Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Celebrity hubris

By coincidence, while the news media are busy obsessing about Tiger Woods and his apparently endless supply of assorted girlfriends, I've been reading a biography of Oscar Wilde.  The two scandals aren't quite the same -- among other things, Wilde never enjoyed the wide spread approval by the public that Woods did before scandal broke.  Wilde was the object of numerous attacks (bad publicity?) in the press long before he ran afoul of England's anti-homosexuality laws, beginning almost as soon as he started to emerge as a public personality.  His lecture tours were greeted with equal parts of enthusiasm and derision, and even his most successful plays opened to bad reviews from the critics.  It wasn't until the 1890s when his play Lady Windermere's Fan became a huge hit with the public that Wilde enjoyed financial success as well as notoriety. 

Still, Wilde could easily serve as the exemplar for every celebrity scandal that's broken since then.  The more famous he became, the more successful his plays were and the more money he made, the more the line blurred between his private life and his public persona and the less concerned he seemed to become about the possibility of potential consequences.  Once he decided to drop the pretense that he was not homosexual, he progressed fairly rapidly from discrete affairs with young men with social backgrounds similar to his own to patronizing teenage rentboys and doing so in a rather brazen manner, e.g., renting rooms at "good" hotels rather than using the 1890s version of a hot pillow motel.  The most surprising thing about Wilde suffering legal consequences for his behavior isn't that it happened (a number of his contemporaries found themselves sitting in prison as punishment for their homosexual behavior), but that it took as long as it did. 

Of course, it definitely didn't help Wilde at all that he decided to deny the obvious -- he was indeed engaged in a multiple-year love affair with a man -- by suing his boyfriend's father for libel when the man denounced the two of them as sodomites. 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting - the idea that the more famous they become the more untouchable they seem to think they are.


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