Jodie Foster came to the defense of her media-battered "Panic Room" co-star Kristen Stewart last week in an essay for the Daily Beast.
Her frustration with the coverage of Stewart's reported indiscretion with "Snow White and the Huntsman" director Rupert Sanders was not particularly surprising. Foster is known for her loyalty to colleagues, as well as someone who strongly values the need to maintain privacy. What was more compelling is what Foster had to say about celebrity culture circa 2012.
"In my era, through discipline and force of will, you could still manage to reach for a star-powered career and have the authenticity of a private life," she wrote, referring to her rise to movie stardom in the 1970s. She added: "If I were a young actor today I would quit before I started. If I had to grow up in this media culture, I don't think I could survive it emotionally. I would only hope that someone who loved me, really loved me, would put their arm around me and lead me away to safety."
Is Foster right? Has the notion of celebrity transformed drastically since she swapped identities with Barbara Harris in the 1976 version of "Freaky Friday"?
As the Oscar winner noted in the piece, we've always been interested in the none-of-our-beeswax details about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But there's no question that celebrity-coverage times have changed. The question is: Why?
Foster mentioned social media and a general sense that members of the media and the paparazzi not only regularly cross the line, but have also stopped acknowledging there is one. But should we blame Twitter for this? The TMZ-ification of America? Our hunger for nitty-gritty details about the famous people we admire?
Honestly, it's a swirling mess of all the above. Technology has collided with human nature and created a culture in which everything - including our interest in and the generation of entertainment news - is accelerated and magnified. Once upon a time, we might have merely wondered what was happening in Stewart's love life. Now we can hunt down the details, true or wholly invented, via a few taps on our iPhones. Then we can share those maybe-true details with a side of snarky commentary on our Twitter feeds. And then those tweets can be cited as evidence of the national opinion on the important matter of whether or not Stewart is, officially, a trampire. All of this can happen in less time than it takes to pick up an order of fast food.
This column sits smack in the middle of that bizarre place where an interest in Hollywood personalities and possible invasion of privacy meet. Every day online, the blog version attempts to serve as a fun but responsible pop-culture barometer, to convey the significant celebrity and entertainment stories of the day without stepping on any editorial land mines. But maybe I and other reporters like me should say no to certain stories more often. Perhaps we should stop and take a breath, even when everything happening in the world around us says: "Now, now, now! Publish, publish, publish!"
It's certainly not a bad idea. But even if the People magazines, Vultures and, yes, Washington Posts of the world used even greater discretion, it still would not resolve the issues Foster raises.
In fact, the conclusion of Foster's essay suggested that it's impossible to put the celebrity-culture genie back into the bottle; therefore, she merely encouraged Stewart and other young stars like her to continue trying to live fully, even though they must be guarded while they do it.
It seems that's the best they can do. Regardless of how an A-lister handles herself, someone - whether it's a legitimate reporter or just your average celebrity fanatic with a FlipCam - will be there to capture that candid photo or share exactly what she's doing and with whom, right this minute. And via the Internet, this information will spread.
There is no turning the car around, kids. The question that all of us must consider is whether we can do a better job of following the rules of the road while we continue our journey on what Stewart's alleged ex, Robert Pattinson himself, recently called on "Good Morning America" "the craziest theme park ride" we've ever been on.