The Trampire Chronicles: Is Public Scrutiny a Pagan Practice?by GG on Sep 18, 2012 • 5:25 am 1 Comment
The rise of a romance is usually an exciting affair. Finding love, pleasure, or connecting with someone in a meaningful way is a euphoric process. This process happens for the lovers and may well affect their close family and friends, and thus wyrd and maybe frith, too. People vested in the lovers are glad to see them find romance and cheer for their continued happiness. The demise of a relationship is typically a sad affair. Facing rejection, betrayal, or realizing you’ve grown apart is painful and takes a long time to work through. This process happens for the lovers and may well affect their close family and friends, and thus wyrd and maybe frith, too. People vested in the lovers are distraught to see them find heartache and hope for their recovery or reconciliation.
For public figures, such as politicians and artists, the emotional rise and demise of love is featured in the press. The fame of the participants causes their emotions to reverberate through much wider circles of frith. Fan attachment, something public figures need to succeed, often causes people the couple have never met to have emotional reactions and to feel strongly about how the relationship began and ended. Fame causes a one-sided extension of wyrd and frith.
The most recent romantic heartache (that I know about) under public scrutiny is the Kristen Stewart-Robert Pattinson affair. This affair, or rather its demise, did not catch my attention until the Will Ferrell guest spot on Conan O’Brien. Ferrell was supposed to be promoting his film The Campaign, but instead feigned distress over Stewart having cuckolded Pattinson with the director of Snow White and the Huntsman. In the video, Ferrell cries, “She’s a trampire. That’s what she is.” And with that witticism, the video went viral.
I thought the video was really funny, but the Stewart-Pattinson affair remained passing news to me. I am not an avid fan of anyone caught in this “scandal,” so I don’t feel connected to them and I am not vested in a particular resolution. I find the hype around this heartache nonsensical and my knee-jerk reaction is to roll my eyes and think no one should really care, outside of the circle of players. In other words, “Who are we to judge?” and “Is it really anybody’s business?”
As with many of my knee-jerk reactions in the past few years, I paused and evaluated my general stance on judging the actions of others from a Pagan perspective. I mulled over my questions for a while. I thought critically about what I meant by “judge.” For my purposes here, “to judge” means to examine someone else’s actions, determine guilt, and then decide how to react. In the context of a social contract, I think the answer is yes. Yes, we can judge. Yes, it is other people’s business. The concepts of wyrd and frith — though the labels are specifically Heathen — are generally practiced in most Pagan communities. We expect others to respect our personal boundaries, to treat us fairly in economic exchanges, and to uphold the values they claim to hold dear. And when these expectations are violated, we are not only allowed, but expected to hold others accountable with no promise of forgiveness. Because if there is no accountability for unacceptable behavior, social order can devolve into chaos and our community would dissolve. The social contract infers we not only can, but must judge people in our circles of frith.
Can I apply the same reasoning to the Stewart-Pattinson affair? Does this imperative to judge still apply when wyrd is one-sided? Fame is a complicated mistress.* It begins as two-sided. The famed actively seek favor from the general public through artistic performance or political action. If they are successful, the public responds by bestowing their favor that causes fame. This leads to a lopsided relationship where the continued fame of one is contingent upon the continued favor of many. Like it or not, those who pursue fame are thrust into a position of influence (social, economic, and/or political) and must balance their personal and public lives accordingly. In the case of Kristen Stewart, if she receives the benefits of one-sided frith (people paying to see her movies) then must she also endure the costs (strangers involving themselves in her personal affairs)?
Again, I think the level of offense fans have taken is ridiculous, but I think it is reasonable for those who feel offended to express their displeasure as a consequence of one-sided wyrd and frith. Honestly, I don’t really like having this opinion because knee still wants to jerk so I can say, “Leave it alone. No one should care. We shouldn’t judge other people.” But people do care. And one of the tenets of wyrd and frith is that we will be judged by our deeds. Who are we to judge? In Paganism, we (people, communities) are the only judges because we don’t believe in divine judgement.
