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"She was actually not even in the United States on Sept. 11."
July 8, 2014 7:12 AM   Subscribe

The Woman Who Wasn't There. Her husband died in the attacks. She barely escaped from the south tower. But a new book chronicles the (literally) unbelievable story of 9/11’s most famous ‘survivor.’

NPR Review

The Brief Return of ‘the Woman Who Wasn’t There’

Wikipedia entry.

Book review from WaPo.

Previously.
posted by MisantropicPainforest (75 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just because she's mentally ill doesn't mean she can't also be a despicable human being.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:19 AM on July 8 [15 favorites]


Stories about imposters can be highly entertaining and lucrative properties. My favorite writer David Grann did one about Frédéric Bourdin called The Chamelon. Numerous books and films about this case. Then there is the infamous Christian Gerhartsreiter aka "Clark Rockefeller", which has numerous books and movies. True crime sells, the American dream of the freedom to reinvent oneself finds intersection with American pathology.
posted by stbalbach at 7:34 AM on July 8


I enjoyed and recommended the documentary, but part of me thinks we shouldn't give her any more attention.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:36 AM on July 8 [13 favorites]


there is a documentary on this woman on netflix (at least it was there when i watched it this spring). what struck me is the complex feelings people who came in contact with her have about her transgression. they run the whole spectrum from shunning and disbelief to intense sympathy for her unique ... issues, i guess? anyways I imagine it covers a lot of the same ground as TFAs, but it's there in documentary form.
posted by oog at 7:40 AM on July 8


The book is two years old and we've talked about her before... I'm not sure what new ground this discussion will cover?

And, I agree with fiercecupcake...
posted by HuronBob at 7:41 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


True crime sells, the American dream of the freedom to reinvent oneself finds intersection with American pathology.

And French and German, apparently.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:49 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I know someone who has called herself a "9/11 survivor" for years but wasn't there. It's really odd.
posted by grouse at 8:00 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Well, I mean, technically, most people survived 9/11...
posted by Behemoth at 8:04 AM on July 8 [32 favorites]


grouse: I know someone who has called herself a "9/11 survivor" for years but wasn't there. It's really odd.

I know her as well, and agree; it's quite fucked up.
posted by gman at 8:15 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I learned more from the link to the NYT article that's early in the OP book excerpt, than I did from the OP itself. More than I wanted to learn. I'm not at all clear why the book is worth the candle.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:15 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


This story fascinates me because she apparently very carefully picked her audience to be a group that would be sympathetic to her AND accept her claims without probing further, and it gives insight into who the "WTC Survivors' Network" actually was.

She claimed a BA from Harvard and an MBA from Stanford who worked in fianance-- not exactly rare commodities in lower Manhattan. And yet no one she interacted with was someone who thought to ask, "Hey, did you know my brother/best friend/colleague at Harvard/Stanford?"/"What dorm were you in?"/etc. kind of questions that would have raised red flags to the most casual inquirer. There isn't any shortage of Merrill Lynch employees, and the company was not a tenant in either tower-- which makes the lie even more clever: there was a 100% chance she would never run into a Merrill Lynch employee who was a member of the Survivor's Network.

What I think happened was that the Survivor's Network was the perfect target-- traumatized people without their own support network overjoyed to have a Harvard and Stanford educated fellow survivor willing to give them support and attention, and vice versa.

This is probably how she justified it to herself-- "these are people without a support network who need solace, attention, and resources. I am doing them a favor by giving it to them."

She quite clearly carefully curated her audience. I assume she made an effort to sideline anyone from the Survivor's Network who would have been skeptical enough to point out the holes in her claims. Ultimately it got out of hand when she attracted the attention of the more savvy people at the New York Times who couldn't be avoided/sidelined/alienated like did with other skeptics.
posted by deanc at 8:21 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


The Netflix documentary is very very good and has a lot of personal testimony from many of the survivors who knew her.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:26 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


"Would she please give him a call?" is the *conclusion* of the article? What the hell?

