Certain Dark Things: On Cheating and the Media
I wonder what would’ve happened if Twitter had been around during JFK’s administration. Would there be twitpics of JFK in his underwear, illicitly (and accidentally) tweeting them to Marilyn where the whole world could see it? Would there be grainy photos of Marilyn and John meeting at a hotel? (Probably not. Because no one messed with Frank Sinatra or his friends. But still.) If tabloid journalism was so rampant and ruthless when Hepburn met Tracey, what would’ve become of them and their relationship? Would the constant media attention have broken them apart? Would one of them have broken underneath the scrutiny? Hepburn and Tracey were an iconic couple, certainly. But Tracey never left his wife, and Hepburn avoided his funeral out of respect for his family. Imagine the tractive headlines. Would they have called Hepburn a slut? A homewrecker? A whore? (She, being progressive and strong, probably wouldn’t have cared.)
These days, anything and everything seems up for grabs; a person’s worst day is fodder for a story. The end goal, it seems, isn’t to tell a story worth telling. It’s to move copies, while trading on sensationalism and heartbreak.
Yesterday, I read a headline that Kristen Stewart cheated on her longtime boyfriend and costar, Robert Pattinson, with the director of Snow White and the Huntsman. Rupert Sanders is, unfortunately, married. This all came out in a hail of hastily snapped photos, finger-pointing, and shame. US Weekly ran the story first, and shortly thereafter, KStew issued an apology – and Sanders filed suit. Everything about that was difficult to read, because that is someone’s worst moment. That is someone’s worst day. That is the sound of the world crashing, swallowing up so many things.
Which is why I say: leave the worst moments in shadow.
People screw up. People fall in love. People fall in lust. Slips and shit happen. Pretending otherwise doesn’t make you better than anyone else. It doesn’t make you more moral or well-positioned upon the throne of judgment. It doesn’t automatically give you a white hat, while handing someone a black one.
These are people. And no one is perfect. Certainly not celebrities who live their lives under a microscope. When something bad comes to light, in a layperson’s life, the world does not point fingers or gasp. The world doesn’t even really notice. Some people immediately involved might. There will, inevitably, be rumors and gossip. But chances are, our follies won’t end up in a newspaper. They won’t end up online or on tv. We get to live out our mistakes in relative private.
In the pursuit of selling a product (like a magazine), humanity is often forgotten. There’s no integrity is dragging out someone’s secret, just to sell something. There’s no honor in it. There’s only greed. (Hello there, Gordon Gekko.)
The reaction that I’ve seen to the Stewart-Sanders debacle is almost as obnoxious as the magazine that broke the story. People are judging, finger-pointing, and generally reaching for the smelling salts. Because CLEARLY this is the first time someone’s had a fling with their director/costar/makeup artist – WHATEVER. Clearly, this is the first time in history a person has had a moment of weakness that ended up a walk of shame. Clearly, this is the first time someone’s ever slept with someone else’s spouse. Surely we are above all that, us good little puritans (who, btw, had a rather liberal view on sex).
(Yes, that I unadulterated sarcasm.)
Imagine your very worst day. Recall that time you sent naked photos to an ex or a stranger. Remember cheating on a test, on a boyfriend, on your bar exam. Remember getting high, getting a bad tattoo, saying terrible and untrue things to a good person. Remember lying. Remember doing nothing when someone got hurt right in front of you. Remember the underside of your humanity: your flaws.
We are, every one of us, flawed. The difference is that when you and I do something wrong? It doesn’t end up all over People magazine. It isn’t enough to sell copies. Yes, it’s a business, but a business isn’t without integrity. It’s not without honor. It’s not without compassion. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.
Do I, personally, give a damn about Kristen Stewart? Not exactly, no. I don’t know her. She never hangs out at my house. And neither of us has braided the other’s hair. But I can look through the persona and see the person. I can feel for her, because she did something bad – and there’s a big garish spotlight on it. The spotlight doesn’t just hurt her; it hurts everyone involved, even those indirectly involved – like Sanders’s family. Like Pattinson. Shouldn’t they be able to tackle this – a personal issue – out of the public eye? God, yes. This has no bearing on their art. It has nothing to do with making movies. And yet, we care. And yet, it’s everywhere.
Leave the worst moments in shadow.
(Nota bene: yes, there’s irony here, because I’m WRITING about the issue. Let me acknowledge that. But instead of writing about Sanders being an asshole or Stewart being some kind of bitch – I’m not commenting on them as PEOPLE. I’m not sensationalizing their pain.)