Granted, this is taking an idea birthed in small communities — where we knew our neighbors and merchants — to a more global scale. That’s the world we live in now, though. One where your neighbor may be someone you know on Facebook or your merchant may be halfway around the world. The concept of frith still applies. You have expectations of people in your virtual community and when they are violated (say your Facebook friend posts something inappropriate or your ebay vendor doesn’t ship your item) you are justified in reacting and calling them to account. That is my point with the Stewart-Pattinson affair. Wyrd and frith afford her larger community of fans the choice to judge her for this misstep.** While she may not have a personal connection to people in this community, they have a personal connection to her. Is their connection to her reasonable? Probably not. But that doesn’t make it any less real.
I’m still grimacing about this. I don’t like saying it, but I think it’s true. While I’m still not vested in the Stewart-Pattinson story, it has served as an interesting example of how judgement is a means of accountability in a social context.
What is judgement without consequence? Stewart’s fans have certainly issued consequence through public outcry and censure (though some proposed consequences have been outrageous — some have threatened Stewart’s life). That outcry has had economic consequences. Universal Studios has terminated its ties with Stewart on their Snow White project; films planned to follow Snow White and Huntsman will no longer include her or her character. But what about long-term accountability? Holding someone accountable for their behavior isn’t just a matter of issuing consequence. It is also a matter of correcting that behavior — forcing the offender to right a wrong or at least mediate the damage they have done — so we can welcome them back into the bonds of frith. Unless the person has done something deemed so bad we exile or excommunicate them (like murder or treason), but I am not talking about those kinds of offenses here.
I think if we exercise accountability well, the offender should feel compelled to exercise self-responsibility — the Pagan value of making amends when you err (as we all do). Stewart has apologized publicly and continually shown remorse for her actions.*** She has begun to minimally make amends for her mistake. If we are the judges, then we must act accordingly and allow wrongs to be righted. This does not mean we must forgive an offender. It means we must eventually allow them to opportunity to re-earn their place in frith.§ Instead, Stewart has been bombarded with a frenzy of negative press so ridiculous that Will Ferrell mocked it in his video. But instead of being read as social commentary, his “trampire” comment served to feed the frenzy. I don’t really know what Kristen Stewart can do to re-earn a place in public favor, and I wonder if fans will give her the chance to regain their good graces.
What about you, Realm? Do you think fame incurs one-sided wyrd and frith? Do you think its right for fans to take a personal interest in the famed?
* Fame is a complicated but desirable mistress. At least for Heathens, it is. We want our names to be remembered for our accomplishments. Earning this kind of fame is valued and seeking it is considered an honorable pursuit.
** I call Stewart’s affair with her director a misstep. Whether or not a single woman in a relationship having sex with another man is a misstep is a different discussion. I don’t know the terms of the Stewart-Pattinson relationship and if monogamy was part of their commitment to one another. Nor do I know this about the married man with whom Stewart took as a lover. I am assuming by the reactions of Pattinson and the married man’s wife these parties considered the affair infidelity and took offense. But this leads to another interesting question, “If we can judge public figures, by what standards do we judge them? Theirs, or ours?” I honestly believe that if Pattinson had downplayed Stewart’s misstep and hadn’t taken offense, fans would not have reacted so strongly. Another example of fame as a complicated mistress. Stewart and Pattinson are tied not just by frith but by fame, as well. And their continued fame has become contingent on the way they treat each other publicly.
*** The Huffington Post published a great feminist critique of the public’s reaction to Stewart’s affair with her director. The author argues Stewart’s public virtual flogging is unfair relative to the treatment of her temporary lover.
§ IMO, holding a grudge after someone has made recompense — so long as the offended approved of said recompense — is just as damaging to frith as the original misdeed. I say this as someone who has a problem with grudges. I try to not to hold grudges anymore because they are hard to let go and they cause bad blood between family and friends.
+Featured image, a close up of Kristen Stewart as Snow White — a promotional photo for the film Snow White and the Huntsman.