Clearly, the daily beast, Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr. have a far lower standard for the word "adapted" than any reasonable person.
posted by eotvos at 8:30 AM on July 8 [13 favorites]


I've only just watched the award-winning 2007 documentary Forbidden Lie$; imdb synopsis: A dramatized documentary investigating accusations that "Forbidden Love" author Norma Khouri made up her biographical tale of a Muslim friend who was killed for dating a Christian.

It's netflix disc only - but your patience will be rewarded. Once the documentary got up to speed, I swear a million dollars couldn't have budged me from the sofa.

I've also seen the 9/11 charlatan program & was riveted by that too. But I think Forbidden Lie$ has the edge, because you start to truly understand that even if the deceiver, author Norma Khouri, was standing right in front of you - and you could grill her in detail about all her fantastic & provable fibs- you would probably start to doubt the evidence of your own eyes and ears. (Norma Khouri's energy & cynical self-certainty are incredible.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:33 AM on July 8 [8 favorites]


They should do a documentary/book like this but about David Sedaris.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:37 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


This is probably how she justified it to herself-- "these are people without a support network who need solace, attention, and resources. I am doing them a favor by giving it to them."
posted by deanc at 11:21 AM


I wondered if Tania Head started drinking her own Kool-Aid, so to speak. That is, at some level she started believing her own lies.
posted by magstheaxe at 8:37 AM on July 8


I'm sure she did. I'm just surprised Merill Lynch didn't blow the whistle itself.
posted by corb at 8:40 AM on July 8


Just because she's mentally ill doesn't mean she can't also be a despicable human being

Really? I mean, at least in regards to this particular facet of her life it seems to me that we're talking one or the other. Either this is a symptom of mental illness (in which case, what point is there in moral condemnation?) or it's evidence of cynical moral depravity (in which case it's pointless to talk in terms of clinical diagnosis). I don't see why we would want to confuse those issues. It's like when some poor sod goes crazy and kills their children; people seem desperately wedded to preserving their anger against the "evildoer" even in the face of overwhelming evidence that had the person been in their right mind they would never have so much as spanked their child.
posted by yoink at 8:47 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


yoink, this was a sustained campaign for years. I think that's what makes it harder to attribute purely to mental illness. She didn't snap.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:49 AM on July 8


stbalbach: True crime sells, the American dream of the freedom to reinvent oneself finds intersection with American pathology.

Your takeaway from this is: America's to blame?
posted by IAmBroom at 8:49 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Anytime I hear about this woman all I can think of is this.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:50 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


The book is two years old and we've talked about her before... I'm not sure what new ground this discussion will cover?

Holy crap, that 2007 thread is all the evidence we need that MeFi has become a much more civilized place.
posted by psoas at 8:52 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


yoink: Just because she's mentally ill doesn't mean she can't also be a despicable human being

Really? I mean, at least in regards to this particular facet of her life it seems to me that we're talking one or the other. Either this is a symptom of mental illness (in which case, what point is there in moral condemnation?) or it's evidence of cynical moral depravity (in which case it's pointless to talk in terms of clinical diagnosis). I don't see why we would want to confuse those issues. It's like when some poor sod goes crazy and kills their children; people seem desperately wedded to preserving their anger against the "evildoer" even in the face of overwhelming evidence that had the person been in their right mind they would never have so much as spanked their child.


Here's the problem: Had Ted Kaczynski not been a paranoid delusional serial killer, he wouldn't have bombed anyone. Had Mark David Chapman not been a mentally ill man, he never would have killed John Lennon to "impress" Jody Foster.

Being insane is simply not a 100% wave of all responsibility. Nothing is that black-and-white, except the consequences of their actions on their victims.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:52 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


they should do a documentary/book like this but about David Sedaris.

....?

As for the FPP - considering how fetishized 9/11 is in some circles (and I'm saying this as someone who was IN New York that day) I'm not surprised someone tried to get in on that action.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:57 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


Holy crap, that 2007 thread is all the evidence we need that MeFi has become a much more civilized place.

