Elyse Friedman

Persisting In Delusion

I have a love/hate relationship with delusional types. I know a woman, for example, who clearly believes she’s a great beauty. She exudes coquettish self-assurance and is always tossing her hair, batting her lashes, and strutting in clingy clothes. She is so convinced of her own sex-appeal and blonde loveliness that she has repeatedly paid professional photographers to take “glamour shots” of her.

When I heard this, I was surprised. She’s no beast, but she’s no contender for “Canada’s Next Top Model” either.

When she gazes upon her 8 X 10, Vaseline-lensed poses, she sees something that I don’t see, something that only she, and perhaps her mother, sees. On the one hand I find this admirable — she doesn’t look like a Hollywood star (except maybe Mr. Ed), but she’s as confident as one. Good. That’s refreshing. We shouldn’t have to fit the standard idea of beauty to feel good about ourselves. On the other hand, I find her questionable grasp of reality annoying and absurd.

“You’re the only one who thinks you’re gorgeous,” I sometimes want to shout. “Your glamour shots are ridiculous and they make me laugh.”

Sondra Prill, “Nasty” (1987)

When it comes to delusional artists, I am even more conflicted. Sondra Prill is someone who genuinely believes in her own talent, and has somehow managed to convince others to believe, i.e., the insufficiently clad dancers, whoever financed the thing, the person who filmed it or played the keyboards, etc. She went to a lot of trouble, spent a great deal of time and likely a fair whack of dough recording her abominable audio version of “Nasty” and then setting it to images.

I love this video. I love it because it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is horrendous and hilarious—the vocals (those shouted lyrics, what the fuck?), the dancing, the hair, the ostensibly sexy moves and pouts. Sondra Prill is devoid of talent. She is preposterous. Loony.

Part of me wants to berate her for even attempting to make this video; part of me applauds her for going ahead and doing what she loves doing no matter what anyone thinks or says about it. That’s what an artist is supposed to do.

Does it matter that Sondra Prill is the Ed Wood of music videos instead of the Vincent Van Gogh? She really, truly believes, and there’s something goofy and beautiful and inspiring about that belief—she’s living her dream even if it’s an obvious nightmare to anyone remotely sane or with a modicum of taste. Something about her inability to see what’s really real, or to care, is appealing to me.

Having said that, when I think about all the Sondra Prills in my world — the literary world — I go back to feeling irked and repelled. There are so many Prill-like writers out there — talentless, but oozing self-confidence and belief in their own abilities. And like Prill, they have somehow convinced others to believe — arts council jury members, agents, even publishers, and I’m not just talking small presses here, not at all.

I kind of want the writer-Prills to stop writing. I want them to put down their pens and seek employment. I am exasperated by their delusions, especially when I’m being subjected to three or four relentless readings in order to get to a decent scribbler on the bill.

And so I remain divided in my feelings about the delusional. What do you think?

Please watch Sondra Prill perform her wonderful/terrible version of “Pump Up The Jam” and tell me: Do you pity, detest or admire the woman who would actively campaign to appear on film in a bikini with a bead-tail, something that looks like it should be hanging in a hippie’s doorway?

Sondra Prill, “Pump Up The Jam (Sand In The Crack Mix)” (1991)

- Elyse Friedman

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Luscombe/713910984 James Luscombe

    good question, and i struggle with this one often. i lean towards admiration for anyone who tries to create something, or has the courage to offer themselves, or something they’ve made, up for public scrutiny. people all have varying degrees of talent, but i admire what it takes to put something out there.

  • Bert Archer

    I’d have to go the opposite direction. It’s tough enough to connect with a work of any sort, given how long works have been made and how many have accumulated out there. If everyone, regardless of skill or talent, just puts themselves out there, it just becomes that much harder. I don’t care much about their self-delusion, I care about them as obstacles between me and the good stuff.

  • http://thegimpparade.blogspot.com/ Kay Olson

    Pity, detest and admire. I am unfamiliar with Sondra Prill (though I just read her Wiki) and don’t know how I’d feel about any original work, but the two music videos are your basic bad karaoke. I can do bad karaoke too, and it would likely be entertaining for the same reason — as people-watching sport. After all, I also cannot sing, dance, and have questionable taste in popular music and a sense of my own life as drama.

    I do think there’s a place for entertainment and performance that is clearly not art or is bad art. And there are a number of visual artists who have played with where that line is drawn too. (Musically, I can think of only Weird Al — his performances differ from Prill’s in their budget, mostly.)

    But it feels like snobbery to me to judge without a clue to the person’s intentions. I can play the game (pity, admire, laugh, etc.) if I know which game it is. Prill isn’t making art, but does she really think she did, or that it might lead to a career in singing or acting? Or is she just singing/shouting out loud because it’s fun and a human thing to do?

  • http://ryeberg.com/author/mary-gaitskill/ Mary Gaitskill

    I was going to say “But she’s joking! This is pure satire!” as that’s what it looked like to me, but having checked Wikipedia, I guess she’s not. She was, I guess very deluded-and yet, here she is, decades later, providing us with entertainment and earnest discussion; does that mean we are deluded too? The literary deluded–that is a whole other thing. For one, they are not entertaining, at least not like this, and they probably won’t be in print for as long as this video, or inspire even this kind of discussion. As I don’t know who you mean I can’t be sure, but most of them probably aren’t even making very much money. The literary deluded like Prill, like your poor silly acquaintance, aren’t finally going to add up to very much or do much harm. Unlike the many, many deluded in postions of power all over the world–its them we ought to be marvelling at/getting sick over, that is if we feel like marvelling/getting sick over other people’s delusions.

  • Vassago Gamori

    Self-delusion has a sliding scale spectrum and infects every human on the planet.

    Get high by sniffing the sexy taint of scandal in the mind and ride the potential of the engine of illusions to money.
    S’what folks got to do to eat.

    Perhaps with seven years of new experience, Elyse Friedman recognizes her very own own inner Sondra Prill inside her internal hell of self-reflecting mirrors with less aloof superiority ?

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Elyse Friedman is the author of “Long Story Short, a Novella & Stories," and three novels, “Then Again," “Waking Beauty,” and most recently, “The Answer to Everything.” She's also written a poetry collection, “Know Your Monkey." For more Elyse Friedman, go here.