The Most Romantic Story I Ever Heard Has Nothing to do With Love: Thoughts on Autonomy, Celebrity, Surveillance and Disappearing.

It all took place somewhere around the gay nineties; a story passed down through generations.

My great great great grandmother’s first husband was a United States Congressman and later postmaster of Chicago. He’d had a good career as a politician and was living in Chicago with his family. By all practical accounts things were going well for him and he was a good, loving father and husband.

One day, he went on a business trip to Washington and was never heard from again.

They couldn’t find any evidence of foul play or reason why he would leave his family behind. At the time it was front page news in Chicago, “Postmaster Disappeared.” No one knows if the mob dropped him in Lake Michigan or if he started a new life with a new identity somewhere else.

So why is this story romantic?

Let’s say the mob didn’t get him. If he did start a new life with a new name somewhere else that would’ve made him a royal jerk. That’s not the point of this story. Let’s say he did hop on a train and start a new life with a suitcase full of cash and a dream. Maybe he was sick of being a politician? Maybe bad people were after him and he felt he had to leave? Maybe he was having a mid-life crisis?

This story is romantic because no one could JUST DISAPPEAR now.

It all began in 1936 with the advent of the social security number. We lost a large part of our autonomy. After that everything you did was tied to this number. I’m sure it didn’t happen all at once but pretty soon you couldn’t buy a house, get a job or rent an apartment or get credit without the stupid number. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Today they would easily find you. They’d find you in a second.

All they’d need to do now is follow your credit card trail or have your wireless company trace your phone. If you got a job or an apartment they’d find you through the paper trail. If you somehow found a way around all that they’d find you through social media. People would share your photo until someone recognized you. Pretty much anytime you go in any public building they’re filming you. Even if you went out into the wilderness like Christopher McCandless and tried to live off the land they could probably still find you with drones and the technology they have today.

In the past you could lie about your age and your name and no one would know.

Up until 1936 you could effectually move to a town where no one knew you, change your name and create a whole new identity. If you screwed up your life somehow, you could get a fresh start. In the past there was no Zaba Search or Intellius that told everyone where you lived and what your age was. You didn’t have social media age markers informing everyone when you graduated college or when you took your first job. There was no one tagging you at your 20th high school reunion. The people you knew when you were young would fall into the ether unless you stayed in your hometown or had the gumption to write letters.

Charo is the only person in modern times to legally change her age as far as I’m aware of. Before 1936 if you felt like shaving 5-10 years off it was easy if you looked it. A lot of early Hollywood stars did it. It allowed actresses to work a lot longer because they were perceived to be younger. The famous comedian Gracie Allen did this. Since her birth certificate was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake she told everyone she was born in 1906 but really she was born in 1895. Her husband George Burns, another famous comedian, didn’t even know. The truth wasn’t revealed until the 1900 census records became public in 1972.

Hollywood isn’t the only industry with ageism. There’s a new TV show about to premiere where a woman lies about her age to get a job. It’s from the creator of Sex in the City. I’m interested in how they deal with issues like her social security number, the date on her college diploma etc:

I’m shy, paranoid, whatever word you want to use. I hate fame. I’ve done everything I can to avoid it.

Johnny Depp

Being famous would be scary/not worth it. Besides, we’re all getting Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame.

When I first moved to Los Angeles in ’01 I was eating nachos at a diner with friends. Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears came in. Immediately, my roommate sashayed over and gushed how much he admired them, completely interrupting their meal. We begged him not to do it but they both remained gracious. When they left, I was not prepared for what I was about to see. The flashes from the paparazzi coming through the diner window looked like a blitzkrieg. Britney sang a little ditty to herself for comfort. It seemed monstrously torturous for her and likely happened every time she left the house. It was not surprising when she shaved her head and went a little crazy a few years later.

Paparazzi have one of the most disliked vocations but they keep making a living. Stupid people keep buying the junk magazines. Dax Shepard and his wife Kristen Bell spearheaded a movement to at least get the paparazzi to stop publishing unauthorized photos of celebrity children. A few magazines have complied.

Now we’re all getting a taste of fame thanks to social media. How many times has a frenemy broadcasted some hideous “drunk photo” of you on Facebook? Many “regular folks” have lost jobs and their reputation just because of one image or a hasty, poorly written status update taken wrong. Imagine this type of negative attention magnified 1000 times, that’s probably what it’s like to be a celebrity today.