I know! I was shocked when I search for previouslies.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:00 AM on July 8


Your takeaway from this is: America's to blame?

No I just didn't expand on my idea well enough and no longer feel like attempting because the mob is ready to pounce.
posted by stbalbach at 9:00 AM on July 8


I'm not surprised someone tried to get in on that action.

Prepare to be even less surprised: Second wave of retired cops and firefighters arrested over 9/11 fraud charges
Nearly 30 retired New York City firefighters and police officers have been arrested for falsely claiming Social Security benefits in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Already, more than 100 retired firefighters and police officers had been arrested in January as a result of a wide-ranging pension fraud investigation. Retirees allegedly lied about their mental and physical abilities in order to qualify for Social Security benefits they would not have received otherwise.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:06 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


IAmBroom - it was John Hinckley who shot Ronald Reagan to impress Jody Foster, but your point stands.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:13 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Prepare to be even less surprised: Second wave of retired cops and firefighters arrested over 9/11 fraud charges

I was made physically ill by the loathing that came over me after reading that (your comment, not the article, because I think if I read the article I'd start punching things). FDNY were, no doubt, actual goddamn heroes that day. How can anyone, especially other FDNY and NYPD members, steal their colleagues' thunder?

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:16 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


yoink, this was a sustained campaign for years. I think that's what makes it harder to attribute purely to mental illness. She didn't snap.

That presupposes, erroneously, that mental illness can't be prolonged over years.

Here's the problem: Had Ted Kaczynski not been a paranoid delusional serial killer, he wouldn't have bombed anyone. Had Mark David Chapman not been a mentally ill man, he never would have killed John Lennon to "impress" Jody Foster.


I don't see the "problem" there. Yes, both of those people were mentally ill. If you could cure the mental illness and be certain of having done so, I would see no problem whatsoever in returning those people to being fully functioning (and fully "absolved") members of society.

Again, I do not understand people's desire to cling to their "right" to blame people morally for actions which their mental illness deprives them of the ability to control. You might as well blame someone morally for failing to rescue a child from a burning building when the heat becomes so intense that no human being could possibly survive it.
posted by yoink at 9:16 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


The father of a girl in our high school pretended like he was majorly involved on 9/11 as a firefighter and gave talks to our school about it. She was very sweet but he was a fraud - it was devastating for her when it was revealed he had exaggerated every aspect of his story.
posted by glaucon at 9:17 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


They should do a documentary/book like this but about David Sedaris.

Just curious--why do you say this?
posted by MidStream at 9:19 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I know someone who has called herself a "9/11 survivor" for years but wasn't there. It's really odd.

In 1999, Granta ran a remarkable Ellen Lappin piece on Binjamin Wilkomirski, who'd published an acclaimed memoir about surviving the Nazi death camps. This Guardian story explains what happened next.

I guess some people just desperately want to be part of a historically significant event: perhaps in the hopes that participation would somehow make them significant too. How much of this is deliberate fraud and how much springs from their own genuinely confused state of mind, I don't know.

True crime sells, the American dream of the freedom to reinvent oneself finds intersection with American pathology.

I always wonder if we'll discover one day that someone assumed dead in the WTC's destruction has surfaced again, having taken September 11's opportunity to vanish and begin again. The idea of just walking away from your old life with no baggage can seem very appealing sometimes - and not just for Americans, either.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:28 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


"I guess some people just desperately want to be part of a historically significant event:"......

Thus the number of people claiming to have attended Woodstock....
posted by HuronBob at 9:35 AM on July 8


Holy crap, that 2007 thread is all the evidence we need that MeFi has become a much more civilized place.

Heh. I was reading through that and when I came to a certain comment I thought "This sounds just like something I would write."

It was something I had written. I have bad memory but a consistent personality.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:38 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]


How can anyone, especially other FDNY and NYPD members, steal their colleagues' thunder?

