Sober thoughts today. Marilyn Monroe once said that once you are famous, you experience “Life as an Object”. What she was saying is that when you become famous, and are a public person, you cease to become a person in other people’s minds, and anything goes, you can be treated as an object or a thing, and they forget that you are actually a real live human being at the other end. It’s an interesting comment, and I have found it to be true, over the many years that I have been well known.
The internet has de-personalized the connection between people. People exist in greater isolation, many work at home on their computers and no longer work at an office, where they see people every day and have to relate to them in a humane way. People do things like Facebook and chat rooms, where they collect thousands of ‘friends’, people they don’t know and will never meet, but they are connected through their computer in a ‘virtual’ way. People date on line or by text, they connect and disconnect, start ‘relationships’ and end them, all virtual and not real. Young women have talked to me about being proposed to by text or on line, and dumped just as quickly by text, with no human contact, no phone call, no sound of the other person’s voice. And at the most extreme end, kids and even some adults play video games which ‘kill’ the players virtually, and then shocking public crimes replicate those games and many real people die. I’m not of the old school that television corrupts our kids, or is the source of violence in America, but I do think that the lack of real human connection on these new ‘cyber’ opportunities has had a MAJOR impact on how people relate to each other, connect or don’t, how they behave, what they do, what they say, and they lose sight of the fact that there is a real live human being at the other end. It is something to think about. Sometimes it is better to simply pick up the phone and have a conversation, have an immediate exchange, rather than nuking someone and shooting off a sometimes vicious email in the heat of the moment, when all you have to do is write it and hit the Send button. No one hears the other person’s voice anymore, everything is conducted by email and text.
To get back to Ms. Monroe, I have found what she said to be true, long before the Internet became popular, and now that cyber relations are here, I find it to be particularly so. As a famous person, people forget that you get up in the morning, have breakfast, have children and dogs, a job, heartbreaks and joys and deal with real life. They forget that your children are as troublesome as anyone else’s, that your romances or marriages fall apart, that life can be disappointing, that you get sick, have headaches or stomach aches, that you have to pay your bills and have similar worries to everyone else’s, that your loved ones die like anyone else’s, that your heart gets broken just like non-famous people. As a famous person, they see you as an object, a target, an object of jealousy, and too often someone not real to them, to beat up. You become an easy target for people’s frustrations, forgetting that you have your own. Like all famous people, I have always gotten letters from crackpots. What I do for a living is pretty benign. I sit at my desk and make up stories, about the things that trouble or delight or worry all of us in life. If I make those stories real enough, you enjoy them and that’s about it. I make money doing it, with which I support my family. All the equations are pretty simple. And yes, I make a lot of money doing it, and I also have 9 kids, and have had my share of heartbreaks, divorces, a son who died, and some sick kids at various times. My life is not so different than yours. And like anyone in the public eye, I’ve had my share of crazy letters over the years, some death threats, blackmail and extortion threats, a woman who once told me I deserved to die because I got the time difference wrong between LA and New York. (I make mistakes too!!) There was a man who used to threaten to kill me once a year, always at about the same time, for many many years, and on the same day he would write and threaten to kill the pope, the Queen of England, and a famous wealthy socialite who was often in the news. The first time (after maybe 20 years) that he didn’t write and threaten me, I worried about him, and wondered if he was sick. There have always been a lot of crazies out there, and most are harmless. They used to write the letters, put a stamp on them, walk them to the mailbox, and these crazy letters would come in through my fan mail. But in the last 10 years, the tone of those letters has changed. Drastically. I still get death threats, threats to kidnap me and my children, extortion and blackmail threats, but with the anonymity of the Internet, and the immediacy of it (spew poisonous horrors and push send), now those letters come in with terrible, vicious threats, descriptions of what they’d like to do to me, how i deserve to die, and how they’d like to do it, and the terrible things they hope will happen to me, and what they plan to do. And some have even tried. But the lengths to which people will go, the appalling things they say has ramped up exponentially. A probably meek fan in real life, will write me a letter that is so vile, insulting and terrifying that you have to wonder what goes on in their heads. The Internet has become an open forum for bullies and some truly crazy, maybe even dangerous, people, who can attack you any way they want and hide in the shadows of the internet (although ultimately law enforcement does find them, and I’ve had to resort to that a number of times when the threats were too violent). People who wouldn’t think of being rude to their neighbors or hurt a flea, write me vicious attacks they should be ashamed of, and insult me in every way they can. Of course, I get wonderful fan letters too, thousands of them, but the vicious ones shock me. I respond to all my fan mail, and only twice have the letters been so viciously insulting and personally outrageous that I wrote back and actually said, “What is wrong with you? How can you write someone something like this?” One apologized immediately and said she didn’t know I’d see the letter (then why write it?) and I never heard from the other one again. I guess there will always be crazies out there who write vicious letters and threats, but two things occur to me, the Internet and its anonymity help them do it better, and the fact that I’m famous makes it okay to them: as Ms. Monroe said, I am only an object to them, not a person, and accordingly to some I don’t deserve respect, kindness, humanity or compassion. The things people would never dare say to someone they know, they say to me, in the most vicious ways they can think of, because to them I am not a person, I’m famous so I am an object. (If people don’t like my books, there is a simple solution, don’t buy them. You don’t need to threaten to burn down my house, kill me or my children, or run me down with their car).
I’m sure that some famous people are less than admirable. And I’m no saint by any means, but I’m just a person. One of those horrifying letters came in last week, on a day that one of my children had a terrifying accident at home (she’s okay now), I was in the hospital with her for two days, lots of blood, lots of pain, and all very scary, and as a Mom, I had my heart in my mouth. On the same day, I got one of those hideous letters, attempting blackmail and extortion, telling me what a terrible person I am, and what they would like to do to me, all kinds of threats of defamation, accusation, and physical harm. As a human being, it is incredibly disheartening to think that you can become an object in that way, that people want to hurt, harm and scare you, just because you have done well in life. And in spite of fame, I get sick, my kids get sick, my children get hurt, people I love die, and even my dogs. Just like everyone else’s. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think we need to put back the humanity in our communications to other people, to remember that there are real live people at the other end, to remember that becoming famous is the result of hard work in most cases, not a license to become a target for everyone’s craziness, bad behavior and bad manners. As the object of that kind of attention, it shocks me immeasurably and wounds my soul. It’s something I deal with every day. And I am sad to say that Ms. Monroe was right.