All Worked Up about Public Indiscretions


Did you watch the Late Show With David Letterman the other night? His “Top 10” list was, “The Top Ten reasons I’m sleeping on the couch.”


I don’t think I’d be a very good celebrity. Not that I’m fielding any offers to become one, but the recent Letterman brouhaha is just one more reason that it’s probably just as well that I toil in blissful anonymity.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, last month late-night talk show host David Letterman publicly admitted to 1) having had sex with female members of his staff, 2) having been threatened with public exposure of those sexual affairs if he didn’t accede to a blackmail attempt, 3) having helped the police arrest the alleged blackmailer during a “sting” operation, 4) issuing a public apology to his wife, Regina, and 5) being in big, big trouble with the aforementioned wife Regina.

Personally, my response to the whole matter has been, “Too much information! Dave, I’m sure your fellow talk-show hosts appreciate your giving them joke fodder for at least a good month or so, but all that’s frankly none of my business, nor is it the business of anyone other than yourself and your wife and son. I’d rather you refrain from your recounting your own personal ‘Stupid Human Tricks’ and just introduce your first guest, the lovely and talented Charlize Theron.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, at least for celebrities. Public figures live in the public eye, and that means that what appear at first glance to be private affairs quickly become public indiscretions, which correspondingly lead to public humiliations, public ridicule, and public “holier-than-thou” analysis and public sitting in judgment by other celebrities. The key word in all this is, “public.”

The whole thing has become so ubiquitous that it’s entered the media mainstream. CBS is producing a TV series called, “The Good Wife,” featuring Julianna Margulies as a politician’s wife trying to rebuild her life and career after her husband gets busted for yet another sex scandal. The promos for the show’s first episode feature Ms. Margulies in the by-now-routine position of standing next to her husband during his “mea culpa” press conference, showing her support but with a clear “deer-in-the-headlights” look on her face. While I don’t doubt Ms. Margulies’ skills as an actress, her performance was clearly inspired not so much by those of colleagues such as Meryl Streep or Kathryn Hepburn but more by the experiences of real-life “Good Wives” such as Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Edwards, Jenny Sanford, and Hilda Spitzer. In fact, one could say that the opening scenes of Ms. Margulies’ TV series break no emotional or dramatic new ground. Humiliation has become a Hollywood clich√©.

As I’ve said before, many times in this column, when these sorts of sexual indiscretions pop up, I prefer to fall back on my credo, my mantra, my mission statement, if you will: Mind Your Own Business. As long as you respect my privacy, Mr. Letterman, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Sanford, et. al., I will be more than happy to leave you to your own devices in return.

Now it’s true that, in this column, I’ve skewered many a public figure for getting caught doing inappropriate things with his or her genitals, but it’s never been for the indiscretions themselves. Rather, it’s been for the hypocrisy of the public figures getting busted for the indiscretions after having gotten on their high moral horses and condemned others for similar indiscretions. When Gov. Sanford demands that we all let bygones be bygones regarding his affair, but then-Congressman Sanford wanted President Clinton’s head on a pike for “undermining trust in our system” during the Lewinski scandal, that makes him a fair target.

However, the bottom line for me is that I just don’t care whether Gov. Sanford loves his wife or his Argentinian mistress. Whatever he does in the privacy of his own home is his own damn business and none of mine. As long as he doesn’t cast stones at black kettles in glass houses, (or something like that), I’d rather everyone just leave everyone else’s sex lives alone.

By the same token, Mr. Letterman’s problems with his wife and his female staffers would be best left to be resolved by Mr. Letterman and his wife.

That’s why I don’t think I’d be a very good celebrity. If I were a celebrity and I’d gotten busted for sexual indiscretions, (not that I’ve made any, mind you…I’m speaking hypothetically), the last thing in the world I’d do is publicly grovel and beg for forgiveness. I’d be the celebrity on “Entertainment Tonight” or the “E Network” or “TMZ” yelling, “Get that fucking camera out of my face,” and otherwise standing firm that any (hypothetical) problems between my Lovely Wife and myself are our (hypothetical) problems, and are the concern of nobody else.

