerous, unless, of course, it’s something the boss’s boss has thought up. I guess UBU’s out of luck then — I just can’t turn my darn imagination off!