L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, April 15, 2012

And continuing: Privacy

Continuing from my last post, there's an aspect of my - perhaps obscure - argument that I don't think I was really clear about. Not clear in my own mind, certainly. And that is that I think much of my objection to the portrayals of brutalization and death that I mentioned is because I believe it demonstrates a disregard for the person's privacy. Who deserves to have their privacy respected? And to what degree? And under what circumstances?


I'm an artist who will tell you or show you almost anything about my life, no matter how pathetic or embarrassing. That's what I do, that's who I am. I'm married to a writer who is very open as well, who writes about her life and doesn't shrink from from telling the often awkward truths. Most of the people we know are artists and writers, who frankly tell their stories. We don't really know many terribly private people.

There are many in the world who, by avocation or ambition, become well known to others. Well known to those far beyond their private sphere. Politicians, actors, musicians, etc. It's part of the game, wanting people to know who you are; it's how you succeed in your profession. At least to some degree they know and understand that they have to give up some degree of personal privacy. (Though I always admire those famous people who somehow manage to keep themselves and their families out of headlines; it has to require a special kind of discipline, a skill.) While I don't think it's at all ethical for the media and the public to use them - performers, especially - as punching bags, at least they made some choice - however unprepared they might have been - to be seen and known.

And that may be a crucial difference for me, why I'm so troubled by the use of the lives of private, otherwise unknown people for the production of true crime books or narrative film. The murdered prostitute or child wasn't given the choice whether or not they wanted to have their death graphically described in a book. The young trans man wasn't given the choice to decide if and in what manner paid actors were able to show the world every detail of the wretched manner in which his life was cut short. They never made the choice to give away their privacy; it was taken from them. By the cruel acts that were the only things that made them to a greater or lesser degree famous. And I think we make subtle decisions about the worth of their privacy by how we respond to those acts.

A lot of the reaction to the previous post was - expectedly - the strong sentiment that these stories need to be told. I think in some cases that that is very true. I think the story of Brandon Teena is very important to tell. I think the murders of a prostitute or a child - or so many other tragedies - do not usually need to be graphically told. Except for someone's profit or to satiate a "morbid curiosity", what purpose can it serve? In any case, as a society - truly a tabloid society, an all-the-news-all-the-time society - I think we need to be much more sensitive to other people's privacy. We need to be so much more careful and respectful. And I think we should spend more time asking ourselves, when confronted with a display of someone else's private matters - whether they had a choice in that display, and so much more when they didn't - do I really need to know this? Should I know it?


  1. Your last 2 posts were so well written & thought provoking. We see things the same way on so many subjects. How lucky am I to have a man of your talent in my orbit?

    1. Very sweet of you to say so. I'm lucky, too, to know you, dear Stephen.