Into the Woods

Privacy? What privacy?

Petri Dishes

Personal sins shouldn’t require press releases? Problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions?

What planet has Tiger Woods been on for the past 10 years? It’s almost as though he’s speaking another language. “Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don’t share my view on that.”

Some? Try the entire western hemisphere. And anywhere else with Twitter access. We live in a broadcast culture. Branding isn’t just for cattle anymore; now, it’s an ongoing process of self-publication. You don’t have to be a personality to have a persona. I have several personae, and I can entertain myself for hours staring at a good wallpaper.

From email to Twitter to Facebook, we all exist in quotation marks. There’s Alexandra Petri, but there’s also “Alexandra Petri,” my edited self, who thinks in complete sentences under 140 characters. We want everyone to know all the things we are eating, drinking, thinking, and suffering. Even if we don’t want to attach our names to them, there are plenty of anonymous forums—try HarvardFML or Texts from Last Night. The loss of privacy is just the price you pay for the vague sense that someone out there is interested in the fact that you just ate a pot of steamed noodles and watched a Bruins game. If Tiger were on Twitter and had been sending out things like “Mistook another equally skanky-looking blonde for my wife! This keeps happening and I doubt that it will end well,” “Elin’s chasing me out of the house,” or “Whoops! I hit a tree! FML,” nobody would be so upset now.

The tradeoff was always clear. If you want to be famous because you do something well or badly, be it singing while fat or hitting balls of various shapes and hues, you have to be prepared to divulge. We live in the age of the chronic overshare. Recently, the pop artist JoJo tweeted something about how she hadn’t bathed in a while and felt bad for the people she was sitting near on the plane. No one batted an eye. I have close friends who send me similar emails, often during the dinner hour. I send angry messages back suggesting they hire new publicists. The problem is that only some of us have the right publicist instincts while all of us are forced to self-publicize.

Our problem with Tiger is not the cheating. 2009 has been quite the year for well-publicized falls from grace, from Governor Sanford flying to Argentina to pursue his “hopelessly impossible situation of love” to whatever was going on with the Gosselins. The problem is his unwillingness to spill. Governor Sanford meandered through all kinds of elaborate metaphors and discursions about South Carolina wildlife in a lengthy press conference, and everyone loved it. But now, Tiger, enmeshed in an ever-expanding tangle of women, maintains an ominous silence, and we feel gypped.

Tiger’s outdated notion of some inherent right to privacy is something most of our generation has already given up for lost. By giving everyone access to everything about ourselves, we can create the illusion of closeness. And not just with people we actually know! Also with strangers, friends of high school friends, and that guy named Trevor Quack who friends everyone. No one has to hound most of my friends to expose intimate details of their personal lives. Just follow them on Twitter. We all dream of a world where our personal sins will require press conferences. But instead of being grateful and embracing the opportunity to share all sorts of excruciatingly personal information, Tiger is now threatening to leave the country.

Tiger needs to realize that he’s living the new American dream. He was also living the old American dream, the dream where you’re extremely wealthy and talented and sleep with lots of inexpensive-looking blondes, but the new one is what counts. This is the dream where people are forcibly, convulsively interested in learning all about you and everything you’re doing. “What’s your latest project?” they ask. “Well, I was thinking about eating some noodles,” you say. “Riveting!” they respond. “I can relate to that! I also related to those different noodles you ate earlier.” Who needs privacy when you can have people in other states and countries who want to know what you ate for breakfast?

The desire for attention has become a primal need along the lines of food, water, and clothing. And if Tiger doesn’t want it, he should quit being so good at golf. There are thousands of people with less interesting lives ready to pick up his slack. Next time I commit a personal sin, I’ll happily throw a press conference. Someone’s got to do it. Our public awaits!

Alexandra A. Petri ’10 is an English concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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