Robert Brustein

Robert Brustein

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 11 1997 3:30 AM

Robert Brustein

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       I've been pouring out my heart in a private diary for the past 25 years. Now SLATE has invited me to go public. It's strange to expose your personal life to an audience of unknown readers. It's also more than a little seductive. This is an age of extreme self-absorption; to publish one's diary is a kind of capitulation to the age. Do I really believe people give a hoot about my personal hurts, hopes, enthusiasms, and disappointments? What if I use this opportunity to correct what I think to be mistaken public assumptions about my character and ideas? Aren't I indulging vanity and defensiveness?
       But I'm obsessed with the way we let the media shape and invade our lives (my life too) in the waning years of the 20th century. Public personalities, often with their own participation, have forfeited all right to privacy. In the '30s, Americans didn't know that Roosevelt was having affairs; they didn't even know he was physically handicapped. Today, we eavesdrop on White House conversations and peek through the keyholes of presidential boudoirs (the Lincoln Bedroom included). In the '50s, Marilyn Monroe's modest nude calendar was considered a collector's item. Today, full frontal skin shots of innumerable movie stars can be easily downloaded from the Internet. Using long-range cameras and sensitive acoustical devices, the media follow us into the most secret corridors of our lives.
       When the private face is made public, it hardens into a mask. Celebrities get frozen in a media-created role from which they cannot escape. In his plays, Luigi Pirandello had a lot to say about how the interior self may be mutable, evanescent, in flux, but the outer self is fixed, inflexible, easily defined. I think of the clown created by the French mime, Marcel Marceau, tortured by a grinning mask which, for the life of him, he can't pull off. Have we learned more about people through the agency of the inquiring reporter? My guess is that we know a hell of a lot less.

Robert Brustein is artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.; professor of English at Harvard; and theater critic for the New Republic.