What she said, what you heard

Russell Wangersky
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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.

No comment

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 rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Halifax Chronicle Herald

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Nova Scotia, Britain

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    January 21, 2013 - 09:25

    John, you think it is funny that 'some ' people are upset over the present rate increase before the PUB. As I stated only 2 people have written the PUB to oppose the rate increase and but one request for a presentation. And you think that is too many! Perhaps our power rates are really too low and the MF and other increases will bring us up to the highest in Canda for a hydro rich province. And a 18 percent boost in Nld Power profit helps. Essentially no one opposes this. Funny indeed. Funny, funny funny. A barrell of laughts. Shocking that three people oppose this rate increase. What can we do about those brazen three, John. Lets shout for joy about the rate increase. Well deserved increase. haven't had one in what ... six months? just six more increases to come at only 8 percent each time. Hope your around John to praise each one. LOL. LMAO.

  • John Smith
    January 20, 2013 - 10:10

    Once Emera builds the cable, and honors their other commitments I could care less what they do with the power. It matters not to me. Funny how some people are upset about the present increase before the PUB, yet the 70% increase we have seen over the past 10-15 years seems not to matter at all. The only hope we have to stop these never ending increases is to get Muskrat going as fast as we can.

    • Scott Free
      January 21, 2013 - 09:43

      John, I've been thinking....could you be RR? Didn't you get your cushy appointment? or are you holding out for a bigger plum?

  • Winston Adams
    January 19, 2013 - 10:49

    Russell, as many things do fall into your bin each day, I had hoped you might raise the issue that no one, almost , is concerned about paying higher electricity rates. As of Jan 15, the PUB received only 2 letters opposing the increases, and but one request for a presentation. I guess this is not news worthy, not like whether Foster came out enough. Your interest , you say, is in the language used, like Emera's boss' language of whether they are really committed to Muskrat Falls. Interesting how one can connect Muskrat Falls with Foster's coming out. But language is , as you say, important. Like is a 7.9 domestic rate increase 7.2 percent? Is a average rate decrease of 1 percent for small to medium business really a increase? Is a 28 percent decrease for larger consumers using more energy really encouraging a culture of conservation? Is investing less than 1 percent of sales revenue into efficieny saving for consumers really a reasonabe contribution to help customers reduce energy bills? Is selecting efficiency options that merely shift the load to heating really give worthwhile savings to the consumer? The language used in the Nfld Power application in all these issued are critical to them getting want they want without challenge. A professional, like yiurself, could have a field day with the language in this Application. Who would expect that language could be used so effectively, in what is mostly dry material. Check it out, and enlighten the population of the real meaning of what is being said, and what is proposed to happen..

  • Petertwo
    January 19, 2013 - 08:52

    Yes Russel, this was my read on her speech too. I've always liked Jodie Foster as an actor, she has depth and I think her speech showed that. As far as her, or anyone's, sexual orientation is concerned that is their personal and private business. I wonder how many others reporting read into something rather than read what is actually being said by the individual, spoken or written? Functionally illiterate or just plain envious? It seems actors in general are open targets for anything and it is about time they stood up for their privacy. They work just like anyone else, they do not have steady work, they are highly paid but only commensurate with their box office appeal. What really ticks me off with the US press is the way they go after their children, that is low and disgusting.