The Sausalito, California-based journal Memoir (and), proclaims that memoir is "the genre of the 21st century." It's a claim that's hard to dispute when, in the week I'm writing this, five of the top ten nonfiction hardcover books on the New York Times best-seller list are memoirs, including those of Tori Spelling, Julie Andrews, and Valerie Bertinelli, plus a father's account of his son's meth addiction, and, the number-one best seller, Mistaken Identity, a memoir by the families of two girls whose identities were confused after authorities dealing with a tragic car accident mixed up the victims. All this somehow inevitably leads to the publication in 2008 of not one but two books by white suburban couples in their early forties, both recounting the experience of making and keeping what I'm branding right here and now "the middle-class sex pact." In 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy, Charla gives Brad a year of sex for his birthday. In Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days, hubby Douglas Brown tells us about the pact he and his wife made in 2006 to have sex every day for 101 days. Apparently, after the Browns completed their sex marathon, they went sexless for a month and now average what People magazine happily describes as "six to eight trysts monthly." Naturally one wonders: which came first, these selfless acts of resurgent intimacy or the book deals and talk show bookings?
Does it matter? In the age of Peep, everyone wants to know everything (and everyone wants everyone else to know everything) about who they are, why they are, and how they are. After the memoir, one of the most notable mainstream cultural trends has been the rise of the documentary as a medium of entertainment/confession/personal revelation. Movies like Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans (2003) have spawned a host of similar projects. These are documentaries that harvest home movies (on video or film) to tell the stories of seemingly normal people. The widespread use of video to capture the forgettable for all time creates immense banks of images to be picked over and turned into high drama, given the right (usually unfortunate) circumstances. Think of Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man (2005), a film that employs the personal video-camera footage of a wilderness recluse to tell the harrowing story of his mounting obsession with living in the wild among some of nature's most savage and unpredictable animals. Another must-watch example of the Peep culture documentary is Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me (2004), a breakthrough, low-budget hit, in which a former extreme sports announcer chronicles what happens to his physical and mental health when he sets himself the task of eating only at McDonald's for a solid month. Movies like these made possible a project like Eric Steel's The Bridge (2006). In that doc, hidden cameras are used to catch actual suicides in the moments before and after they throw them;selves off the Golden Gate Bridge. Though the film played to generally favorable reviews, it was hard not to notice the cat-and-mouse game the filmmakers played with the footage they had of the actual suicides—is that figure we're slowly zooming in on a happy-go-lucky German tourist or a despairing jumper? As one newspaper critic politely put it," The Bridge raises age-old moral and aesthetic questions about the detachment from one's surroundings that gazing through the camera's lens tends to produce."