Oh privacy, rest in peace

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The assaults on our personal space, our thoughts – both grand and small – have become, in recent years, the principle battleground of democratic debate.

Do we deserve our privacy, or shall we surrender it to the onslaught of media? Do we expect full accountability from our elected leaders, or shall we give them a free pass even as their spy agencies harvest every morsel of information about us for uses not yet articulated?

We have become a “live-in-public” polity. Anyone who doubts this might cogitate for a while on the way mainstream celebrities (and their Twitter monkeys) manage their various images through social media.

Consider, for example, the strange case of Ashton Kutcher – a Hollywood actor of some fame and fortune. He reached out to his fans a couple of months ago to beg their support for his mindful campaign against the paparazzi that plague him and his loved ones.

According to a Fox News report in May, “Ashton Kutcher has taken to social media to blast news outlets for publishing paparazzi photos of his 7-month-old daughter, Wyatt. The actor publicly slammed publications on Twitter after photos emerged of a casually dressed Kutcher carrying his baby girl in his arms, with a clear view of her smiling face. The paparazzi pics were taken while Kutcher and partner Mila Kunis were visiting the seaside town of Carpinteria, Calif., with Kunis’ parents.”

Tweeted Mr. Kutcher: “Why is it so hard for publications to respect that I would like the identity of my child kept private for safety reasons?”

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because you have 16 million followers and you can’t stop talking about yourself.

The actor’s dilemma mirrors our own. In a world where professional value becomes a commodity through personal revelation (even if the cry is for privacy) reason is antiquated. And what becomes antiquated becomes suspect. Suddenly, your business is mine, and mine is yours.

Naturally, you and I have never met, never shook hands, never looked each other in our bloodshot, media-savvy eyes. We’ve never actually conducted a private conversation about what really matters to either of us. We just tweet in series of 147 characters of callow, bland absurdities.

As we do, of course, the world is cloud-banking every stupid thing we say for only one reason: Our love of the confessional pyre, the altar of unsolicited solicitude, to which we happily supplicate ourselves, turns its cranks; and, in so doing, manufactures more ways to penetrate our secret spaces.

We claim our right to privacy in public even as we squander it, undermine it, and, finally, render it meaningless by opening our big, fat mouths about the utterly inconsequential just in time for the next crop of spin-doctors, operating on both private and state allowances, to turn our choice words against ourselves.

It happens all the time. Whole networks in the mainstream media are dedicated to unveiling the “larger” truth behind a pebble of personal information “leaked” to them, lest the pillars of democracy topple in the absence of some celebrity’s full disclosure about the style and shape of his underwear.

And, of course, just like Mr. Kutcher, we lap it up, even as we despise it.

In a Daily Mail Online piece from 2011, the actor “became the first Twitter user to reach one million followers. But, it seems, Ashton Kutcher has finally fallen out of love with Twitter. The 33-year-old actor handed over the control of his account to his management team.”

Really, who could have blamed him?

But, then, what’s stopping the rest of us?

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