I think there's a difference between claiming victim status for Social Security benefits, and claiming it the way the FPP is discussing. A Social Security claim is a more private thing and could be strictly mercenary - in fact, you probably WANT to hide it from the rest of the public, so no one can speak up and say "wait, you weren't there" so the SS office doesn't have cause to look too closely into your actual records and contest your claim.

This kind of "I was there, listen to me everyone" action is different.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:39 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I don't disagree there's a difference. In fact I think the FDNY/NYPD frauds are significantly worse. Their colleagues died there, and now they're trying to get money when they weren't. Yuck. Just yuck.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:44 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I wonder if faking it is a way to deal with traumatic events. Everybody got shocked by 9/11, but some people did not know how to mourne nor were they able to find a support network.
Becoming a victim maybe started as was a way to identify and process the loss, yet, because it was not real, the mourning never got to the moving on stage.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 9:50 AM on July 8


Everybody got shocked by 9/11, but some people did not know how to mourn nor were they able to find a support network.

There are plenty of people who, consciously or not, take a shock doctrine-like approach to their personal lives, and look for ways to exploit startling turns of events before others have even started to process them. Tania Head is an extreme example of this, I'm guessing, and the NYFD/PD benefits fraudsters more garden variety.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:57 AM on July 8


Just because she's mentally ill doesn't mean she can't also be a despicable human being

and

Second wave of retired cops and firefighters arrested over 9/11 fraud charges

therefore

Just because they are retired cops and firefighters doesn't mean they can't also be despicable human beings.
posted by waving at 10:34 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


They should do a documentary/book like this but about David Sedaris.

Just curious--why do you say this?


Well, for starters, his public persona is a complete and utter sham.
In reality, Sedaris is a 6'2", 250-pound pussy hound with an Insane Clown Posse tattoo and a voice like James Earl Jones.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:35 AM on July 8 [13 favorites]


I thought everyone already knew that Sedaris was a complete hack.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:39 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I don't disagree there's a difference. In fact I think the FDNY/NYPD frauds are significantly worse. Their colleagues died there, and now they're trying to get money when they weren't.

I really strongly object to this categorization of the situation. We don't know what the score is, and honestly this article makes it sound like the author is completely unaware of how PTSD functions. People are high-functioning some days and low-functioning other days. Someone can be unable to leave their house for weeks but then leave and go have a good time with close friends.

Police officers and firemen are also susceptible to secondary trauma. It could be totally legitimate that they have 9/11 trauma without having physically been in the buildings that day.
posted by corb at 10:41 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


All I have read from Sedaris (other than that recent FPP) was a book on Pop Culture, which since it is an opinion and reflection on culture, can't really be hacky I guess? Idk, I'm certainly no expert on him, so I guess anythings possible.
posted by Twain Device at 10:43 AM on July 8


*shrug* Even if he is a hack, he's funnier at being one than most people (Exhibit A - his work Jesus Shaves), so I'm okay with that still.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:46 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


I thought everyone already knew that Sedaris was a complete hack.

I don't know that I would go that far, but he has admitted fabricating stories in the past. And I keep waiting for his new New Yorker piece to be outed as a paid advertisement.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:52 AM on July 8


Either this is a symptom of mental illness (in which case, what point is there in moral condemnation?) or it's evidence of cynical moral depravity (in which case it's pointless to talk in terms of clinical diagnosis). I don't see why we would want to confuse those issues. It's like when some poor sod goes crazy and kills their children; people seem desperately wedded to preserving their anger against the "evildoer" even in the face of overwhelming evidence that had the person been in their right mind they would never have so much as spanked their child.

I feel this way too, but lately I'm wondering whether my feelings haven't led me astray here.

Because killing children-- your own or someone else's-- is one of the things any reasonable society should do it's utmost to discourage, and labeling such acts benighted evil for which no excuse can ever be offered or accepted would seem to be part of doing our utmost, unless we want to dispense with the idea of evil altogether.

