Public Figures and Privacy

Is privacy dead in our culture?  I know that in this world of Facebook and MySpace, we like to let everything hang out (sometimes quite literally), but do we really need to have a public confession every time there is an indiscretion?

Recently, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) and Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) have admitted to having an affair.  Of course, my initial reaction whenever I hear something like this is: so what?  I really don’t care what these guys do in their personal lives.  I feel bad for their wives and families, but I really don’t care.  Unlike so many Republicans, I am not concerned with what one does in the bedroom or who they do it with.  It just doesn’t matter to me.  Unfortunately, it seems that there are many in the public who do want to hear this kind of stuff and love to judge others based on it.  There are calls for Sanford to resign.  If all he did was have an affair, then I don’t see why he should resign.  If, however, it is proven that he used public money for his little dalliances, then that is another matter entirely.  (Update: That is apparently what he did.)  He should not only resign but he should have to pay the money back to the people of South Carolina.

But all of this makes me think of public figures in general.  Whether they are politicians or actors or musicians, the public feels that they have every right to know every detail of their lives simply because their chosen profession puts them in the spotlight.  I think we need a renewed call for privacy in all of our lives, but especially for those who for one reason or another are in the public eye.

When websites like TMZ and people like Perez Hilton do nothing but report the daily goings-on of celebrities brought to us by paparazzi, it makes me think that privacy is just dead in our culture.  These kinds of websites would not exist (or thrive) if people understood that these celebrities are people too.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have people following your every move with video cameras?  To me, it sounds like a nightmare.

Perhaps I am in the minority here, but I, for one, think that privacy should be honored no matter how many movies a person has been in or how many albums they have made or even how many times they have been elected to public office.  We need to have a clear distinction between public lives and private lives.  And it seems that every day that line gets less and less recognizable.


2 Responses to “Public Figures and Privacy”

  1. Mort the Sport Says:

    I have to say that I only partially agree with you on this one. Even though there are plenty of celebrities that enjoy having a private life, there are even more whose careers depend on releasing bits of information about their “private” lives. These bits of information (whether it’s an upskirt photo or a picture of a newborn baby) help to maintain interest in the celebrity in question. You seem to assume that people in the spotlight bear no responsibility for the publicity they receive. I have to disagree with you on this point. For politicians, this is obviously a different story because many voters assume that the morality or ethics of a politician (in some small measure) matters. I do agree with you that in many ways we’ve moved into a post-privacy mode in American culture. However, the celebrities themselves are as much to blame as their fawning fans or the media that has encouraged such behavior.

  2. While I would agree that there are some “celebrities” (Paris Hilton comes to mind) that seem so full of themselves that they must do something or release some info to keep themselves in the spotlight. But I also think that some celebrities release info so that they can do it on their terms. If they know that the information will get out one way or another, then they might as well try to control it and release it in the way that they want to rather than allowing others to control its release.

    I guess I would say that celebrities are culpable to a certain extent but certainly not to the extent that others are.

    And as far as politicians are concerned, I can understand that some people feel that whether a politician cheats on his wife or not is relevant to whether he will make a good representative, I do not. Similarly, I don’t care if he is gay or straight, Protestant or Catholic, or Christian at all. Some people think this makes one a good candidate or someone they would never vote for. I think it is their policy positions and laws they write that matters, and nothing else.

    Finally, I do think I am naive. I think I am pragmatic and hopeful. I don’t think that things are going to change anytime soon. But I can certainly hope that they do.

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