Non-truths flood our communal atmosphere, not because we’re compulsive liars but because of our disrespect for various parties. Nobody’s 100% honest with their bosses or supervisors; ditto their wives or girlfriends. Familiarity breeds contempt, and with that a willingness to dispense occasional evasions and half-truths. Very few parents are 100% honest with their tweener and teenaged kids. Almost no drivers are honest with traffic cops. If I truly respect and fully trust you, I’ll be as honest as the day is long. But we live in a universe full of short days.
This goes double or triple from a celebrity’s perspective. Pretty much every famous person lies through his or her teeth when it comes to public statements. Not blatantly but in a mild, sideways fashion. But that’s okay because they’re well motivated. They’re lying because they despise the gossip-driven media and feel that dealing with a corrupt and disreputable entity means all bets are off.
I think I understand the ethical system they’re embracing because it was explained in a couple of respected ’60s westerns.
Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is one of them. I’m thinking of a scene in which William Holden’s Pike Bishop expresses moral support for Robert Ryan’s Deke Thornton because he gave his “word” to a bunch of “damned railroad men,” and Ernest Borgnine’s Dutch Engstrom defiantly argues, “That ain’t what counts! It’s who you give it to.”
Burt Lancaster says the same thing in The Professionals when he discusses flexible ethics with Lee Marvin. When Marvin reminds Lancaster that he’s given his ‘word’ to Ralph Bellamy’s J.W. Grant, a millionaire railroad tycoon, Lancaster replies, “My word to Grant ain’t worth a plug nickel.”
Tom Cruise was J.W. Grant-ing, in effect, when he told Oprah Winfrey he was in love with Katie Holmes and wanted to marry her and so on. He was saying, “This is what you’re going to get from me and if you don’t think I’m being honest then that’s too fucking bad because my life is my own and you guys don’t rate the real truth because you’re scumbags who pass along tabloid fairy tales.”
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie initially lied and lied and lied and lied (and told their publicists to lie and lie and lie and lie) about their relationship, and they felt just totally fine about it because their word to the tabloid press was commensurate with the degree of respect they have for it.
I like to tell myself that Bill Clinton lied about his history with Monica Lewinsky because he felt that the news media (and the Republicans pushing things along in the late `90s) had no honor or legitimacy in trying to explore his sex life. Looking right at the TV cameras and saying nothing happened was completely honorable because the news media deserved to be lied to.”
Which I fully sided with then and now.