The New York Times ran a story this morning headlined (in the Times Digest) Secretary of State Leads from Shadows. The essence the article tells that Rex Tillerson has avoided media exposure since becoming Secretary of State. “In the light” means being on TV; “in the shadows” spells obscurity and hence, in the eyes of media, a lack of importance.
Years ago, already, it had occurred to me that celebrity is a curse—indeed a burden. And Tillerson, who will turn 65 on March 23, has spent his life in the shadows. He graduated from college in 1975. That same year he joined Exxon as an engineer, and stayed with that employer until his swearing in as Secretary of State in 2017. If experience forms our habits, it must be difficult to become a creature of the limelight overnight. So Tillerson must be comfortable in being invisible—whereas a political animal, like Donald Trump, must wake every morning wondering what he can do to be the center of the news today—rather than what he must do.
Attention is addictive. Once addicted to attention, it must be painful just to be oneself. No crowds of journalists, no flashing lights, no shouted questions. No cameras when one walks to one’s own plane. No need to point a finger at a person (invisible to the camera). What pain to be just human.
But Fame has its benefits. I remember once reading an historian who said that any person, no matter how obscure, observed in public to hold conversation with Louis XIV, was sure to become rich very soon. For me that told the whole story of celebrity. One can work out how that happens—how contact with power can render one powerful. The mystery (and emptiness) of such derived power also struck me at the time, and I made the resolve to avoid Louis XIV if he ever comes into my view. As for Tillerson, it will be interesting to see if he is still in the shadows when his time has come to fade away...