Op-Ed: Jodie Foster and the End of Privacy

Op-Ed: Jodie Foster and the End of Privacy

Declarations customarily pack the most punch when they deliver new, potent information. They are strengthened when they shed new light on a context or experience. Yet sometimes neither of these criteria are met, and still a statement can make one’s heart sing or jaw drop, or both.

On January 13, 2012, the world of those who cared (and some who may not have) welcomed a new member to the club of the publicly forthcoming, the alliance of the outwardly honest. Jodie Foster was already a hero for lesbians and gays whose gaydars long ago rang off the hook at her somehow obvious homosexuality. Certainly her multifaceted gorgeousness encouraged us to want her in our community, the way a song needs a beautiful refrain, or an outfit calls for a anchor accessory to tie it all together. But there was something off about her non-public declaration that left many of us who rooted for her a bit raw.

One does not need to be famous to appreciate that privacy is gift. We non-famous souls can even choose to cultivate our privacy, exercising super selectivity about who should enjoy the privilege of our personal details.

When dwelling in the public eye, however, this privilege is compromised regardless of consent. In other words, people talk, paparazzi shoot, tabloidists exploit, publishers and producers sell.

But actors are in a somewhat unique predicament. Of all the art forms, the one they practice is the one most closely tied to fame and formation of a public persona. So whether or not they entered showbiz for the notoriety, by definition successful actors will earn it, and necessarily sacrifice their anonymity. Writers can hole up in private and create their worlds. Musicians can employ their instruments or voices without exposing anything more. Painters can close the studio door and concentrate unfettered on their canvases or clay.

For the performer, the nature of the medium is the loss of privacy. To act is to bare the entire person: In a production, the actor’s exterior self is revealed; outside of the production, the actor’s interior self is pondered by those who appreciate the work.

A public personality is defenseless against this curiosity. I may adore a writer’s work, but the closest I may ever know him or her is through a picture on a book jacket or thumbnail on IMDB. Meanwhile, an actor can fight for privacy, but in this information era, there always will be a way for fans to see more, learn more, read more about an actor, as ravenously as thirsty partygoers line up for an open bar.

From her onstage behavior at the 2013 Golden Globes—which at once showcased her proud, gracious 50-year-old self, streaked with endearing vulnerability—Ms. Foster was facing her fear and willingly sacrificing an element of privacy. For anyone who’s ever set out to face a fear, we know it’s an act that can turn anyone into a jelly-limbed, inarticulate mess. So to face a fear on a stage before countless peers and loved ones, not to mention the entire world, the act evidently can make even the most self-possessed public speaker jittery.

But true to her actor’s instinct of candor, Ms. Foster demonstrated another reason why she deserved the lifetime-achievement award she had just been presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Because she is a confident woman with nothing to hide, despite those who had condemned her for clinging to a dearly held privacy. And true to her human nature, she offered a piece of herself to a community that grows stronger with every positive admission.

There will be backlash. Her understandable trepidation and consequential onstage nerves instantly became fodder for those who easily judge and condemn from their private keyboards, as well as from some who probably themselves once had to face the same fear and risk.

In the big world, however, where compassion and unity reside, Jodie Foster’s deliverance surpassed the fact that we all knew her deal already. It let her break ground for a new era where privacy is meaningless if it means you’re hiding something from those who lend you’re their love. The dirt always gets out anyway, especially in Hollywood, so better to lay it on the line, demolish the rumor mill, and let inspiration take root. It’s better for all of us in the long run.

Kelsy Chauvin is a freelance writer specializing in lesbian and gay topics. She is based in Brooklyn, NY. (www.kelsychauvin.com)

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