and pictures representing him standing on the doorstep giving a penny to a poor beggar-woman with six children …
and pictures of him magnanimously refusing to tell on the bad boy who always lay in wait for him around the corner as he came from school, and welted him over the head with a lath.
If, for example, you admit to or even boast of reading is that it doesn’t, or not quite).
Admitting to a passion for celebrity, it seems, is like flaunting a shameful secret.
Augustine, as Braudy puts it, ‘turned his face against Roman public life and argued that the emptiness that comes from living exclusively in the eyes of others could be filled with God, but even he wrestled with the desire to be praised openly for his denial of worldly values’.
Cut from here to Mark Twain’s ‘The Story of a Good Little Boy’ (who does this remind you of?Take (inevitably) the death of Princess Diana, the public response to it and reactions to that response. According to the second, ‘the week that shook the world’ camp, the very fact that emotion was being publicly expressed by the British was proof of its authenticity; which in turn meant that such emotion was truer than anything else about the British psyche (the end of English reserve).In other words, faced with this public display of feeling, we could only cry ‘true’ or ‘false’.But what if instead of thinking in terms of ‘true’ and ‘false’ we were to rearrange the dominant vocabularies to see what else they might yield?What happens, that is, if we do two seemingly contradictory things: take wholly seriously public demonstrations of affect without taking them at their word?There is a paradox inherent in seeking an audience for one’s own worth – which is why discussion of whether Diana’s acts of benevolence were hypocritical or sincere are beside the point.The vanity of public life contains its own disavowal.A more generous approach to the drama of display so central to celebrity in the modern world would be to look at it in historical terms.In (the word ‘frenzy’ will return crucially in relation to Mary Bell), Leo Braudy argues that our uncertainties about the morality of public behaviour and the personalities of public people arise in great part from the ‘Judaeo-Christian attack against Roman standards of public glory’.There is of course a tension here, one in which even our secular culture could be said still to be caught.Jesus makes the deaf hear and the mute speak but then enjoins them to silence (‘He charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they published it’).