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'The Orgy Nex Door: An Exploration of Ethical Relationships in Gay Talese's 'Thy Neighbor's Wife' and 'The Voyeur's Motel'

Wheelwright, J. (2017). 'The Orgy Nex Door: An Exploration of Ethical Relationships in Gay Talese's 'Thy Neighbor's Wife' and 'The Voyeur's Motel'. Literary Journalism Studies, 9(2), pp. 28-50.


Gay Talese, credited as the founder of the New Journalism by Tom Wolfe, has long been revered among literary journalists and cited as an exemplar of the long-haul investigation, “the Art of Hanging Around,” where the writer immerses him- or herself into the lives of the subjects. However, in 2016 his reputation and methods came under public scrutiny when media reports revealed that the subject of his new work of immersive journalism, The Voyeur’s Motel, had falsified his testimony. As critics questioned Talese’s suspension of critical judgment, doubt was also cast on his lack of appropriate research methods and clear ethical guidelines. This article explores concerns about theories and methods that literary journalists and ethnographers share as they affect the relationship between the researcher and the subject, the impact of the researcher on the community or individuals studied, and how conflicting loyalties may mitigate against wider ethical considerations. These concerns include a questioning of the limits a literary journalist must place on personal professional behavior, notably sexual experiences or the observation of sexual practices, when using such encounters to provide a vicarious experience for the reader. These issues are investigated through a critical analysis of Talese’s two works that take sexuality as their subject matter, The Voyeur’s Motel (2016) and Thy Neighbor’s Wife (1980). This essay offers insight for contemporary literary journalism in considering the balance between loyalty to the reader and to the investigated subject, the test of genuine public interest and the writer’s personal agenda, and the need for self-awareness.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: Gay Talese, immersive journalism, ethnographic journalism, journalistic ethics, Thy Neighbor’s Wife, The Voyeur’s Motel, narrating sexual stories
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Journalism
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