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For permission to reproduce and distribute this article for course use, visit the web site http: I Everyone knows that something has gone wrong, in the United States, with the conventions of privacy.
Along with a vastly increased tolerance for variation in sexual life we have seen a sharp increase in prurient and censorious attention to the sexual lives of public figures and famous persons, past and present.
The culture seems to be growing more tolerant and more intolerant at the same time, though perhaps different parts of it are involved in the two movements. Sexual taboos in the fairly recent past were also taboos against saying much about sex in public, and this had the salutary side-effect of protecting persons in the public eye from invasions of privacy by the main-stream media.
It meant that the sex lives of politicians were rightly treated as irrelevant to the assessment of their qualifications, and that one learned only in rough outline, if at all, about the sexual conduct of prominent creative thinkers and artists of the past.
Now, instead, there is open season on all this material. The public, followed sanctimoniously by the media, feels entitled to know the most intimate details of the life of any public figure, as if it were part of the price of fame that you exposed everything about yourself to view, and not just the achievement or performance that has brought you to public attention.
Because of the way life is, this results in real damage to the condition of the public sphere: Many people cannot take that kind of exposure, and many are discredited or tarnished in ways that have nothing to do with their real qualifications or achievements. One might think, in a utopian vein, that we could carry our toleration a bit further, and instead of trying to reinstitute the protection of privacy, cease to regard all this personal information as important.
Then pornographic films of presidential candidates could be available in video stores and it wouldn't matter. But it isn't as simple as that. These boundaries between what is publicly exposed and what is not exist for a reason.
We will never reach a point at which nothing that anyone does disgusts anyone else. We can expect to remain in a sexual world deeply divided by various lines of imaginative incomprehension and disapproval.
So conventions of reticence and privacy serve a valuable function in keeping us out of each other's faces. Yet that is only part of the story. We don't want to expose ourselves completely to strangers even if we don't fear their disapproval, hostility, or disgust.
Naked exposure itself, whether or not it arouses disapproval, is disqualifying. The boundary between what we reveal and what we do not, and some control over that boundary, are among the most important attributes of our humanity. Someone who for special reasons becomes a public or famous figure should not have to give it up.
This particular problem is part of a larger topic, namely the importance of concealment as a condition of civilization.What is the most thrilling experience you had in your life? Update Cancel. ad by EverQuote. What is the best way to shop for auto insurance?
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