On Monday, when TMZ released a video of the singer Solange Knowles attacking her brother-in-law, the rapper Jay Z, in an elevator, while her sister, Beyonce Knowles-Carter looked on, I wrote that, despite our prurience, we would never really know what had happened. The soundless, black-and-white video, shot from above, raised more questions about the relationships between all three parties than it actually revealed.
Today, the family proved me right.
“Our family has worked through it,” the three wrote in a statement they provided to the Associated Press. “Jay and Solange each assume their share of responsibility for what has occurred. They both acknowledge their role in this private matter that has played out in the public. They both have apologized to each other and we have moved forward as a united family.”
Their words are simultaneously tantalizing and definitive. The statement acknowledges that something happened between brother-and sister-in-law, but declines to elaborate on what that might have been. They are also absolute in their denial that Solange was in any way intoxicated, which shuts down one rumor, but also prompts speculation about what might have fueled her apparently ferocious anger.
On a puckish level, I appreciate the Knowles-Carters’ non-explanation explanation simply for the way it will frustrate observers. But I also appreciate their old-school insistence that their lives are their own.
Most of the time today, that means that famous, or almost-famous people’s lives are a commodity that they will eventually trade to someone else for money, goods, or services. But less than almost any famous couple alive, Knowles-Carter and her husband do not need the financial bump or the moment atop the news cycle that would come from selling baby pictures or signing a reality television deal.
They could still want to, of course. Instead of submitting to a reality producer’s whims, though, Knowles-Carter directed her own documentary, “Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream,” for HBO, using footage and photography that she recorded herself. It was a strikingly artificial, shallow portrait, and audiences turned out for it in (comparable) droves anyway. It may be wildly narcissistic for Knowles-Carter to document her own life so deeply, but it has also given her the ability to give fans a highly curated version of her private life, staving off demands for messier and more intrusive look inside.
It takes some real confidence to treat an incident that could have been a tabloid disaster, the sort of thing that demands a sit-down on Oprah’s couch to demonstrate just how much healing has taken place, with the same élan. The joint statement also folds Solange Knowles, the least-famous, least-rich member of the trio into the Knowles-Carter code, cloaking her in the same expectation of privacy.
There is something exceptionally confident–and antithetical to the contemporary economy of public opinion–about the Knowles-Carter’s assumption that they can tell us everything is fine now and demand that we believe it. But then, by refusing to make a spectacle of themselves, the Knowles-Carters are just taking an alternate, old-school route to earning our good opinion. Sometimes the best way to shut down an embarrassing spectacle is to refuse to make another one.