Which I think would be inhuman, in the sense of being a great evil in itself and in the sense of being contrary to human nature.

And my experience with mentally ill people is that they tend to be preoccupied with questions of good and evil, and that seeing an act as darkest evil can help them contain a desire to do it.
posted by jamjam at 10:59 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I really strongly object to this categorization of the situation. We don't know what the score is

Of course you do. But you're wrong. We know exactly what the score is: FDNY and NYPD who weren't there are fraudulently claiming benefits to which they are not entitled.

If you think they're not being fraudulent, then by all means pull out that noblesse oblige you've gone on about, and provide them with money. The reality is that SS has ruled these people have lied in order to gain benefits. Isn't that the sort of thing you conservative/glibertarian types rail against when it comes to welfare? The cognitive dissonance, my word.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:05 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I mean, if you're going to object, you kind of need to provide evidence that these fraudsters, standing on the shoulders of actual heroes, are telling the truth in their claims.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:09 AM on July 8


They should do a documentary/book like this but about David Sedaris.

Just curious--why do you say this?


Lots of stuff he's written as "memoir" is at least partially fabricated. But I kind of feel like this is so obviously the case at this point that it's more of a conceit that he lived all these versions of his life.
posted by atoxyl at 11:17 AM on July 8


Previously.

Wow, mefi was horrible in 2007. "If she were slim and hot I'd be inclined to hear her side." "...the fat bitch needs to pay." What the fuck?

posted by desjardins at 11:20 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


I was at a David Sedaris reading and he said his stories were exaggerated so it's not like he's lying about it.
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:20 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


I think Sedaris has the same issues as Augusten Burroughs, namely not letting facts get in the way of a good story. But it's a pretty different beast than the issues this woman has.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 11:21 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


corb,

those people were arrested after an investigation. presumably there's some evidence that they lied and committed fraud. I mean:

Investigators also claimed that four of the people involved were coaching retirees on how to qualify for disability benefits. In exchange, these ringleaders allegedly received kickbacks to the tune of 14 monthly Social Security checks per person they successfully enrolled into the program.

posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:24 AM on July 8


FFS. There are derails, and then there's conflating the story of someone who repeatedly and deliberately lied about one of the worst events in recent history and played on the sympathies of people who were genuinely traumatized with the story of someone who's a professional raconteur. People, please.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:25 AM on July 8 [16 favorites]


Historic events like this seem to give people with a tenuous grasp of reality an excuse to suspend the rules of decorum. A close friend of mine swears to this day that the whole thing was a planned government operation, much to the embarrassment of all his friends. In fact one of the youtube videos about Tania Head that I just watched was put up because the guy was trying to show that all the "victims" of 9/11 were really actors, and that she was just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps it's a way for people with untreated psychopathology to relieve some of their personal pain by superimposing their trauma onto a national event, or having their drama dovetail with the larger story as a means of expressing something that they can't come to grips with. In any case, historic events like 9/11 brings out the crazy.
posted by gallois at 12:17 PM on July 8


Has any mental health professional ever weighed in about this kind if fraud? I'd love to know if this has a name. It must be similar to the people who post in cancer survivor forums pretending to be a survivor.
I think it gives them the chance to be the hero they've always wanted to be. Dignified, self effacing, charismatic in suffering. All there was missing from their average lives was a momentous cornerstone.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:25 PM on July 8


In 1999, Granta ran a remarkable Ellen Lappin piece on Binjamin Wilkomirski, who'd published an acclaimed memoir about surviving the Nazi death camps. The story that Paul Slade references is the first thing I thought of reading this post (in the amazing Truth and Lies volume). It's haunting and similar; both cases involve a public fraud as a victim in a traumatic historical event, rescue by an angel-like human, survival under extraordinary odds, dead loved ones, and happy lives filled with love destroyed. Similarly, "Wilkomirski" believed his own story about being a Jewish child in the concentration camps deeply. The motivation behind both is so mystifying: each involve a certain separation of their own selves, a duality requiring a tremendous amount of energy. This wasn't fraud for financial gain, somewhat understandable or at least recognizable, but a fraud on the level of psyche. In both cases they did good acts for the people they claimed to represent which will be eclipsed by their frauds, which had to involve a certain amount of compartmentalization, a self-belief in their own lie. Mustn't something be wrong with them from their pasts or mentally for them to invest that kind of energy?

