Janet Malcolm, Truth Telling, Privacy

Janet Malcolm’s clarity and honesty are exceptional in journalism, or any field for that matter. Malcolm writes unafraid, telling the truth about what she sees. For a journalist, this would not seem that unusual. But it is. About the now worldwide gossip-celebrity pop culture, she writes:

The organs of publicity that have proliferated in our time are only an extension and a magnification of society’s fundamental and incorrigible nosiness. Our business is everybody’s business, should anybody wish to make it so. The concept of privacy is a sort of screen to hide the fact that almost none is possible in a social universe. In any struggle between the public’s inviolable right to be diverted and an individual’s wish to be left alone, the public almost always prevails. After we are dead, the pretense that we may somehow be protected against the world’s careless malice is abandoned. The branch of the law that putatively protects our good name against libel and slander withdraws from us indifferently. The dead cannot be libeled or slandered. They are without legal recourse.”

The truly strange evolution of this observation is the development of a class of people who feed off self-revelation as a career, or see public self-disclosure (absorption) as a useful avenue for career advancement. And the media, at the ready, laps it up. Famous for being famous.

The other oddity is that the government itself is, without circumspection, joining in with alacrity, insinuating itself into public discourse as a looming unseen presence, adding itself to the crowd of commercial interests that see the public as a predator sees its prey. Collecting information they call it.

About journalism Malcolm writes:

“Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.”

There is truly a courageous spirit inhabiting Janet Malcolm.