Fast forward a year after seeing Britney, I was working as an extra on the film with Drew Barrymore. She was such an affable, lovely person. Even though she was a celebrity with status and wealth I could not imagine, I felt sad for her. I remember her waiting in line for lunch with all the other extras. I worked on many films in my early days and celebrities NEVER did that. Her eyes looked forlorn, she was doing it so she could feel what it was like to be a regular person. She has been a child star since the age of 3 and was descended from Hollywood royalty. In that moment I understood, she probably never experienced “being normal” in her life!

There’s power in being anonymous.

Why does the group Anonymous not name names? The reason is pretty obvious. If they did they wouldn’t really be able to speak out or say what they really thought without legal repercussions. When you’re a celebrity, there’s always a backfire to think about. You must keep your spiritual beliefs, politics and strong opinions to yourself.

We take for granted the gift of going into a store, buying a jug of milk and being INVISIBLE. Some people yearn for celebrity and some celebrities yearn to know what it’s like to be a regular person. There’s FREEDOM to being a regular person, being ANONYMOUS. You have a thing called, “autonomy” where you get to wake up and make your own choices without a bunch of people judging you. To be a celebrity, even on a small scale like being a pastor at a church, comes a large amount of responsibility. You have to always be on point. Trying to constantly cultivate a perfect image would be exhausting.

Crime has decreased but is it because of surveillance? Is having more surveillance worth the price?

Back in the jazz age, it wasn’t legal to rob banks and kill people, it was just a whole lot easier to get away with it. If you want to see an example of this just watch the HBO show Boardwalk Empire for about 30 seconds and you’ll see what I mean.From the data we can see that homicides peaked in the ’20s and ’80s but now they’re down where they were back in the ’60s.

Why have the numbers gone down? They didn’t have cameras everywhere in the 1960s so it’s probably not surveillance that’s stopping people from committing violent crimes. Yet the government only seeks to tighten the reigns further. The NSA has admitted to listening in on our phone calls and reading our emails. The TSA goes through our personal possessions at the airport and there’s nothing we can do. They’re now going to use drones the size of flies to spy on people. This is turning into Orwell’s dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four and we have to act before we completely lose our privacy.

We need different rules that protect everyone.

1) The government needs to go back to whatever type of monitoring they were doing back in the ’60s because that model obviously worked and it wasn’t intrusive.

2) These “people search” websites like Intellius, Zaba Search, Spokeo etc need to be illegal. No one should be able to look up a person on the internet and find out their home address and age. These websites AID STALKERS! In the past a person would have to go to the county clerk and fill out paperwork to obtain information. That at least takes gumption and there’s a record of the search being done & by whom. The old way was best, for our safety.

3) Spying on people with drones should be illegal.

4) It should be illegal for a potential employer to not hire you because of your credit rating. That has never made sense to me. Obviously you need a job if you can’t pay your bills.

You should be able to get a fresh start, even if you are doing it because you’re an asshole.

Every law abiding citizen should be able to pick up, dye their hair, change their name, move somewhere new and be someone else if they feel like it. As long as they’re not doing it because you committed a crime, what’s the harm? What if something bad happened and the person wants to forget? What if they want to get away from someone dangerous? What if they just want to reinvent themselves for fun? Corporations get to re-brand, why can’t we?

How to attain some degree of autonomy in the meantime:

1) If you’re thinking of going into a profession where you’ll be on display, (e.g. performing arts) change your name. A stage name will at least throw people off.

2) Never use your real name on social media. Always use a handle. If things get dicey, change it.

3) Remember: if you have a very common name like “Michael Smith” you are lucky. The more unusual your name is the easier it is for weirdos to find out all your private information on the internet.

4) Speak up to the government & fight back. Write letters to your congressman demanding privacy and autonomy. Make sure your leaders are held accountable.

5) Get out into nature, go camping, get wild. There are still some places an human can go and just “be” with no worries of being spied on. This is a comforting feeling.

6) Limit yourself on social media. Don’t feel the need to share everything. It’s always better to have some mystery, make people work for it.

Microchips will be the end:

Once the government implants the microchips under our skin it’s game over. They’re already GPSing us using our phones but it’s doubtful that will be enough. I have heard “crazy people” say that they could implant a microchip by injecting a “mandatory” vaccine. Then I worry, are those people really crazy?

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