photo credit Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
“I’m your biggest fan
I’ll follow you until you love me
Baby there’s no other superstar
You know that I’ll be your
~ Lady Gaga
While most folks wouldn’t mind swapping places with rich and famous celebrities, one area of the glamorous life we probably wouldn’t trade for is our privacy. The paparazzi relentlessly hounds stars to get exclusive photos that can be sold for exorbitant prices to media outlets, often catching them in unflattering poses or in the company of friends, family, or dates that they would rather not have exposed to public scrutiny.
There is arguably no family more touched by unwanted paparazzi attention than the British royal family. Princess Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed were killed in a reckless car chase by speeding paparazzi in France who were trying to snap photos of the couple.
Princess Diana’s sons seem to have taken a stronger stand against paparazzi interfering with their everyday comings and goings, particularly her eldest son Prince William and his wife Kate. As the parents of two young children, William and Kate do their best to shield their kids from the public eye and give them as normal a childhood as possible. In fact, they have been known to take legal action against aggressive paparazzi who attempt to stalk their children.
There is no shortage of stories about celebrities attacking interfering photographers. If it weren’t for the resulting legal charges and bad press, it’s a wonder that more of them don’t lash out violently against the persistent buzz of parasites stubbornly following their every move in order to make a buck.
It must be maddening to have a random trip to the grocery store documented with a title like, “Ben & Jerry’s are Only Friends Left for Meanest Celebrity Girl in Hollywood.” How awkward would it be to have your photo snapped on a first date with someone you barely know, only to wake up to the news, “Hollywood’s Most Eligible Bachelor Spotted with New Fiancé!”?
It occurred to me that life in an Orthodox Jewish community isn’t much different than the life of a celebrity in regard to paparazzi. The only difference is that each of us plays the part of both celebrity and paparazzo in turns. Life in the Orthodox world can be like life in a fish bowl. Just as the general public has an endless appetite for seeing their favorite stars engaging in the same mundane activities as they do, so too, the Orthodox world has an endless appetite for gossip about their fellow compatriots. The only difference is that the gossip entertained in the Orthodox world isn’t done for financial gain, but merely for entertainment purposes.
For instance, most initial dates happen as far away from the Orthodox community as can be gotten without crossing state lines. Unless you are firmly in a relationship, it isn’t wise to saunter into a kosher restaurant where other locals will see you – otherwise word will have gotten around by the next day that you are about to get engaged.
That’s why it’s common to see so many shidduch dates happening in downtown hotel lobbies (I always loved imagining telling my mom, back in the day, that I was meeting my date at a hotel). Meeting away from the central hubs of Orthodoxy is a way to prevent ambitious rumors from happening when you might never see the other person again after that night. Of course, this means that couples will inevitably bump into other dating couples who have the same idea, but being that you are all in the same boat, there’s less chance of someone blabbing that they saw you out with so-and-so.
Another area of news that takes off like wild fire is divorce. Unfortunately, there seems to be a fairly regular stream of gossip in this particular area, as divorce seems to be becoming more common. Everyone wants to know why. Of course, there is no simple answer to the question of how a marriage falls apart. Yet, everyone seems to want a simple answer – maybe to avoid the same pitfall or maybe to satisfy themselves that their own problems aren’t divorce worthy.
Whatever the reason for wanting information, people are eager to know whose fault it was, who left who, what will happen with the children, where each ex-spouse will live, etc.. With the exception of celebrity break-ups, there is a much wider audience interested in the dissolution of an Orthodox marriage than there would be in the dissolution of a marriage outside the Orthodox community. In larger society when a couple divorces, usually only immediate family and friends are privy to the details or even care to know about them.
Other areas of life that are common fodder for public discussion are illness (e.g. sharing shocking news, discussing the trials of illness on the rest of ill person’s family, mental health issues), pregnancy (e.g. is she or isn’t she, and if she isn’t, why isn’t she), money (e.g. if they have it, if they don’t, if they are about to have it, if they are about to lose it), home buying and building (e.g. buying a home, building an extension, knocking down and rebuilding a home, losing a home to foreclosure), a rebellious child (e.g. getting kicked out of school, addiction issues, off the derech behavior/publicly violating mitzvot). Basically, anything tantalizing that can cause tongue clicking or head wagging is fair game.
Any personal trial someone faces is very hard to keep confidential in the Orthodox community, even though many times a situation is made worse when being dealt with in front of an audience. Of course, sometimes there are reasons to reach out for help in the community, and in those instances, the help is very beneficial. When there is a constructive purpose for people to know of someone’s struggles so that money can be raised, prayers can be said, meals can be made, or babysitting and housekeeping services can be offered, that can be a good thing. However, along with the good always comes a dash of bad, in this case, in the form of our own paparazzi, who delight in discussing other people’s business. When various outlets of secular entertainment aren’t permitted, people will make their own, kosher style.