Ask Me That Question, I'll Tell You a Lie

Ask Me That Question, I'll Tell You a Lie


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None of Your Damn Business

Question #1:

In a national TV interview, a rock & roll heartthrob is asked point-blank whether he's gay. Is that an appropriate question?
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The New Morality
Read about cheating, guilt, and sex in the Morality section.

  The Moral Playground

Ask Me That Question,
I'll Tell You a Lie

Last month, in just a minor example of what appears to be a national trend of culturally sanctioned duplicity, Madonna told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show that she was not pregnant. This was untrue.

A lot of people already knew that she was pregnant, and she ended up reversing her claim shortly thereafter. In any case, the real event seemed not the coming arrival of Madonna's second child but the spirit in which her denial was received. I caught another talk show the same day in which the hosts applauded Madonna's lack of candor. "He was right to ask, and she was right to lie," they said.

According to them, Lauer was just doing his job, and Madonna's fib was an understandable attempt to protect her privacy. No one seemed to care that Madonna had lied on national television, and the exchange was nothing if not an ironic turn on the soul-bearing celebrity culture that Madonna has helped create.

The bald-faced lie has not only lost its stigma; it has become a staple of self-preservation.

It was inevitable that an era of rampant confessionalism would give way to an era of rampant lying. In a culture that celebrates damage control more than discretion, the bald-faced lie has not only lost its stigma; it has become a staple of self-preservation. That's because when confessions aren't off limits, neither are the questions that invite them.

Inquiries that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago--how's your sex life? how much money do you make? are you gay?--are now a matter of course in the private and public sphere alike. The phrase "no comment" seems quaint. Though there was a time when refusing to answer a question connoted a sense of dignity, keeping mum is now, more often than not, a self-incriminating act. The result is that we're forced to lie.

When private matters become subjects of public discussion, or events beyond our control put us in situations that misrepresent our true natures or intentions, lying may indeed be the dignified, even responsible, course of action. Many women don't want to announce their pregnancies until they've passed the first trimester, which is one reason why it's considered rude to ask someone if she's pregnant. In choosing not to disclose her pregnancy, Madonna was acting no differently than a lot of women. The problem is that she was asked the question on national television, and her effort to implement the discretion afforded to private citizens resulted in an outright lie.

While a majority of us carry on our daily lives without press coverage, the media's edict that no subject is off limits has seeped into private mentalities as well.

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Meghan Daum is a freelance writer who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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