Tabloid – Truth and Lies

A couple nights ago, very last minute, I received free passes to see Tabloid from these folks (thank you!).

Tabloid is a documentary that tells the story of a young woman (Joyce McKinney) who falls in love with a Mormon fellow (Kirk Anderson).  One day he disappears, so she hires a private investigator to find out where he went, which happens to be England, where he is doing mission work with the Mormon church.  She thinks they kidnapped him, so she kidnaps him right back and craziness ensues.  The documentary follows what two English tabloid papers found out about her and how their stories impacted her life in the moment and years later.  The film is quirky, funny and it screws with your head a little bit because NOBODY is telling the same story, even though they’re all telling the same story.

I like this movie a lot because it covers one of my favorite subjects in the entire world:


(I cannot guarantee that the following will not contain any spoilers, but it is a documentary, so spoilers don’t really count, anyways.)

It is almost impossible to take a side while watching Tabloid, despite naturally wanting to have someone to cheer for and someone else to cheer against.  Two opposing stories cannot both be true, after all.

The perspective of a giggly woman who repeatedly calls herself a romantic and is clearly worried about the “brainwashing” of her boyfriend from the Mormon church, which she calls a  “dangerous cult” does not jibe with the story the newspaper men tell about the woman who posed in some very sexual photographs and put sketchy ads in the paper offering nude massages, among other sexual services.

With photographic evidence on the table, it is tempting to write off everything McKinney said as lies told to cover actions that she knew as well as anyone else were wrong.  But she tells her story so sweetly and without a hint of guilt or wrong doing.  She is teary whenever she talks about Kirk disappearing and she lights up like a fricking schoolgirl whenever she says how much she loves him and why.

The story should actually be creepy, and several times I found myself wondering if this story could ever be told if she were a male pursuing a female instead of the other way around.  (It couldn’t.  The margin of uncertainty would be erased and it would be a story about rape and kidnapping, not unrequited love and fun disguises.)

Regardless, there is just enough confusion in the story that it is impossible to know for sure which parts of whose tales are true, which are conscious lies and which are lies that the tellers have forgotten, for their own sakes’, are not actually true.

People remember events differently, and often incorrectly.  Sometimes it is simply physical perspective that shapes our differences (a person standing behind home plate will probably see the success of a runner differently than someone standing behind first) and sometimes we rewrite our perspectives in our minds by over-thinking things that happened in the past.  The more a person thinks about an event, unfortunately, the less accurate that recollection becomes.

I think McKinney thought she was doing right when she kidnapped her boyfriend.  I think she really loved him and he probably loved her, too.  When he left without a word it freaked her out, for good reason, and she traded her once strong morals through lude photographs and sketchy services to earn the money she needed to find and save her boyfriend.  Unfortunately, he valued his religion and her intensity and consequential inability to understand why he was in England being a missionary (and her refusal to believe that he was not brainwashed ) made him fall out of love with her.

How could she not be intense, though?  She sold her innocence for the man she loved only to find out that he wasn’t in danger, which is a reality powerful enough to shatter anyone’s worldview.  She had to continue living the fantasy or be destroyed as well, so she lived, playing the part of a lovelorn fugitive with more drama than was necessary for as long as she could stand it and then disappeared when the expenditure of energy proved too destructive.

Then she told herself and anyone who would listen the fantastic version of the story she needed for sanity’s sake until the story did for her what she needed it to do.

She might know on some level that she was referencing herself when she said:

“Y’know, you can tell a lie long enough until you believe it.”


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