ARE CELEBRITIES people? Must they be treated with the ordinary courtesies accorded to human beings?
Miss Manners, who believes in treating all living cratures with kidness and consideration, must nevertheless anser this with a yes and a no. Public figures who voluntarily seek publicity cannot claim that they are entitled to the courtesy of privacy enjoyed by private figures.
The problem then becomes defining a public figure. The Supreme Court has been fussing around with this far too long; Miss Manners will simply have to do it herself.
An individual who has marketed normally private aspects of his or her life for financial or psychological profit is not, in Miss Manner's opinion, entitled to run around grousing about how rude people are for being curious to know more.
Lisa Adventura, the singer, has long been making the rounds of television talk shows, discussing why she did not feel the need to marry the father of her children. On her recent wedding trip with a recent acquaintance, fans approached her and her new husband wherever they went, some of them asking quite personal questions, others taking photographs or requesting autographs. She is now citing this, on the talk shows, as an example of the bad manners of not letting people lead their private lives free of annoyance.
In Johnny Rapide's autobiography, of which he was the co-author, it was explained what it takes for an athlete to get to the top. Now, however, people are insinuating that he is past his prime, and keep asking him whether his age has slowed him down and whether he isn't commanding less money than he used to. He has said bluntly many times what he thinks of people who ask such prying, personal questions.
Sen. Howard Aegis' graceful wife and lovely children have been his best campaign workers, always ready to open their home and their hearts to constituents and television cameras so that everyone can see what a whole-some family man the senator is. %now, however, scandal-mongers have discovered the other houshold that Sen. Aegis maintains. He is outraged; as long as his private life does not interfere with his cuties, he says, it is none of anybody's business.
Now, Miss Manners is never going to defend anyone who annoys ordinary people by asking them personal questions or forcing unwanted attentions on them. Miss Manners is also always prepared to protect extraordinary people from this curiosity -- people who, in the course of pursing legitimate or illegitimate occupations, such as science, dance or assassination, have incidentally become famous.
But being a celebrity is an occupation that -- however one arrived at it -- provides certain regards in exchange for the surrender of one's privacy. Miss Manners does not presume to judge people who choose to expose themselves; she merely refuses to allow them to condemn others who point, stare or request details.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: My boyfriend is very shy and we never seem to have anything to talk about. On the phone -- he calls me every night before bedtime -- the silences are awful. Can you suggest something I could say to him?
A: "Do you have any nice friends?"
Q: A gentleman's language should be easy and unstudied, marked by graceful carelessness which never overtsteps the limits of propriety. Although there are a great many talkers, few know how to converse agreeably. The art is in truth, the very soul of good breeding, which renders us agreeable to all with whom we associate. A friend of mine, by all measure well bred, has a verbal affectation which is annoying. He has a mania for Greek and Latin quotations. I believe this is particularly to be avoided. It is like pulling up stones from a tomb where-with to kill the living. How can I let him know his pedantry is so wearisome?
A: A gentleman does not let another gentleman know that that gentleman's conversation is wearisome. However, there is nothing to prevent a gentleman from arming himself with Chinese or Sanskrit quotations with which to answer another gentleman's remarks.
Q: My husband and I are both Ph.D.s and are not fussy about how we are addressed. I mean, we don't make a big thing about being called "Doctor." Our friends just write our first and last names on letters, without any title, and that's fine. Older people usually address us as "Mr. and Mrs.," and that's fine, too. But a cousin of my husband's addressed us as "Dr. and Mrs.," and that's where I draw the line.
A: Miss Manners supports the old-fashioned usage, which means that only medical doctors, but not Ph.D.s, use "doctor" socially, a legacy from her father who said the little wasn't necessary because he assumed that everyone had a Ph.D. unless otherwise notified. However, you should have heard the outcry from doctoratehappy academics.
Miss Manners will fight back on that one another time, when she's feeling up to it. On your outrage, she is in agreement that the form of addressing you and your husband should be uniform. If not "Mr. and Mrs.," then it should be "The Drs. Hobard and Adele Skillful."
Q: When do children dress up these days, and what are children's dress-up clothes now? I want to send my god-daughter a dress, but I've never seen her wear one.
A: Children have two styles of dress these days. One, which consists of velvet dresses for girls and velvet suits for boys, is worn only to performances of "The Nutcracker." The other, which consists of rags, is worn for everything else life has to offer. Miss Manners does not condone this, but that was not your question.
Q: How do you eat cake?
A: So that you can have it, too. This is done by cutting a bit-sized piece with the end of the fork and lifting it up to the mouth in such a way that crumbs drift down and lodge themselves in the shirtfront. These may be furtively picked up and eaten later.