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Celebrities, Privacy and Fans: A Tangle

Jodie Foster accepts the lifetime achievement award at the 2013 Golden Globes. Photograph: Paul Drinkwater/AP

Jodie Foster accepts the lifetime achievement award at the 2013 Golden Globes. Photograph: Paul Drinkwater/AP

Let’s talk about Jodie Foster.

Last night at the Golden Globe awards award-winning actor, Jodie Foster came out.  I think. It was a rather long and convoluted acceptance speech after Foster was announced as the recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille award. I also think that she announced she was retiring from acting but I’m not sure.

She came out in a very simple way by stating: “I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago.” And she says she came out “proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met.”

She didn’t tell the media or her fans back then nor did she really tell the media or her fans last night.

Foster made some remarks that are still rattling around in my mind.

Foster said: “I’m told that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show. You guys might be surprised, but I am no Honey Boo Boo child. No, I ‘m sorry that’s just not me, never was, and it never will be…”

I’m not sure I agree that coming out at an awards ceremony is an equitable sacrifice of privacy to that of having a reality show. I have no idea at all what coming out has to do with having a fragrance.

The first film I saw Foster in (when I was actually old enough to remember and understand the plot) was “Foxes” (1980).  I think I saw it on TV so it might have been a year or so after its release. I loved it. I’m not sure Ms. Foster was on my list of girls to watch. I was more of a Kristy McNichol (“Little Darlings”) girl myself.

Over the years I’ve seen some of Foster’s movies; I’ve admired her talent in some, been puzzled by others. I’ve put some honest to goodness effort into trying to remember if I ever thought much about her sexual orientation. I don’t believe I ever did. I figure that, unless I’m about to try to ask you out, I don’t need to know.

The thing is, had you forced me to speculate – I would have said she was a lesbian. But where did that come from? Is it just that social media and gossip are intertwined so solidly that it’s become impossible to avoid the opinion of the masses?

You think I’m exaggerating?

I know who the Kardashians are and I don’t even have cable or satellite TV. I’ve never seen a show or interview with them. I’m not clear on why they’re famous but I’ve obviously soaked up the ability to recognize them from somewhere.

There are two things going on in my mind.

Do celebrities have a right to privacy?

Are celebrities obligated to come out?

Unfortunately my opinion leads me to answer “Yes or no” to both.

Over the years, I’ve been an active member of a few vocal “fandoms” I have friends in the entertainment industry. I write for an online magazine. I’ve seen some celebrities’ privacy violated quite blatantly. Does anyone really need to know whether an actor wears boxers or briefs? Does a celebrity seriously have to deal with fans showing up at a private wedding ceremony? What about people parked outside of an actor’s home or posting addresses and phone numbers online?

I would hope that most people would agree that, even celebrities, have a right to basic privacy. Beyond the basics? I’m not sure I know where to draw the line.

The extremes are easy. If you don’t want people clamoring for details about your life, perhaps, consider a career other than entertainer. Don’t care what people know? Knock yourself out. Post whatever you want, wear whatever you want. Be happy.

It’s all that damn grey-area stuff that causes me trouble.

I suppose I consider a fan and a celebrity as having a business arrangement. (For the sake of argument, let’s stick to celebrities who actually have a “talent” that provides them with an income.)

A celebrity puts their talent to use and creates something that a fan loves to partake of. A good TV show, great movies, music.

The fan “purchases” that product in some way. We buy TV episodes on Apple TV, download music, shell out for concert tickets and attend live shows.

If the celebrity wants more publicity then he or she may do some interviews or sit for a photo shoot. Fans get to know a little bit more and celebrities get some exposure.

The problem is when fans start to choose for themselves what that “little bit more” is without it being done within the symbiotic “business transaction.”

In many social media driven fan groups, personal and private photos of celebrities have been “liberated” from online directories and reposted. Houses have been broken into. Private conversations leaked. Addresses and phone numbers have been made public. Celebrities are followed as they walk through the park with their children, work out at their local gym and try to eat a quiet lunch with their spouse. Fans wait at airports, restaurants and parking lots.

Back to my “business transaction” analogy. That’s like buying a car on Monday and returning on Friday to take another one, without paying, because – you’re entitled.

Oh, entitlement, you sly devil.

I’m not trying to say that celebrities are commodities to be purchased. But what they do might be if they’ve chosen to be an entertainer.

Most of us ordinary folk don’t really have much privacy these days. We tweet our clothing choices for the day, face book what events we’re attending and foursquare our locations.

No one really cares when I’m at the gym. No one seems to need my cell phone number (except my friends.) And there are seldom more than 12 views on any photo I post online. So, there’s my safety.

Does Jodie Foster owe it to her fans to come out? I don’t think so. Her sexual orientation should have no impact on one’s opinion of her acting ability.

