There’s an expression “familiarity breeds contempt”. It’s one of those we hear all the time, and while we might not know its origins, most people know its gist: if you know someone well enough you begin to see their flaws, and before too long you can actually lose respect for that person and sometimes grow to dislike them altogether. We live in an era of familiarity, and nowhere is it more pronounced (and manipulated) than in Hollywood. I just watched Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, the latest in what has been yet another terrific season for the show that chronicles New York advertising in the 1950s and now the 1960s. Whenever I watch the show with my siblings’ kids, they’re always asking why some character doesn’t just come out and say something about x or y, and they demand to know why everything is so covert and mysterious. Why was the discussion of this forbidden? they ask. And why would that get you thrown out of the house? How come that guy speaks in code when he’s talking about those activities? And why doesn’t that lady come clean about what she knows? I try to explain that some things were forbidden and not talked about. I attempt to decipher archaic notions of ‘polite society’ and other bygone conventions. I tell them that even growing up in the 1970’s we had any number of things that weren’t necessarily considered appropriate for conversation, either. “But everything’s better now. It’s all in the open,” one of them remarked to me just last week. I had to agree. It’s all out there. On the internet and Twitter and You Tube and everywhere else. And let me say that I hope no one disputes the myriad benefits of modernization. Who could criticize the progress we’ve made as Americans politically, personally, and with regard to the rights and freedoms guaranteed each and every human being? No one, I hope. Still, not ten minutes after I watched Mad Men the news came on, trumpeting the many details of Lindsay Lohan’s addiction, rehabilitation and incarceration. And obviously stuff like this wouldn’t be newsworthy if we didn’t want to know exactly what kind of hell that kid may or may not be going through. Why do we want to know? And why did I see three back-to-back commercials for reality programs promising to deliver the goods on shattered families, the personal plight of the overweight, and one angry thug’s journey to repossess an ex-spouse’s automobile? Followed by a 90-minute expose on some singer’s harrowing misfires with botched plastic surgery? Don’t get me wrong – I’m on the internet poking around and reading tidbits and gossip as much as anyone else, but I do wonder if somehow this era of “expose everything” doesn’t somehow undermine our ability to appreciate traditional entertainment. And obviously fame is a double-edged sword, with publicists working round-the-clock to get their clients “noticed” (by both us and the powers that be) until such time as their hot young star does something stupid or sleeps with someone stupid and/or married. And here’s where the familiarity stuff turns into the contempt stuff, manifested instantly and boldly in our own personal Greek Chorus: the “comments” section that appears beneath apparently everything noteworthy announced on the internet. Now obviously there’s no turning back (and honestly, who would want to?) But watching Mad Men did make me wonder what would happen if, when someone like Lindsay Lohan did hit a rough patch, we opted to do something crazy and not discuss or pursue it. Now walking away from that kind of curiosity isn’t easy, and of course it also means we’re minus one juicy activity. But when you get right down to it, recovery from any sort of ailment is never easy. And it’s a million times worse when everyone’s staring at you. So maybe it’s we who should be a little selfish here. Because a few more people minding our own beeswax when someone’s struggling publicly might not help them heal – but chances are we’ll feel better almost instantly.
1) The Sound of Music
2) The Wizard of Oz
4) West Side Story
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