Saturday, June 8, 2013

Privacy, Celebrity

Two contradictory tendencies in our society came to mind this morning when I noted that the government’s access to so-called metadata, thus records of phone numbers and the numbers those phones have dialed over time, are still making front-page news with our many sages hyperventilating over the loss of privacy. Yet we are living in a time when evidently very many people long to achieve celebrity.

Celebrity has certain practical benefits—and evidently has had going back to the beginnings of time. I recall reading once that , in seventeenth century France, any person observed in conversation with Louis XIV had as good as made his fortune; I’ve labeled this a law of social physics (link). At the same time, celebrity can mean at least some loss of privacy; in extreme cases media (in such context always labeled paparazzi) will ferret out quite embarrassing details—and even after the famed person grows quite old, they will hound him or her for interviews in preparation of impending death or anniversaries.

The value of brief fame—those 15 minutes Andy Warhol once made famous—may seem rather dubious, but something very odd lurks, thankfully inactively in most people, in the human heart. It is a weird belief that being famous, even if only briefly, gives one something valuable enough to risk not only one’s own but other people’s life and limb. That is why mass shootings take place. One such caused the loss of five lives in Santa Monica yesterday. Alas, no amount of privacy, no amount of anonymity, protects the victims of such celebrity-seekers when fate (see yesterday’s posting) puts them in harm’s way. 

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