Saturday, September 10, 2011

The joys of being nobody

I remember reading Bob Dylan's autobiography a few years ago. At one point, he described what it was like to move to an isolated place in Woodstock and have hippies still turning up on his doorstep, hoping that he'd lead them somewhere or be their voice or leader or whatnot (man, if that's not a reason to be a folk singer, I don't know what is).

But the line that really stuck with me was his observation that privacy is something that you can sell, but you can't buy back.

And it was immediately obvious that
a) he was exactly right, and
b) supposing I was in the position where such a sale was possible, I, like most people, would probably not have properly understood the tradeoff until it was too late.

And for that, I was quite grateful.

You only get one chance to be nobody. Once you become famous, you may get loads of women and adoring fans and free entry to nightclubs and no more speeding tickets.

But you might find that you can't just walk down the street without people hassling you. You might find that you can't go on a date without reading about it in a magazine.

And all this can continue long, long after the dividends of fame have stopped. Think about someone like Gary Coleman. 8 years as the child star of a sitcom, then 24 years as the butt of jokes and the occasional subject of 'Where Are They Now?' specials that can barely conceal their delight at your downfall, a cathartic morality tale that signifies nothing more than the fact that people enjoy seeing their nominal betters being humbled and humiliated.

Rudyard Kipling understood this, and sought to protect his privacy after his death in one of my favourite short poems, 'The Appeal'

It I have given you delight
By aught that I have done,
Let me lie quiet in that night
Which shall be yours anon:

And for the little, little, span
The dead are born in mind,
Seek not to question other than
The books I leave behind.

Personally, I think Kipling's appeal was largely unnecessary - once you're dead, people already tend to stop caring (although lines 5 and 6 indicate that he knew this - agree or disagree with some of his views, there is a lot of wisdom in Kipling). But as long as you're alive, celebrity culture demands that your appeals will be worthless. The public demand to know, and their voyeurism will be satisfied one way or another.

I am glad I am nobody.

No comments:

Post a Comment