We Are Not All Exhibitionists Now

What Women Really Think
Nov. 30 2009 11:32 AM

We Are Not All Exhibitionists Now

The story of the gate-crashing Salahis was with us for the duration of the holiday, given top billing at every major paper and half-heartedly justified by the pretense of their presence as a "security issue." The commentary was predictable because we’d seen the same when balloon boy descended from the attic. We created the Salahis. This is our culture of attention-seeking. The Salahis aren’t outliers, they are what we have become. Etc, etc, and so forth.

This line of argument has always seemed to me unpersuasive. Of course we’re going to notice the tiny minority of fame addicts more than we notice the vast majority of people who lack interest in publicly humiliating themselves; getting noticed is the point. Yes, fame-seekers now have more stages on which to perform their dysfunction. But that doesn't mean that there are more exhibitionists among us than there once were, or that every life is now a public life. Kids who grow up on Facebook are going to be relatively practiced at drawing boundaries; if anyone knows where the line is, it’s the people who have always had to make the choice between privacy and public revelation. I don’t care if Penelope Trunk wants to tweet her miscarriage , but that kind of openness does not seem to be the norm.

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The Heenes and the Salahis aren’t uncomfortable to watch because they epitomize some ugly new aspect of American culture. They’re painful to watch because they're desperate to be liked, and it's awkward to encounter that level of neediness in other people.

Kerry Howley's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Bookforum, and the New York Times Magazine. She is currently finishing a book about consensual violence, ecstatic experience, and the body.