Come to think of it, maybe I wouldn’t be such a bad celebrity after all. That approach seems to have worked for Sean Penn. Hmmm. But I digress.

Of course, celebrity scandals have been around as long as there’ve been celebrities. Ever since 1915, when the first celebrity was hatched in a secret Burbank basement laboratory, the American press and public have clamored for stories of their indiscretions. In fact, here’s a link to an interesting “10 Most Notorious Sex Scandals In Hollywood History” story published on

Of course, sex scandals have consequences. Even though Fatty Arbuckle was found not guilty at his trial for the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe, his career was destroyed. On the other hand, the reputations of Errol Flynn and Charlie Sheen were enhanced by their respective scandals.

However, what makes the modern crop of sex scandals different from those of the last century is the advent of reality TV. These days, anyone who can get on TV can be considered a celebrity, even if it’s for pulling off a cockamamie, ridiculously stupid stunt. One can’t deny that even though the Heenes’ “Balloon Boy” gimmick didn’t work as planned, everybody’s still talking about them.

And that’s the problem. We’ve reached the point where people are celebrities for the sake of being celebrities, and in a world where docu-dramenta-celeb-reality programming is ubiquitous, even “ordinary people” celebrities find themselves in a position where their sex lives can be used, either willingly or unwillingly, to exploit their “celebrity” status.

More likely, willingly. Does anybody really think Paris Hilton’s sex tape achieved public distribution without her full knowledge and consent? Does anybody think she hasn’t gratefully embraced the publicity, swimming in the attention like the media whore she is?

Or consider Levi Johnston. You remember him. He’s the former soon-to-be-son-in-law of ex-Alaska Governor and G.O.P. Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who’d pledged to marry Bristol Palin, the mother of his child, right up until shortly after the election. Since then, he’s been appearing on “Oprah” and other TV talk shows, bad-mouthing his almost-in-laws, and a full-frontal-nude photo spread with Playgirl Magazine is in the works.

Think about that. This young man is on the fast track to D-list celebrity status, and his main claim to fame is the fact that he was too stupid to use birth control while he was banging the Governor’s daughter. Sheesh!

Ultimately, I fear that if the current trend continues, it will reach the stage where celebrities, (reality and otherwise) will find themselves having to stoke the fires of sex-related controversy just to stay in the headlines. That is, if they haven’t done so already. Like I said, Paris Hilton doesn’t seem too grief-stricken over the release of her sex tape. If nothing else, it confirms the fact that she’s as bad an actress with her clothes off as she is with her clothes on.

I just think the ultimate solution is to make a concerted, multi-media effort to announce to the celebrity-making industry out there that we just don’t want to hear about their indiscretions anymore.

In fact, that’s a great idea for a gossip magazine. The title will be, “I Don’t Care,” and it will be strategically placed next to “People” and “Us” and “The National Enquirer” in supermarkets. Headlines will announce, “LINDSEY GOT BUSTED KISSING BRITNY’S EX-HAIRDRESSER’S BOYFRIEND WHILE JESSICA AND JENNIFER FOUGHT IN THE LADIES’ ROOM OVER ANGELINA’S LEFTOVER MASCARA…AND I DON’T CARE!”

Don’t think it’ll catch on? Try it. The next time you’re in the supermarket checkout aisle, read one of the gossip magazine headlines and then add, “I don’t care.” You’ll feel so much better. Trust me.

“Kanye Made Beyonce Wait 20 Min. At The VMAs!”

I don’t care.

“Michael’s Dog Groomer Mysteriously Silent About His Death!”

I don’t care.

“Jon & Kate Plus Eight…Expecting Two More?”

I REALLY don’t care!

See how easy that is?

J.T. Benjamin
November 2009

“All Worked Up” ¬© 2009 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

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