If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Thursday 3 January 2013
Read gnomica 1-200 here!
A man should control his life. Mine is controlling me.
Rudolph Valentino (6 May 1895 – 23 Aug 1926)
The first time I came across this quote it struck me as a bit strange, but I’ve come back to it from time to time over the years. Its author was, as probably most people know, Hollywood’s protagonist of the day in young women’s free-floating fantasies, no doubt erotic as well as domestic – much like similar iconic heart-throbs of later eras (e.g., Gary Cooper, James Dean, Robert Redford, Sean Connery, Richard Gere, George Clooney, Daniel Craig, …).
But why “a bit strange”?
Certainly the first part is straight-forward enough, and as applicable to a woman as to a man. And the second part, if not exactly straight-forward, surely enjoys a similar applicability. But what does it mean when a man — or a woman, any person — says that he is controlled by, but no longer controlling, his life? Although I remain confident I can only speculate about the specific circumstances Valentino had in mind, I have an almost instinctual sense what he was talking about in general.
For someone like him – that is a hugely famous and publicly adored celebrity — I would think the almost irresistible tendency to begin to believe in the myth that the world is erecting about you would be a pretty good start on losing control of yourself: Out there, ‘they’ truly believe you are special, and soon you yourself come to believe that, yes, there is something special about me, and, yes, that specialness does entitle me to indulge in behaviors to which somebody in reasoned control of his own life would never – could never – succumb. You have in a sense been appropriated by the public, and, self-indulgently, you’ve given yourself over to a seductive acquiescence in this surrender.
I imagine this is what happens also to some of today’s cinematic celebs (read the lurid headlines of any in-your-face scandal sheet in a check-out line) who end up in legal difficulties because, like Valentino, they too are no longer really in control of their lives and act out on the basis of a misplaced confidence in their exceptionalness that has been concocted by fans, publicists, and not a little personal narcissism.
I imagine likewise that some of the same mechanism have gone operational in the lives of certain politicians and certainly of one or two figures from the relentlessly reported world of sports both on and off the field.
Now what about you and me, neither one of us either famous or lionized?
I’ll stick to myself.
For those times – thankfully rare – when my life has been controlling me, I can regrettably not fall back on assigning blame either to hordes of paparazzi making me famous nor on armies of hired publicists letting the public know constantly how rarely I do interview because I so deeply value my privacy. And since I am certainly not a servant humbly toiling away in Washington on behalf of ‘my’ people, the last thing I would wish to do is try to capitalize in any way – contributions of unencumbered money, access to willing women, preferential treatment of any kind – on my elected position.
No, it has always been strictly a function of personal decisions – an acknowledgment I would wish to be able to eschew but in all honesty cannot. My solution has been and in fact is – to the extent possible for a member of a species as deeply flawed as ours – to preempt coming under my life’s control by keeping it kindly but firmly on a short leash, as it were.