A few friends and I were backpacking during 9/11 and "missed" it completely; for us, it will always be a historical event, something that, in a weird way, happened in the past and to other people because we were not "present." I recognize the need on some level to have taken part in it despite not being there. Perhaps both people are damaged in such a way, so hungry for some kind of belonging, that they took this need and molded it to create that sense of belonging in a community where people see them as victims and thus less likely to question that belonging. But to pick that specific kind of community, might they already have felt like victims? Was it a clever casting choice, or their true sense of self? Their fraud is a monstrous act but could they have been damaged so as to make them capable of it? Or perhaps in living the lie, did they feel they were exerting control over a life in which they felt they had little?

It could be a very deliberate manipulation or it's incredibly sad for all involved. One wants to judge harshly because of the pain these fraudsters caused, but to carry out their fraud to the extent they did...their motivation might involve mental illness from/and/or pain caused to them, and that's when judgement gets harder to apply. But without Head or Wilkomirski talking about it, we'll never know.
posted by barchan at 12:57 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


A kind of Munchausens, manifesting in situations of peril and heroism. But the same impulse to be at the centre of the story, and to be the recipient of all the emotions wrung from the event.
posted by glasseyes at 1:09 PM on July 8


Why are we talking about David Sedaris? Talk about a derail.

Again, I do not understand people's desire to cling to their "right" to blame people morally for actions which their mental illness deprives them of the ability to control. You might as well blame someone morally for failing to rescue a child from a burning building when the heat becomes so intense that no human being could possibly survive it.

People who are mentally ill and refuse to get help - even when that is part of their illness - hurt other people. They can scar them emotionally or kill them or do any number of awful things. Mental illness is not a get out of jail free card. Sorry. We are responsible for our actions and choosing to lie, cheat, steal, beat, maim, kill rather than get help? That's a failing. Sorry. I have sympathy for people who are mentally ill and who hurt others as a result but that doesn't mean the things they can do aren't horrible.
posted by sockermom at 2:52 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I have this book in my to-read pile.

What an odd story. It does seem like something close to Munchausen syndrome - maybe even closer to Munchausen by Internet.
posted by SisterHavana at 4:02 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I knew quite a few actual veterans of the Vietnam War. I also knew a woman who went out with men who were fake vets of the same war. The real Vietnam vets ran the gamut, some were not so nice, others were fantastic guys and others were just average guys.
I never personally met a fake vet who wasn't a sleezy, oily bastard.
They were doing it to try and gain the sympathy of women and abused them.
The one with the most obviously fake story raped the daughter of his girlfriend.
He also shot himself in the ass accidentally.
I told her at the outset I was 99.5% sure he was lying about 'Nam. I knew two guys who really were behind enemy lines. His stories were just off.
I think many people want badly to be part of something bigger than themselves. Some are willing to fake it. They think it will make them more interesting, and give their lives meaning.
It won't of course. Life really doesn't have a lot of meaning. It's smarter to just get used to that and just be a decent person.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:32 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


thegirlwiththehat: "I wonder if faking it is a way to deal with traumatic events. Everybody got shocked by 9/11, but some people did not know how to mourne nor were they able to find a support network."

She was in Barcelona when the attacks happened. She went to the US for the first time in 2003. There's no evidence that she had strong ties with anyone in New York, let alone enough people that she needed to mourn or find a support network.

