Their Bad Mother

Jennifer Garner has a problem with the paparazzi. I don’t have a problem with the paparazzi, but then again, I’m not Jennifer Garner. But just because I’m not a major movie star and don’t have paparazzi trailing me wherever I go doesn’t mean that I can’t understand where Jennifer Garner is coming from. Neither does it mean that I don’t feel entitled to comment, critically, on her attitude, from the perspective of a pretend-insider.

Bear with me here.

Jennifer Garner is upset that the paparazzi hound her family, because, as she says, her children – unlike herself, and her husband Ben Affleck – are not public figures. But despite the fact that she tries to keep her children out of the public eye, “there are
almost as many video cameras as there are film cameras and the
situation has shifted so that a huge amount of their focus is put on
the children of celebrities.” Children like her own.

Some say that such attention is simply part of the price of celebrity: if you’re going to make your living selling yourself as a celebrity commodity – a ‘personality’ who draws audiences to movie theaters because those audiences are fascinated by your persona – then you’re going to have to expect that if you ever have children, they will become part of the package of that persona. If you don’t want that, then you have a few options: a) don’t have children, b) don’t be a celebrity, or c) move to a ranch in the middle of the desert like Julia Roberts and never let your children see the outside world. But is that really fair – or is it just the plain, cold truth?

I’m a writer. I’m also a writer who chooses to draw her children into the public sphere that is created by her writing. I write stories about being a mother, which means that I write stories that involve my children. I write lots of stories that involve my children. I have photographed and published pictures of my children, and I have let them be photographed by others. My son’s picture has been in the Style section of the New York Times, twice, and he’s not even a year old. But I allow that. Heck, I invite that. My children are a living part of my work, inasmuch as part of my work involves putting my life on display. And because my work involves putting my life on display, it is public. Which means that – according to my crude math – my children are, in a way, public. Which, sometimes, puts me in a very uncomfortable position. My children didn’t ask for the attention that they sometimes receive; they didn’t ask to have their lives put on display. Their names and faces are well-known in certain circles because I made certain choices about making my own life public, not because they chose to make themselves known. So when someone accuses me of exposing my children without their consent, I have to concede that there is a little truth to that statement. Conceding that truth makes me squirm a little.

But the fact that the truth of that statement makes me squirm a little does not incline me to disavow it. It’s something that I chose. (I’m not going to defend that choice here – that’s a subject for another day – but I will say that I have considered that choice very carefully, and that I consider that choice every time I put fingers to keyboard.) If I ever decided – if I ever do decide – that the cost to my children was too high, I could – I will – choose differently.

That choice is available to Jennifer Garner. She could live a life with less of a public profile. She could retreat, even just a little, from the world of red carpets and Entertainment Tonight features and celebrity. She could move to Montana. She could, simply, make different choices about the kind of work that she does and the kind of life that she leads, about the kind of life that her children are by necessity drawn into. She can certainly better afford to make such a choice than can most of us.

I want to make it clear that I’m not saying that the paparazzi should have carte blanche to stalk the children of celebrities. I’m emphatically not saying that just because someone chooses and embraces the life of celebrity, all bets are off. Especially not when it comes to children. There should absolutely be certain rules or at least accepted terms of practice when it comes to media treatment of the children of celebrities. But to absolve celebrity parents of any responsibility for the fact that their children are themselves, in some ways, celebrities, is to ignore the obvious. They chose this. Just as I chose my work, and most of the conditions and circumstances of my life – which is to say, as a parent of dependent children, that I have chosen the conditions and circumstances of their lives – so did Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck. And they, like me, carry responsibility for those choices. No one else.

Which doesn’t mean that I don’t think that Jennifer Garner is awesome. Just, you know, that she maybe needs a bit of a mom-to-mom reality check. (Hey, Jen, you need a playdate when you’re shooting in Toronto? CALL ME!)

What do you think? Do celebrity parents hold any responsibility for their childrens’ exposure in the media? Should celebrity children be off-limits to the media? Should paparazzi who focus on celebrity kids be strung up by their toes? ALL OF THE ABOVE?

Copyright Catherine Connors 2006 – 2009.

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