I BEG YOUR PARDON The Times and the Manners
Marilyn Monroe appearing with the USO Camp Show, 1954, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

The Times and the Manners

BY Anda Rottenberg

You can’t be unavailable to an activist because he bends over backwards to hire a public figure and a public figure should have some duties too, shouldn’t they?

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I’ve recently been spending the little free time I have watching the traps set for public figures. I don’t mean politicians here and the Central Anticorruption Bureau but intellectuals. And I’m not referring to overt scandals but to subtler procedures, usually non-public, or rather unknown to the man in the street. Among them is the practice of extorting meetings and interviews from you. The former are the domain of activists, the latter, of media people. The meetings are usually planned in a distant city, on a specific day and at a specific time. Lack of time, other plans, illness or the lamentable condition of the Polish roads – let alone simple unwillingness – are no excuse at all. You have to go lest you disappoint the expectations pinned on you as a public figure.

An actor friend of mine, as a result of persistent persuasions, rescheduled his planned meetings, decided to shorten his brief holidays and promised to satisfy fans from a distant city. In response, he received a program from which he found out that he’d be the highlight of a weekend of a weekend of events marking the tenth anniversary of the institution that was inviting him. The program featured an outdoor video projection on a building wall, a performance by a well-known DJ, some live music, some casual speeches, a reception, and finally him, at the end of the evening, as a surprise. We’ve moved your actual meeting with fans to the next day. It’ll be just you and the audience,” the organiser told him. My friend changed his plans once more. Almost on the day before his planned departure, he was told that the meeting with fans would probably not take place because the organisers forgot to send out invitations, but the anniversary evening still stood. My friend decided not to go. He sent apologies, wishing everyone good fun. On the critical evening his phone rang. Where are you? We’re all waiting for you here!” he heard a nervous voice. He explained he had cancelled three days earlier and was certain his message had been received because no one had contacted him since then. I’ve had no time to read emails, you can’t imagine how hectic things have been here. Besides, there’s been information in the press so how do I look now? You can’t do this to me! You were our surprise and our main attraction!”

The argument that you don’t do it to someone works only one way. You can’t be unavailable to an activist because he bends over backwards to hire a public figure and place them in front of his audience. He owes it to his city, doesn’t he? And a public figure should have some duties too, shouldn’t they? They’ve been singled out and elevated above others by the audience, so it should be obvious that they should now be available rather than putting on airs and being fussy.

A similar attitude is characteristic for journalists, though their goals are different. The purpose is, of course, to stir up sensation, or at least a controversy. But in foreplay they use the same tricks as the activists: they harass you. And they are all identically formatted: they use a catalogue of experts on the various subjects. I’ve been labelled as an expert on “artistic scandals” because I’m a scandaliser myself and my comment will look well next to the comments of people of impeccable Christian morals, who profess a traditional hierarchy of values (I won’t mention any names). The reporters are highly disappointed when I tell them that I don’t like the von Hagens corpse processing plant. They themselves see no difference between von Hagens and Dorota Nieznalska. Similarly, they see no difference between an art exhibition and an exhibition of anatomical preparations. They’re puzzled when I ask them why they’re calling about this and not about an exhibition of fancy chickens that also took place at the Blue City shopping mall in Warsaw. They’re even more puzzled to learn that, in this case, chickens have more to do with art than the preparations because they are raised by a visual artist.

Confusing a journalist is one thing, however, and taking a shortcut, that is, offering a flat refusal, is quite another. This is because there’s a sense that only the media person can choose their interlocutor. The interviewee has no such right. So when the harassment doesn’t work, a pain reaction follows. Besides working for Powerful Blow, I’m also a human being,” complains a victim of my arrogance by laboriously typing in a text message. And he accuses me of being impolite. If I had been polite and seen him as a human being, he’d have been able to record our conversation and publish it without authorisation in his tabloid. I feel remorse for having trampled on somebody’s dignity. I realise only after a while that calling me, he didn’t represent himself but the paper. And he wasn’t calling to have a friendly chat but to obtain material for which he would be paid.

And even if he were calling privately, don’t I have the right to refuse to talk to him?

translated by Marcin Wawrzyńczak

Tekst dostępny na licencji Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL.

Tekst dostępny na licencji Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL.