Gore Vidal: Unlike most Americans who lie all the time, I hate lying. And here I am surrounded with these hills [in Hollywood] full of liars — some very talented.
Melvyn Bragg: What do you mean by lying in that sense? Do you mean telling fictions?
Vidal: Yeah, about themselves, about their beliefs, about their histories. Degrees, from universities — this is piled up lies.
Americans are not interested in the truth about anything. They assume everybody is lying because they go out and lie everyday about the automobile they are trying to sell you…
This is a country of hoax. P.T. Barnum is the god of this republic, which is no longer a republic alas. It is an oligarchy and a rather vicious one.
Bragg: Can I quote a bit from Montaigne — something from Montaigne that you quote and refer to several times in these memoirs [of yours], from his essay on lying –
Vidal: yes, wonderful…
Bragg: “Lying is an accursed vice. It is only our words which bind us together and make us human. If we realized the horror and weight of lying, we would see that it is more worthy of the stake than other crimes.”
Vidal: … and I’ll drop the match [to set aflame the convict].
Yes, it is … — you see this whole American society is based on advertising, which in turn grabbed on to something called television which could just perpetrate lies everywhere into this society and does and did.
So I have lived in a rather troubling time.
Gore Vidal, who died yesterday evening, was interviewed by Melvyn Bragg on the South Bank Show in 2008. The interview lasts 48 minutes and is worth watching from beginning to end — you will never see an interview and portrait of this quality and depth on American television.