Privacity

IT will be, obviously, the opposite of publicity.

I say it will be, because I do not think the thing at present exists. I conceive myself to be inventing it, offering it to a sorely tried world, which, I earnestly hope, will hail it as at least meeting a long-felt want.

For publicity, while an object of much human endeavor, is not surely that good-in-itself which is in all circumstances and at all times and in all places supremely good and infinitely to be desired. It is, for instance, possible to have too much of it. The Prince of Wales, for example, must at times feel — but if he does so feel, what can he do about it? At present, nothing. But with privacity, much.

Publicity is organized effort for the purpose of keeping some person or thing ‘ public.’ It is the tenth Muse, the chief art of twentieth-century civilization. Privacity will be simply the opposite — organized effort for the purpose of keeping some person or thing private. I think it will be a nobler, more subtle, and more exquisite art.

The privacity agent will certainly have to be an infinitely more accomplished, more dexterous, more resourceful person than the publicity agent of the present day. The truly great publicity agent is the man who can persuade the public that it wants to hear about the person whom he is paid to serve. Once that is done, the newspapers and other organs of publicity are his slaves; for they cannot refuse to let the public have what it wants.

The privacity agent, if he is to succeed in the highest way, will have to teach the public that it does not want to hear anything about his client. And to do that he will have to teach his client to behave in such a way that the public will not want to hear about him. That, of course, will often be very difficult; it will sometimes be impossible, but in most cases where it is impossible the reason will be that the client does not really want privacity — he only thinks he does. No self-respecting privacity agent would ever ‘take on’ Mr. Lloyd George, or the ex-Emperor William the Second of Germany; as privacity clients they would be a joke.

There will be cases, also, when even the best-organized campaign of privacity will result only in a moderate degree of quietude for its subject, not on account of any defects in himself, but because of the tremendous potentialities for publicity involved in some position in which he temporarily finds himself. To be respectable and moderately well-to-do and a trifle exclusive socially, and yet to be concerned in an interesting sex murder— that is the kind of situation which will set almost any intelligent person looking in the telephone book for the best privacity agents; but it is also the kind of situation before which all but the most courageous and resourceful of the brotherhood would recoil in alarm and desperation. What can be done to keep such unfortunates out of the public eye? Well, at present not much. The art is in its infancy; I have only just invented it. But there are methods which present themselves to me as feasible and likely to result in at least a mitigation of the horrors of publicity.

One of them — the best that I can think of at the moment, but also the most expensive — is to go out — I mean for the privacity agent to go out — and commit, or procure to be committed, an even better murder than that on which the public’s eyes are presently fixed. It will be difficult, in many ways, but it can be done, and the great artist of privacity, like his brother and enemy, the great artist of publicity, will shrink at nothing to accomplish his end. The chief difficulty will be in the necessarily high quality of the second murder. The public is a far better judge of murders than of plays; and those on which it fixes its hungry gaze and from which it refuses to be lured away will assuredly be murders of genuine excellence and profound interest. To get a new murder done is not, I am confident, unreasonably difficult even in England; in Chicago it is merely a matter of a telephone call and a fifty-dollar bill. But a good murder is another thing. It requires imagination, a touch perhaps of genius, and a suspicion of art-for-art’s-sake contempt for consequences. But all that, surely, has no effect except to make my new calling more alluring to the ablest and most daring minds. I am confident that before privacity has been a recognized art for twelve months half the best intellects in the publicity business will have crossed the street to set up in the new profession.

By that time every millionaire will consider a privacity agent an essential part of his household — even if there is a publicity agent to sit on the opposite side of the same table. For one of the most appalling consequences of wealth (and they are many, I am told), especially in countries where there are not many other differences between the inhabitants, is that it subjects not only its acquirer but all the members of his family to a pitiless amount of exposure to the public eye. The acquirer is usually a fairly thick-skinned person and can stand it, and may even profit by it if he is still engaged in the business of acquiring; but his wife and the younger generation are entitled to such protection as the privacity agent can afford.

The methods employed by this permanent family retainer must not be crude; but if they were he would not be an artist, and I hope I have made it clear that privacity is an art. Already, indeed, a few members of wealthy families have shown an inkling of the idea that privacity is needed, and have attempted to practise it themselves, but always in the most primitive and amateurish fashion. I recall the case of one admirable lady in the Dominion of Canada who, imbued with the correct idea that something ought to be done to protect her family from the ravages of the press photographers, adopted the preposterous method of dashing at their appliances with a large cane. Needless to say, the results were the precise opposite of what she desired.

There is one radical difference between publicity and privacity, which on the whole seems to me to be strongly in favor of the younger art. Publicity pays for itself, or it is no good and nobody wants it; privacity will have to be paid for by those who seek to enjoy its benefits. Eventually there may come to be charitable foundations for the purpose of providing privacity for deserving persons who are in urgent need of it and cannot afford to pay the price. Even before that day comes I have no doubt that eminent privacity practitioners, in receipt of an ample salary from some millionaire client, will spare a portion of their time and talents for the relief of destitute cases, just as medical practitioners are understood to do now. But, taking it by and large, privacity will be an appanage of the well-to-do. For, after all, much of a rich man’s income must always be spent on avoiding the unpleasant consequences of being a rich man.