A couple of weeks ago, my 2 year old niece had a birthday party.
It was an elaborate affair: with guests and decor; two jumping castles and one on reserve; ample food including some catered snacks; a photographer and music with a Playlist. She got soaked in a pool of bubbles, resulting in her changing her outfit 5 times. By the end of the day, she and all the people at her party were pleasantly exhausted.
As it were, I received multiple images from that event. Of family, smiling, relaxing and celebrating. The photos were pretty decent. Well lit, well shot with good variety and angles. They were ideal content.
Yet, I had an overwhelming reluctance to share this day, especially on social media. Part of me felt doing so would dilute or negate this private moment. Part of me was reluctant to set a precedence of sharing family photos. A large part of my reticence was to protect my niece (and family) from over-exposure.
As it were, I ended up making a compromise. I DID share some photos with a caption, but none of the pics had people in them. Myself included. Just a couple of snacks and purple plates of an infant’s birthday party. The joy would be inferred.
I have been sold on the merits of Transparency. Vulnerability. Openness. Particularly for content creators. Photographers, painters, sculptors, writers, poets and especially… Musicians.
I have often wondered if Kendrick Lamar felt any conflict when writing the song U. To write (in vivid detail) his struggles with depression, alcohol overdose, survivors guilt and despondency in a hotel room was true to his artistic approach of unflinching transparency. To outline one source of this tension being his sister’s teenage pregnancy…. Does it cross a line?
The artist, Kendrick Lamar, who wears his heart on his sleeve on his songs, is nearly non-existent outside the music rollout. Barely any tabloid press or paparazzi snapshots. No fleets and Instagram Live sessions for the fans. His social pages existing almost exclusively to promote his music.
Or consider the case of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. In 2020, Kanye West broke up with Kim Kardashian. The news “leaked” through the tabloid press, including speculation of the cause, the lawyers involved, the financial implications and all the gossip that follows a high profile divorce.
A few months before the divorce, Kanye West embarked on (multiple) Twitter rants that referenced his wife. He admitted to the couple undertaking abortion. He lashed out at family trying to “control him”; he outlined Kim saving him from $59 million dollars in debt. He also called his mother in law Kris Jun Un, and by implication, his wife Kim Jun Un. ( The notorious North Korean Dictator)
Kim Kardashian did not release a public statement with her name. Or at least, one I remember. She did, however, post a picture of herself, in a bikini. With it, was an inspirational quote about moving on / power and happiness.
The lines of privacy and transparency are ones we all have to navigate. Celebrities, students, parents, minorities… A balancing act in consistent flux.
I have been conscious of the currency of human faces on social media for a while now. The data is definitive proof. The algorithm gobbles up smiling faces: rewarding it with likes, shares, comments, fire emoji’s and enough engagement to entice one to post a new profile pic. Again.
I have also been aware, there is a commodification of people at play. Where the primary reason for us to vacation, go to the beach, attend a concert, buy some clothes… Do anything is to create “Content” to share on social media. So hooked are we on the need for social approval and digital gratification.
In protest, for a year and some change, I never had my image as profile picture. I put up a random abstract picture from pixabay instead. It had little potential for Branding, so bland was it in reality.
Contrast that with my burning desire for transparency in my written work. They be poems, books, tweets, captions, blogs… An itching for all my work to be creative non-fiction. Mining my lived experience for inspiration… Maybe this buried carbon may be crafted into diamonds.
This was the lens in which I understood the Naomi Osaka situation at the French Open. A few days before the second grand slam of the year, she announced that she would not partake in the mandatory press conferences. Her reason? She thought they were “outdated”, had a toll on athletes mental health and the line of questioning would “place doubt in [my] mind.”
The French Open, and all other grand slams, stressed the need for access by the media to all athletes; hit her with a US$15 000 fine and threatened her with expulsion from the tournament.
This, plus multiple dissenting voices (some in ~strong~ vile language) forced Naomi Osaka to withdraw from the tournament completely. She confessed she had long suffered from depression since the 2018 US Open, had bouts of anxiety when she faced the media and was naturally shy and reclusive.
The conversation on mental health and wellness of not just athlete’s but celebrities, public personalities and workers was a valid one to have.
Many made the case that Naomi Osaka is primarily, a tennis player. She is famous for her shot making ability, or at least, should be famous for her shot making ability. While the press and media is currently part of what professional tennis players sign up for, is it essential? Can she not opt out? Why must the requirements be so stringent?
It is a delicate balance on transparency and privacy. Naomi has had many endearing moments with the press, precisely because of her forthright manner, devoid of pretence. A gift to the press, a curse to the subject.
But, where Naomi Osaka has the plausible excuse of press not being essential to tennis, what of those who are creatives? Who, for better or worse, call an audience to read their work, absorb their thoughts, listen to their tales? What obligation do they have to disclosure?
The rest of us do not HAVE to sit in front of cameras and answer questions about our backhand or serve. But, we do get to write our stories. In conversation, in tweets, in photos, in captions, on YouTube and on blogs. In doing so, navigating the virtues of Transparency and Privacy.