Let’s start by defining the word fetish, lest everyone think we are discussing a different kind of topic.
According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, fetish is defined as:
a : an object (as a small stone carving of an animal) believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner; broadly : a material object regarded with superstitious or extravagant trust or reverence
b : an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion
In the United States and most developed countries, celebrities tend to become the fetish object: idolized, revered as almost supernatural superheroes and held to extraordinarily high standards by right of their profession in the public eye and the often super-human paycheck that comes with it. Celebrities have always been a central focus in consumer culture: used as marketing tools to convince people that some of their magic-dust will rub off on them if they purchase a product they use publicly or speak for in an ad.
As a public we mostly presume the right to know anything and everything we want about celebrities as we feel it is their obligation to disclose their private lives because they “put themselves out there”.
The truth of it is, celebrities are working stiffs like the rest of us. They do a job, whether it be acting, modeling clothes or playing a sport (let’s stick with the entertainment-oriented celebrities for the sake of this argument). They are selling a product: their labor or looks or skill. They are doing it for love and / or profit. At the end of the day, the deal they are signing on for, in theory, is to co-opt their image or their skills.
However, in what may be an unpopular argument, I need to point out the fact that celebrities do not sign on to co-opt their personal lives any more than someone who works at a bank or a shipyard. In most workplaces, we have an unspoken (and sometimes bespoke) rule that our personal lives stay at home when we are at work. We do our jobs, we choose if we want to put pictures of our families on our desks or share stories about the weekend, but are not expected to make our personal lives part of our work lives. It’s why there are designated work hours.
So why do we feel that celebrities owe us something more than what they get paid for? Why do we feel that they have an obligation to let us in to their private lives? And in the case of Jodie Foster and other celebrities who happen to be gay or lesbian, why do we feel like they ought to publicly pronounce their sexual orientation to the American public or be ridiculed as a fraud? Speaking as flag-flying member of the GLBT community who has put in the time as an educator and activist and continues to donate time and money to related causes that promote equality and tolerance, I wholeheartedly say: leave the celebrities alone!
Jodie Foster makes a few great points in her now all a-Twittered Golden Globe Speech:
I think it’s about time that we stopped trying to consume celebrities’ personal lives and just allowed ourselves to be customers of the work they produce – enjoying it in perspective. If a celebrity’s sexual orientation is something they want to share because doing so helps them point to their true north, then so be it. However, everyone should be able to reserve the right to control the labels they want associated with their metaphorical price tag. Let’s allow a celebrity’s value to be defined by their work and the points of view they choose to put out there for public consumption, just as we allow the value of our brands to be defined by their set of distinct benefits: from what they do to what they publicly stand for.
We should be wary of the concept of privacy being for sale, lest we lose ourselves to a voracious culture of consumption rather than finding ourselves in a culture of appreciation for the beauty and potential of our human existence.
And let’s let the famous people keep their personal lives private.
- Jodie Foster comes out as gay at Golden Globes (news.yahoo.com)
- Deb Baer: Why I’m So Angry About Jodie Foster’s Coming-Out Speech (huffingtonpost.com)
- Jodie Foster’s ‘coming out’ speech was glorious – but something bothered me | Patrick Strudwick (guardian.co.uk)
- Why Jodie Foster’s Golden Globes Speech Was So Infuriating (bilerico.com)
- Editor’s Letter: Why Jodie Foster Left Us Deeply Conflicted (advocate.com)
- Celebrities, Privacy and Fans: A Tangle (impmag.org)
- The Sheer Gall of Celebrities Demanding Privacy (gawker.com)
- Jodie Foster’s speech was dramatic, but inspirational – Chicago Sun-Times (suntimes.com)