Mystery Versus Celebrity
I liked this piece in The New York Times, on the loss of mystery that is the concomitant cost of 24/7 visibility:
Garbo couldn’t exist in the 21st century. I mean Garbo the lady of mystery, not the rather dull, stingy woman who is reported to have resided behind the persona. And it’s not just because she was the product of an ancient Hollywood studio system that insisted on keeping its stars fixed in a distant firmament. (A photographic publicity image from the 1920s grafted Garbo’s head, I swear, onto the body of a sphinx.)
Today’s democracy of technology would, of course, conspire to put a fast and brutal end to the tantalizing demi-invisibility that Garbo sustained so well. Everyone who possesses a cellphone now is a potential member of the paparazzi. Let a latter-day Garbo poke her head into a cheese shop, or slip out to pick up a toothbrush at the drugstore, and you can bet her image will be all over the Internet in a matter of minutes.
The romance of people discussing their Garbo sightings in hushed voices, as if they had seen a ghost or an indigo bunting out of season, would be replaced by the diminishing boasting of trophy hunters comparing shots. Disgruntled friends of Garbo’s, whom she’d stuck with the check perhaps or cut out of her life, would start anonymously posting unflattering tidbits on the Web about the size of her feet and her infantile sense of humor.
“Oh, her again,” you’d say, when her face popped up on Gawker or TMZ.com. And were the divine Greta (oh, perish the thought) reduced to posting desperately, “I vant to be alone,” we would all snicker in knowing contempt. “Yeah,” we’d snarl, “you and Lindsay Lohan, baby.”
The world, you see, no longer has any tolerance for — let alone fascination with — people who aren’t willing to publicize themselves. Figures swathed in shadows are démodé in a culture in which the watchword is transparency.
The current obsession with “knowing” a lot about total strangers — (the utility is…?) — strikes me as bizarre. I have been ordered, albeit nicely, to start Tweeting asap about my new book, which is still a work in progress, so as to build an audience, which, of course takes time. Gotta sow the field now to harvest the crop of fame and fortune next year.
I will do it because I am occasionally obedient, certainly eager for my book to succeed, but it runs totally against my principles and values. The thought of bleating into the ether on a regular basis….who has that much (interesting) to say? I find blogging challenging enough in this respect.
Being modest, whether about one’s body or spirit, is now seen as the mark of a rube. I love modesty and prize it in my friends and loved ones. I like the idea, and the reality, of slowly discovering a new friend or partner at their speed, learning new things about them over months or years, maybe even decades. There are still many things I don’t know about my partner of a decade, and vice versa.
I think this is a good thing.
It took two friends more than a year to get up the nerve to each tell me they’re gay, which I’d suspected all along. Trust takes time. I hate it when someone I barely know tells me a lot about themselves, and that includes celebrities. When it comes to my own relationships, if I’m interested, I’ll ask, or more likely assume they’ll share intimacies when ready.
That’s the delight of mystery.
Do you value it? What are we losing by denying it?