In Search of Anonymity

What was popular British actor Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral) trying to prove in picking up  a prostitute in Los Angeles recently? Was he trying to re-enact a scene from Pretty Woman?

Grant was  arrested  by the police “for lewd conduct” while having oral sex with Divine Brown inside his parked car.

This handsome young actor has Estee Lauder model Elizabeth Hurley for a girlfriend.  On top of that,  he could very likely have any of the young aspiring Hollywood actresses for a date if he wanted to.  But no.  That fateful evening, he decides to cruise alone in his white convertible BMW down Sunset Boulevard and choose from an array of streetwalkers a black girl named Divine Brown.

He pays her sixty dollars for a quick job right inside his car.   Ms. Brown claims she did not recognize him.   She had  proposed, she said,  that for just forty dollars more, they could go to a motel.  But he didn’t have the forty dollars.   Now he’s fighting for his self-esteem and the future of a lucrative career.

Hugh Grant was in America to promote a new film, Nine Months.  It would probably take longer than that now to live down this scandal.  The success of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” had made him an overnight sensation in England and a much sought-after leading man in Hollywood.  What made him go out into the night like that?

In the same interview (for which I understand a British tabloid paid her $150,000) Ms. Brown claims Hugh Grant told her that sleeping with a black woman had always been his  fantasy.  That may be understandable, but it hardly explains why he would go shopping for a black woman in the same reckless way he did.

I think that perhaps Plato was only partly correct when he wrote that the human soul has 3 parts: desire, reason, and thymos  or the quest for recognition.  We should probably add a fourth one: the quest for anonymity.

It was this that got Hugh Grant into trouble.  The prospect of going out incognito, liberated from the burden  of a public identity, gave him a thrill different from the adulation conferred upon him by an adoring public.

It is a dilemma faced by  celebrities.  The public chooses them to represent all the values and virtues that distinguish them from  ordinary individuals.  It then demands that they live according to the discipline of these values.  It is the price of recognition.   And many, like Hugh Grant, are simply its reluctant recipients.

Most public personalities would, if they had a choice,  keep the money and the power, but not  the fame.  For while it is true that wealth can buy a lot of privacy, fame decisively limits one’s mobility, freedom and autonomy.

I think of local celebrities like Nora Aunor or Vilma Santos, and of international ones like Michael Jackson and Madonna.  I wonder if they would not be willing to trade in a huge portion of their celebrity status for the chance to lead a quiet ordinary life.  In their present circumstances, their circle of friends must be  severely constricted.  Their everyday activities must be unbearably  routinary and confined to well-guarded and relatively isolated places.

Fame is Senator Freddie Webb’s bane too at the moment.  Because he is a well-known senator, he cannot have the luxury of freely defending an accused son in public.  He must restrain himself and bear in mind that as a public figure he must be more virtuous.  In his case, a deviant offspring would be seen as a greater indicator of  a father’s failure, than it would be if he were just an ordinary citizen.

Fame is also what Patrolman Eduardo de los Reyes stumbled upon when he decided to expose the rub-out angle in the Kuratong Baleleng case.  The attempts to discredit him and to discover the flaw in his otherwise ordinary life will continue while the case against the generals is being prosecuted.

And it is doubtful whether he and his family would ever feel safe again.  The price of a serene life for him would be a return to anonymity.

The same is true for Jessica Alfaro.  Everything hinges on the credibility of her testimony.  To a large extent that testimony rests on her own personal credibility.  Defense lawyers would be looking for all the blemishes and lies in her personal life.  Outside of her safe house and the shield provided by the government’s Witness Protection Program, she would be a sitting duck.  Only a return to anonymity would permit her to live a normal life again.  In her case though, as in Patrolman de los Reyes’, fame has not been accompanied by wealth and power.  It has no practical value for them,  unless they run for public office or sell to Carlo Caparas the film rights to their lives.

The public exacts a high price for the recognition it confers on the  few chosen ones.  That is why it is such an irony that in the US today ordinary people are scrambling to be invited to TV talk shows for a chance to experience the fleeting glory of public exposure.  I suppose when one has led mostly a life of unremitting anonymity, one wouldn’t mind trading one’s right to privacy for a brief moment of fame.


No, this column is not about showbiz.  It is about the art, the thrill, the anxieties, the complications and the perils of living in the public eye.  Many years ago, the sociologist David Riesman wrote about the Lonely Crowd, the lifestyle of anonymity in an increasingly impersonal world.  Civil inattention was supposed to be the norm in the modern world.  That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.  Today, readers and viewers appear to get their kicks from the public baring of private souls.  Among other things, I want to be able to document aspects of that phenomenon in this column.


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