Saturday, December 4th, 2021

O Shopper Columns


Back in the days when people actually sat on their front porches, they were always aware that the neighbors were watching.  Yes, front porches were private property where homeowners could let down their hair and relax. But front porches were also stages of a sort, so people minded their manners. Families didn’t argue on the front porch. If one was miffed at the neighbors across the street, one didn’t yell at them from one’s porch. To do so would reflect more poorly on the person yelling than it would on the neighbors who provoked the outburst. In short, people understood that public behavior was a reflection of one’s character, and for most people, character mattered.

Character also mattered in another “neighborhood”—this one in California. That “neighborhood” was Hollywood. Back in the day, unknown actors were put under contract to big movie studios that, by controlling every aspect of the actor’s private and public lives, groomed them into movie stars. The studios dealt quickly and harshly with stars whenever they said or did anything, publicly or privately, that might hurt their positive public image. The studios knew that in the public’s mind, character mattered. An ill-chosen word or a public outburst from a star could ruin their career by ruining their reputation. People weren’t going to buy tickets to movies starring actors who rubbed them the wrong way. We often assume that movie stars were somehow above it all, but actually, they lived in fish bowls. They knew they were always being watched by others and that even things done in private could potentially be made public and ruin their reputation.

Today, thanks to social media and digital technology, all of us are stars. A single Facebook post or cellphone text from a 12-year-old can, within minutes, be seen by thousands of people worldwide. The potential for a global audience is even greater for adults with hundreds of cell phone contacts or thousands of  “friends” on social media. That potential is part of social media’s allure.

With cell phones, each of us now carries in our pocket the kind of power once wielded by movie studios, TV stations, record companies, newspapers, and magazines.  But movie studios understood their bottom line depended on the public holding their employees—the movie stars—in high esteem. Unfortunately, too many of us are oblivious to such thinking. Did someone’s post tick you off? Blast back with your own post. But words matter. So do tone and intent. Once a text or post is sent, it is probably “out there” for good”—even if deleted quickly. We are all not only stars but media moguls. And once media is created, it has a life independent of its creator.

I embrace this technology and love social media. But I also follow a rule: never send a text or email, and never post a photo, video or statement that I wouldn’t want to be broadcast on TV.
The neighbors are watching, and despite significant changes in social sensibilities, character still matters.

Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouth’s official channel) since 2011.