When my husband and I were on our honeymoon in 1991, the hotel where we stayed kept showing the same movies on cable over and over. One of those movies was Young Guns II (1990), starring Emilio Estevez as New Mexico outlaw Billy the Kid. Several times in the movie, when Billy pulled a gun on someone, as a way of warning them to do as he said, and not to try any funny business, he’d say, “I’ll make you famous.” Because, of course, getting shot by Billy the Kid was one way, albeit an unattractive one, of obtaining what people didn’t yet call one’s fifteen minutes of fame.
When I was a little girl, I thought I wanted to be famous when I grew up. Most little kids do, I suppose. By the time I was in my twenties, I didn’t think much about fame one way or the other, and by my thirties, I was pretty sure I was better off being a private person. Then, in my forties, I started a blog. I didn’t do it to become famous. I mainly did it because all the insanity in the news was burning a hole in my brain and I had to let it out someplace. I decided to use my name, but not my picture, on the blog. A compromise with anonymity, if you will. I would take credit for my political pontificating, but some things I would keep private, including what I looked like.
Then came the offer to write a weekly column for the New Mexico Independent. The editor was a reader of my blog, and after reading enough to decide I was what they needed to provide “balance” on their left-leaning editorial staff. Readers think otherwise. “The things we endure in the name of balance,” observed one. Another wanted to know “who let this right wing nut job back into the building?” The right wing nut job being yours truly, naturally.
My blog gets hundreds of hits a day, but the New Mexico Independent gets thousands, and most of those seem to be from people who think I’m a thoroughly contemptible human being. The Independent also runs a photo of their columnists along with each column, and so readers of my blog and column now know not only my name, but my face as well. I could be shopping at Albertson’s or watching my kids play at the park and someone could see and recognize me, could potentially know all about me (or at least as much as I’ve seen fit to reveal on this blog) and I’d have no idea.
My uncle and aunt and cousin whom I rarely see read my blog and know what’s going on in my life so that often when I’ll tell my dad something (he’s not online) he’ll say, oh yeah, my brother told me; he read it on your blog. When my youngest daughter was born, I e-mailed a friend who lives in Colorado to tell her, and she said, oh yeah, my husband told me; he read it on your blog. I suppose in the age of Facebook, this kind of thing is no big deal. But for the vast majority of my adult life, Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and all the rest weren’t even a twinkle in some technogeek’s eye.
Does being a blogger and a columnist make me a public figure? I suppose so. Certainly, running for public office makes one a public figure, which is why I’ve always felt free to write about politicians and candidates for political office without worrying about infringing on anyone’s privacy. Imagine my surprise, then, when I received an e-mail some months ago from a former candidate whom I briefly mentioned in a post about something or someone else. It was just an offhand remark, for nothing more than a cheap laugh, to tell the truth, and it obviously really upset this guy, because he wrote me a long e-mail complaining about my mentioning him in a less than flattering way, and telling me I should have called or e-mailed him before doing so to get his permission. I replied, explaining that since he had run for public office, that made him a public figure, and bloggers write about public figures all the time without looking up their phone numbers in the White Pages and calling them for permission. After all, I never rang up Barack Obama to get his permission to blog about him, figuring he was a bit too busy to take calls from random bloggers. I thought that pretty much covered things with this guy (whom I won’t name here, since he’s obviously very sensitive, and I’ve caused him enough pain already) but no, he contacted me again and expressed his displeasure again that I haven’t excised all mention of him from my blog. I wondered just what part of “public figure” he didn’t understand, but decided not to reply anymore since, really, what was the point.
Sometimes I wonder if a day will come when I regret ever hitting “publish” that first fateful time, when I’ll wish I had left well enough alone and remained a completely private person. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for interesting stories for the blog. If you don’t want me to write about you, stay out of the public eye. Otherwise…
I’ll make you famous.