Saturday, January 21, 2012

Elizabeth Smart claims to treasure her privacy... so why is she in People magazine?

Yesterday, I found out that world famous kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart is engaged.  Elizabeth's news was reported on several major news outlets, including CNN and People magazine.  In the articles I read, Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart, was quoted as saying that Elizabeth was, in fact, engaged, but did not want the press to know the future groom's name, nor did she want anyone to know when or where the big event will take place.  Of course, reporters did some basic research and found out that Elizabeth and her groom, Matthew Gilmour, plan to wed July 1st and are registered at Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma.  Since Elizabeth Smart is a devout Mormon, they will probably get married at the temple in Salt Lake City.  Or maybe they will marry somewhere else.

I made the mistake of sharing the news about Elizabeth's engagement on my Facebook page with the comment "One more thing for Ed to gush about."  Indeed, Ed was quoted in a caption from the People article as saying "We're just thrilled."  Ever since Elizabeth was abducted on June 5, 2002, Ed Smart has been in the public eye.  From my observations, he often gushes and emotes, so I don't think my comment was that out of line.

But an old friend left me a comment basically shaming me for posting the article and the comment.  She asked me to "leave the poor girl alone" and that "no one wants to be famous for what she went through".  I never wrote a word about what happened to Elizabeth Smart.  In fact, my comment was about her father.  And yet, this friend seemed to assume that I was about to make cynical and snarky remarks about poor Elizabeth.

Make no mistake about it.  I would never wish what happened to Elizabeth Smart on anyone.  She has endured a terrible ordeal, from the abduction, to the daily rapes, to the court case and having to face Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee.  I admire her for her courage and the fact that she has turned what happened to her into something positive and I do hope she has a happy marriage.

However, I do find Elizabeth Smart's claims about not seeking publicity disingenuous.  She is where she is because she has stayed in the public eye.  Other people who have gone through horrific public ordeals have managed to stay out of the press once their ordeals were over.  Jaycee Dugard and Jessica Lynch immediately come to mind.  Jaycee Dugard wrote a book and was in the news a lot when she was found.  After that initial ripple of notoriety, she faded out of the limelight.  Jessica Lynch used to be the stuff of daily front page news.  But she, too, eventually went back to living a normal life out of the public eye.

Elizabeth Smart, by contrast, has been in magazines, listed on People magazine's "most beautiful" list, made appearances on television shows, and has been widely featured on the Internet.  Now, she might still be in the news because of her father's shameless attempts at staying relevant.  After all, Ed was quoted as saying that Elizabeth wanted to maintain her privacy, yet there he was, talking to the press about Elizabeth's alleged desires for privacy.  But having been famous for almost ten years now, Elizabeth has to know that whenever the average person recognizes her, it's mainly because of what happened to her.  Knowing that, and hearing her pleas for privacy, I have to wonder why she would choose to start a foundation and be so publicly involved in child advocacy.  If Elizabeth had never been kidnapped, would she have even considered choosing a career in child advocacy?  My guess is that she probably wouldn't have.  

The truth is, Elizabeth Smart could fade out of public view if she really wanted to.  She could stop talking to the press.  She could choose a career that would not force her to make speeches, raise money, and talk to government officials.  Instead, she has chosen to use what happened to her as a means of effecting positive change.  That's a good thing.  But it also means she will never have total privacy and people will never "forget" what happened to her.  She is in her current position because of what happened to her.  Telling the press that she doesn't want them to know when, where, or to whom she will get married is only going to force them to dig for the information and create buzz.  Being in the public eye means that her privacy will be violated.  It's the nature of the beast.  If she doesn't like it, she can choose to stop cashing in on the bad thing that happened to her. 

But at least Elizabeth Smart doesn't have a reality show... yet.

I don't know that I would necessarily lump Elizabeth Smart's disingenuous pleas for privacy in with the Duggars' similar pleas.  The Duggars' recent miscarriage also caused an old friend (different one) to take me to task for daring to mention it on Facebook.  That time, my one comment was a simple "Hmmm".   I didn't make any rude remarks at all.  Just "Hmmm."  Other people made unkind remarks, which my friend was upset about.  My response to her was that the Duggars have chosen to be in the public eye.  While it might not be the classiest thing to make fun of a woman who has had a miscarriage, people have the right to be tacky if they want to.

When Michelle Duggar miscarried, it was immediately news.  Within hours of losing little Jubilee Shalom, the suddenly revised status of Michelle's womb was common knowledge around the world.  Jim Bob Duggar asked the public for privacy during their difficult time.  And yet, days after he asked for privacy, the Duggars held a funeral for the fetus.  And details about the funeral and pictures of the tiny girl's hands and feet were leaked to the Internet.  Supposedly, someone who was at the service was the culprit behind the leaked photos.  However, the Duggars, having been in the public eye for years now, had to know that putting pictures of Jubliee on the bulletins passed out at the funeral was going to lead to them being leaked to the press.

Like Elizabeth Smart, Michelle Duggar has endured something painful and tragic.  I would never wish a miscarriage on anyone.  But again, I have to question why a mother who pleads for privacy and respect goes running to the press hours after she miscarries.  It seems very hypocritical.

My friends who have shamed me for posting about these women who have been in the news for tragic reasons are also hypocritical.  I've known both of these women for years and have seen firsthand that neither of them are above a little snarking and cynicism themselves.  I'm reminded of the Bible passages about hypocrisy, since both of these women claim to be such Christians.  Matthew 7:3 says, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the log in your own?"  Luke 6:42 says "How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye.  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

Of course, I don't really claim to be particularly religious.  But I also don't tell people what they can or can't say or think.  I think it's disrespectful.  People have the right to their thoughts, comments, and feelings, even if I disagree or think they're being tacky or mean-spirited. I can tell my friends I disagree with them.  I don't have to approve of my friends' thoughts or comments.  If it bothers me enough, I can always disassociate with them.  But I don't think I have the right to tell them not to "go there".  They have the right to "go" wherever they please.  And so do I.

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