Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


Chelsea's choice

Q: It's official -- Chelsea Clinton is married. Chatter was all over the media for months, despite a hard-fought campaign for privacy. Are celebrities entitled to privacy in such matters? And do we, as a culture, tend to pay too much attention to celebrities, or is the Chelsea marriage a good example of the things we should celebrate?

Congratulations to Chelsea and Marc! Not only did they tie the knot, they managed to keep the whole affair "top secret" until the big weekend. Now, that's a real feat for any couple, since it means that both families, all invited friends and all vendors have to cooperate. That's power!

President Obama might consider consulting with the new power couple on how to put an end to Wikileaks. Clearly, the Mezvinskys have mastered the art of keeping classified information "top secret."

Our celebrity-mad culture iconifies individuals who have no claim to fame other than being related to someone famous. Celebrity children often suffer strange lives because famous parents take great measures to shelter them from public view, or, in some notable cases, the celebrity parent encourages the child as a sideshow -- see Miley Cyrus who is, now, arguably more famous than her showbiz father Billy Ray Cyrus who has shamelessly promoted her career at a very young age.

Celebrity children of earlier generations managed to go on to become productive citizens and leaders in their own right. At a health-care reform conference last spring, I met Tufts Health Plan CEO James Roosevelt, a very impressive leader in the health insurance business.

I was both startled and delighted to learn that his grandfather was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the greatest presidents of all time. James has not rested on those laurels -- he has had a remarkable career as a lawyer and business leader, with some political activities on the side.

Whether the children of more contemporary presidents and celebrities can grow up to enjoy careers and lives outside of the spotlight is a tough question. The explosive growth of communication via the Internet has fueled a public demand for increasingly arcane bits of information about the private lives of many people, not just the rich and famous. With a credit card and a search engine, most of us can find out a great deal about other people -- or we can find it out for free on their Facebook walls. Privacy -- of information, whereabouts, wedding locations and personal tastes --- is, increasingly, an outmoded concept.

What's the point of all of this personal information about famous people? Some people are just curious bystanders or inveterate name-droppers. Then there are "fans." In some weird way, "fans" seem to draw power and inspiration from being associated with celebrities. The more obsessive the fan behavior, the more likely it is that the celebrity is fulfilling some psychological gap in the fan's makeup.

Let's not even talk about Elvis impersonators, who may just be guys who are fulfilling Elvis fantasies for others.

Chelsea Clinton seems like a well-grounded individual who has learned how to cope with fame and the inevitable intrusions from busybodies with cameras. The more tantalizing question for her is whether she will, at some point, embrace the spotlight and step out as a leader in her own right. If she does, it will be Chelsea's choice and she will do it in her own time.

We can certainly celebrate the wedding, but we should also celebrate the couple's success in keeping prying eyes (cameras, microphones, embarrassing YouTube videos) away from the main event.

By Patricia McGuire  |  August 5, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and the spotlight Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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How do we know they are "the Mezvinskys" now? I haven't seen anything confirming whether Chelsea has changed her name (or whether Marc has kept his).

Posted by: CuriousC | August 5, 2010 9:05 AM
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