Does Jodie Foster owe it to the gay and lesbian community to come out? Maybe? The thing is, if every single person were to have to publicly and truthfully declare their sexual orientation on the same day – there wouldn’t be much room for judgement.

But that’s not going to happen.

I worked in the HIV/AIDS support field for over 11 years. I can’t begin to count the number of PRIDE parades I’ve walked in or the total number of protests I’ve attended. I walked for the people who weren’t able to. I walked for friends who were afraid of being disowned by their families. I walked for people who had suffered physical violence because of their sexual orientation and were afraid to attend a public event. I walked for mothers who were afraid their children would be affected if other parents found out that “Lindy Has Two Mommies”.

There was value in my face and body being at those events and associated with the cause.

It seems that Anderson Cooper may agree with me. Cooper came out last year. It was simple, classy and probably shocked part of his viewing audience when they read about it the next morning.

Cooper had this to say about his choice to finally go public about his sexual orientation; “I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted.”

That leaves the “power” of celebrity. And, like it or not, they do have a bit of that “power”. They’re blessed (or cursed, depending on whom you ask) with the ability to sway the view of fans and people who know their work.

I asked actor and blogger, Kim Rhodes (“The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”, “Supernatural”, Rhodeside Attractions: For Things Along the Way) about the perceived “power” of celebrity and the impact blogging has had on her life and the lives of her fans.

“Often I am humbled and amazed at the people it resonates with. But if I’m putting myself out there for validation or some other preordained response, not only will I most likely not get it, but it makes me very vulnerable to attacks,” said Rhodes.

Will she continue to blog? “I’m hot and cold with it. Sometimes I feel such genuine love for and from people I’ve never met and sometimes I feel like I’m putting on a big sign that says, ‘Piss Here!’ and I don’t know why I keep doing it. I guess ultimately my need to connect over our commonalities so far has overridden my fear of being judged for being different.”

And what about that “power” I was so certain existed? Says Rhodes, “I definitely don’t feel ‘anointed’ in any sense. I speak my truth and under it all, most of us kind of have the same truth and it’s encouraging to hear it from other’s mouths.”

But Rhodes is not a typical celebrity. After a short but memorable stint on “Supernatural”, Rhodes embraced the avid fans of the show and headed to fan conventions and twitter.  She continues to reach out to fans who seem to need a little support.

Maybe celebrities don’t have as much “power” as I think they do.

Zachary Quinto (“Star Trek”, “American Horror story”) blogs and interacts with fans on twitter in addition to being a high-profile actor. In October of 2011, Quinto came out in a “New York Magazine” article then took to his blog to write about his motivation. Quinto was moved by the suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer; a suicide that was the result of several years of bullying because he was open about his sexuality.

Quinto summed it up well when he wrote, “It became clear to me in an instant that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it – is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality.”

Did Quinto’s public acknowledgement that he was gay help the young LBGTQ community? I think so, both directly and indirectly. How do I know?

I know because I remember the night Camryn Manheim held up her Emmy award for Outstanding Supporting Actress on “The Practice” in 1998 and yelled, “This is for all the fat girls!”

Did everyone already know she was fat? You bet.

Did her announcement matter to 30-year-old fat me sitting at home and watching on TV? You bet. I realized that there were “people like me” everywhere and that mattered. It mattered a lot.

Thank you, Camryn. I still appreciate it.

Maybe there’s someone sitting on her couch today feeling thankful to Jodie Foster.

Camryn Manheim at the 1998 Emmy's // ©Emmys.com

Camryn Manheim at the 1998 Emmy’s // ©Emmys.com

4 thoughts on “Celebrities, Privacy and Fans: A Tangle

  1. Finding that often blurry line between the privacy every human being is entitled to, and the public interaction that’s a necessary part of celebrity, is a challenge I’m glad I don’t have to negotiate on a daily basis. But you’re so right that words (especially those spoken by celebrities) have power, as Camrhyn’s resonated with you and so many others — and as I’m sure Jodie’s did too. Well said, Charlotte.

  2. Pingback: Why Can’t We Stay Out Of Jodi Foster’s “Closet”? A Perspecitve On Celebrity As A Fetish « The Narcissistic Anthropologist

  3. Like you, I believe a fine line exists between what aspects of a celebrity’s life are acceptable in the realm of public knowledge. I personally don’t believe an individual’s sexuality is anyone’s business but their own. But if standing up and metaphorically shouting to the world “this is who I am and this is who I love” can help someone else accept and embrace themselves for they were born to be then I have to concede any doubt. Go for it. Shout it to the rafters, post it on a billboard…or even better, sit down for a chat with Ellen or Oprah. Just leave all that sofa jumping to Tom Cruise.

    I’m almost 6’4″ tall – and female. Every time I see a tall actress on the screen wearing high heels it makes me feel that much better about myself. In a world of celebutantes, Jersey girls, and child stars turned repeat offenders, we could do with some REAL positive role models for ourselves and for our children.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. My love to you and to Kim.


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