Put another way: The Sichuan Earthquake in 2008 killed 68,000 people. That was pretty shocking. Did you mourn? Did you need a support network? Or did you watch the news, think, "My god, that's terrible" and then go to work like normal, without needing a period of mourning or a support network?
posted by Bugbread at 6:53 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


desjardins: "Wow, mefi was horrible in 2007. "If she were slim and hot I'd be inclined to hear her side." "...the fat bitch needs to pay." What the fuck?"

Yeah, I was thinking the same, but I think the "fat bitch needs to pay" comment was one of those comments where the person is ridiculing their opponent by putting horrible words in their mouth. Still not a good thing, but not the pure misogyny it appears to be at first glance. The "slim and hot" comment, though, I think that's just straightforward slime.
posted by Bugbread at 7:52 PM on July 8


What really amazes me is that the "slim and hot" comment got six favorites. WTF?
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 2:20 AM on July 9


Maybe it was in reference to something else? Like, there was some FPP about a politician saying that, and it was some kinda callback to that or something? I have an image of agregoli as being fairly outspoken, but she didn't say anything about it, so maybe there was some kinda context? I dunno.
posted by Bugbread at 2:32 AM on July 9


Apparently there's a band named after her.
posted by telstar at 3:44 AM on July 9


I finally watched the documentary last night... I was strangely fascinated by this story a couple of years ago, but one thing I didn't know what how she ended up in the group in the first place. The story is that she ran an internet forum for survivors which eventually got the attention of the IRL Survivor's Group (or at least a survivor's group she thought she could take advantage of), and the two groups merged. So she started out as a typical case of Munchausen-by-internet, then escalated to real life. Then, strangely, if you watch the documentary, the apparently felt confident enough to tell her story on film. Did she not think anyone would recognize her?
posted by deanc at 4:32 AM on July 9


I watched Forbidden Lie$ based on Jody's comment above (it's available on Amazon Prime streaming) and I can also recommend it. It's unsettling to believe her, then not, then question yourself again, until you don't know what is true. Probably none of it? Well, maybe some of it? Will we ever know?

I can see how people got sucked into her story; without having seen any interviews with her, I'm guessing Tania Head has that same kind of presence.
posted by desjardins at 7:08 AM on July 9


Holy crap, that 2007 thread is all the evidence we need that MeFi has become a much more civilized place.

I know! I was shocked when I search for previouslies.


Another unnecessary derail, but honestly I have no idea what in that thread would give you that impression unless you assume Sourwookie's comment is not ironic.
posted by asok at 7:59 AM on July 9


she was called a fat bitch who needs to die. someone else says she should be beat if she stole money.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:05 AM on July 9


Yeah, the 6 favorites and the complete lack of a response strongly suggests that that comment was an ironic reference to another discussion.
posted by leopard at 8:05 AM on July 9


Yeah, the 6 favorites and the complete lack of a response strongly suggests that that comment was an ironic reference to another discussion.

Current mod policy, which I favor, is to strike down "ironic" mean-spirited comments regardless of whether they reference some other discussion that the casual reader is not going to have a direct familiarity with. I'd say that's an improvement.
posted by psoas at 8:20 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


Curious Artificer: IAmBroom - it was John Hinckley who shot Ronald Reagan to impress Jody Foster, but your point stands.

I suppose you're one of those people who won't admit the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, either.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:54 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


"I think Sedaris has the same issues as Augusten Burroughs, namely not letting facts get in the way of a good story."

I periodically try to write the same sort of stories, i.e. "real life wacky shit happened to me," and it deeply shocks me how when I bring them to writer's group and things like that, how people straight up encourage me to fabricate and fudge and make up crap that didn't happen in them. I keep pointing out that these days people WILL bust you for lying and making up shit, plus I'm not generally into lying in the first place. But they are all, "It's called CREATIVE nonfiction!" and "You're writing a memoir, not the truth!" and "You can't write the truth!"

HUH?! Okay, so I suspect writer's group is seeing it through the prism of "the rest of us write fiction, so that's how we think." but it bugs me anyway.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:04 PM on July 9


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