Celebrities and Their Privacy

When the press reports that people like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, or Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, or any other celebrity couple is having marital problems or getting a divorce, publicists for those celebrities almost always issue a statement asking the public and press to respect their privacy under these difficult circumstances.

Likewise, when celebrities like John Travolta and Kelly Preston lose a child, their “people” ask for the same thing:  please respect our privacy under these very trying conditions.

The Curmudgeon says nuts to that.

To be clear, The Curmudgeon has no interest at all in these people – or others like them – nor is he using them as anything other than examples.  Of the six of them, he appreciates only one, John Travolta, as a performer, and on the other end of the spectrum, he has no idea what Ms. Holmes has ever done to gain her fame beyond marrying Tom Cruise.  The Curmudgeon makes a fairly serious effort to avoid reading or learning about the comings and goings and doings of celebrities, and what he does know comes mostly by osmosis:  in our modern, media-centered society, it’s almost impossible to avoid this kind of nonsense.

All of these people, and the many others like them, make their living in the public arena.  Whether their work is brilliant or bad, no one will ever see it, know about it, idolize them, or pay them outlandish sums of money unless they go to extraordinary lengths to draw attention to themselves and their work.  After priming the publicity pump as diligently and relentlessly as the overwhelming majority of them do, it’s simply unreasonable of them to seek to turn off that pump whenever the spirit so moves them.

The Curmudgeon has been thinking about such matters ever since Michael Jackson started bleating his insipid song “Leave Me Alone” back in 1987.  All those things reported about Jackson that he wanted people to stop talking about?  Sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber?  Frolicking with chimpanzees?  The guy lived on a huge, heavily guarded estate that reporters couldn’t possibly breach, which means the only way the press learned about those things was that Jackson’s public relations people told them those things.  Leave him alone?  To the contrary, he was crying out for their attention, demanding their attention, spending vast amounts of money to get their attention ­– and then had the nerve to complain when he got it.  (The Curmudgeon would suggest that he had the balls to complain, but, well…)

What comes to mind when you think of Tom Cruise these days?  His infamous sofa-jumping visit with Oprah?  Or maybe his obnoxious performance during his Today Show interview with Matt Lauer?  Why was he there?  In both cases, he submitted to those interviews to seek publicity for his latest movie.  He put himself on display on widely viewed television programs for the professional and financial benefits he would gain from talking publicly about his private life.

So now, how does he find the audacity to ask us to mind our own business when he’s done so much to make his life our business?

At least Cruise has something worth promoting – his movies – and in theory, he has the choice to promote them or not.  Someone like Kim Kardashian, on the hand, has no choice:  she’s the product of publicity, the creation of publicity, she lives and dies by her publicity, she owes her very existence in the public eye to publicity that publicizes, well, exactly what it publicizes The Curmudgeon has never quite understood because he still can’t figure out what she and the others in her three-ring circus of a family actually do.

There’s an old saying that goes “Live by the sword, die by the sword.”  For better or worse, celebrities enjoy a special status in our society – a status that brings with it fame, adulation, and enormous amounts of money.  Some have even earned it.  Aside from the occasional accidental celebrity, like the pilot who landed his damaged plane on the Hudson River, none of these celebrities backed into this special status.  They all sought it, craved it, and worked hard to achieve it.  That earning involves exposing vast parts of their private lives to us as part of selling themselves and their work to us.  They do so eagerly, willingly, and in many cases even greedily, and in so doing, they forfeit any reasonable right to the ordinary kind of privacy that most of us take for granted every day.  They can try to be selective about what they share, but once they’ve crossed a certain line, we have every right to keep expecting from them the same level of information and detail, no matter how inappropriate it might’ve been, that they foisted on us during their path to fame.  For them to expect us to back off falls somewhere between ridiculous and offensive.  People with good manners will back off, because that’s what people with good manners do, but as long as there’s a market for the kind of nonsense these people themselves have worked so hard to cultivate and feed, the press certainly isn’t going to back off, nor should it.  These celebrities, who’ve learned to live with, enjoy, and exult in the benefits of all the fame, all the adulation, and all the money, will just have to learn to live with the few down-sides of all those up-sides.

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