Autobiography Syndromeby Sihle Mthembu / 28.01.2011
The five words you don’t want to hear someone say might surprise you. They aren’t, “Dude I’m gonna get married” or even “I slept with your girlfriend” but “Dude, I’m writing my autobiography!”
It all began a few years ago with Jake White’s In Black and White. The book sold big time and trust me it had nothing to do with Jake’s smile on the cover. It was a mixture of scandal, the airing of dirty laundry and satire – scatire. White roundly dismissed much of SARU and many beloved Boks. The book jumpstarted a trend of harsh, take no prisoners look-backs over professional sporting and managerial careers. With money to be made and scores to settle, something like an “autobiography syndrome” has emerged – tell supposedly all and the rest be damned.
There are real-world consequences to all this candour though. I can remember an incident in the English Premiership with Tottenham up against Arsenal. Samir Nasri vowed before the game he wouldn’t shake fellow Frenchman William Gallas’ hand. Why? Had Gallas given Nasri some sort of career threatening injury, insulted his sister (like the Zidane/Materazzi headbutt)? Did he owe him money? Nope. Gallas called Nasri “untalented” in his memoirs. A laughable assessment of perhaps the best player in the Premiership this season. But then, William Gallas is no pundit. But it highlights a certain over-sensitivity. When the Premiership’s biggest stars are struggling to come to terms with what their peers are saying about them in their autobiographies, you can bet it applies in all professional sport, from motor racing to volleyball. The team-mate next to you knows where all the bodies are buried and just may tell the media (with party snaps included). Marriages are threatened, career legacies dissolved and even player performance can be compromised.
I’m sure Graeme Smith and the majority of that closed cricket boys club, experienced a few sleepless nights when Herschelle Gibbs’ tell all biography emerged. It was the best selling book in South Africa in the lead up to Christmas. And after reading a few pages, I’m sure Cricket SA bosses must have fumed at the airing of all that salacious laundry. Allegations of racism, sex, drugs in high places tend to do that.
In a way, autobiographies make for compelling reading, because they lift the lid on world’s and situations we can only speculate on. However, they invariably, only every end up telling one side of the story. Which, I guess, is the whole point. But autobiographies are increasingly becoming aggrandized, self-serving tabloids. Gilt-edged opportunities to rewrite their history, cash in and prolong some media attention on their waning careers.
As if American actor, comedian and radio show host Steve Harvey’s book wasn’t bad enough, Keith Richards, of all people, went and fessed up. Now there are some things one should never do and very high up on that list is to talk about your front man’s penis size. But Keith jumped in there saying, “I know he’s got an enormous pair of balls, but Mick’s doesn’t quite fill the gap.”
Talk about a low blow. With the sure-fire, bankable success of high profile autobiographies, we no longer have to limit our dose of scandal to the Sunday tabloids, Heat magazine and E-entertainment. It’s available in hardback at your nearest book shop. We now sit and wait for that Gareth Cliff autobiography.