I was probably asleep when the Golden Globes were on — it’s not something I’d be likely to watch, and everything live seems to start too late anyway.
But I was extremely interested in the fallout after the awards, especially the “did-she-or-didn’t-she” debate over Jodie Foster’s speech.
Foster was accepting the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award — the 50-year-old actress was given the award for her 47-year acting career. Do the math to see how old she was when she started working in the business.
In the speech, she referred to the role of her former partner, Cydney Bernard.
The speech has been interpreted in wildly different ways: some have congratulated the actor for coming out publicly and disclosing her sexual orientation; others have criticized the actor for not coming out more clearly and directly.
Now, there’s nothing that piques my interest more than language being interpreted in two wildly divergent ways. Language can be such a delightfully imprecise thing. (Like, for example, having the head of Nalcor’s partner in the Muskrat Falls project, Emera’s Chris Huskilson, tell the Halifax Chronicle Herald on Jan. 10 that “We have not signed anything that would obligate Nova Scotia customers to take this energy. All we’ve done was sign something that creates that opportunity.” Does that mean, for example, that Emera isn’t really tied to the project, or does it just mean that the power company would sell the power somewhere else if the Nova Scotians don’t want to pay the price for it?)
After seeing so much debate about Foster’s speech, I had to have a look at a transcript, merely to try and figure out which side was right in their interpretation. (I was also curious because the reaction to the speech also varied wildly, with some saying it was rambling and boring, while others found it a highlight of the night. One of the wonders of my job is the wide leeway when it comes to what falls into the information hopper in the run of a day.)
What startled me was something fundamental in the speech that seems to have been completely missed: it was neither a speech about coming out, nor was it a speech that was tiptoeing around the issue.
It was a speech saying, at its core, that it’s none of our damned business.
You can’t talk about 47 successful years in any business without talking about the sacrifices made by those around you.
If one of those people is a former same-sex partner, you’re bound to name them.
And Foster did.
What Foster also said is that talking about sexual orientation is something that is first done personally among those closest to you — and that the audience you give that information to is the audience you feel comfortable with telling.
The crux of her speech, the core of it, was not about coming out, no matter how much other people want to parse it that way to suit their own personal and political ends.
It was about something else entirely, something that we have grown used to denying any public figure, but particularly those in the entertainment business.
Here’s a bit of it: “But now I’m told, apparently, that every celebrity is expected to honour the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show. … But seriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you, too, might value privacy above all else. Privacy.”
The irony is that the huge upswelling of debate that followed her speech is the complete anathema to what she was saying.
A speech that was fundamentally about the need to hold some parts of your life close, was instead turned into a giant public stalking-horse on a completely different topic.
There are some 331 million items that come up in a search of Foster’s name and the Golden Globe speech. Some of them, to be honest, like a column by Ben Walters in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, see exactly what Foster was saying.
But most either trumpet that she “officially came out,” or express frustration that she didn’t come out clearly enough.
The startling fact, to me, is that so many people obviously heard the words, but chose to ignore what Foster was clearly saying.
You hear, I suppose, only what you want to.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.