When it comes to celebrities, I hunger for transparency. That’s a legitimate value, right? It’s hard to criticize a desire for openness and honesty. Except, I want to know almost nothing about them. I don’t care to know about their favorite colors, their middle names, their parents, nor their children. I don’t want to be their friend, and certainly nothing more than that.
My areas of interest are limited to scandal, sex, and secrets.
I want transparency, but only for good gossip.
Sure, I’ll watch my favorite celebs sit on Jimmy Fallon’s couch, and maybe even Seth Meyers’ if I like them enough. But I will watch even the least famous folks if they agree to appear on Andy Cohen’s set.
For those who don’t know, Andy hosts a show on Bravo Called Watch What Happens: Live. The show holds me hostage with a single segment: Plead the Fifth.
During Plead the Fifth, Andy asks his celebrity guests three questions, one at a time, and he tells them that they may only choose not to answer (“plead the fifth”) to one. None of the celebrities are ever thrilled to learn that this game is on the agenda, and that’s exactly what I like about it the most.
Despite their hesitations, they always choose to play! Perhaps there’s a psychology behind the way that Andy states rules of the game that hypnotizes his guests into submission, forgetting entirely about their free will. Or maybe the celebrities feel that they have to play because they can’t look like a quitter in front of whatever devoted fans might be watching. Whatever the reason, they start freely answering the questions.
They talk about their secret relationships, their drug histories, their sexual fantasies, their public feuds, and everything else that doesn’t really matter, but is still deliciously revealing.
Some celebrities do end up breaking the hex and pleading the fifth, but even so, refusing to answer is an answer itself. Like when Selena Gomez pled the fifth to a question about whether Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” music video was about Katie Perry. Or when Nicki Minaj pled the fifth to the question “who’s the biggest dick in the music industry?” but then said she really wanted to say the names of two guys, but “it would be too real.”
As much as I want transparency, I’m now beginning to understand the power of elusiveness. As much as I’d like to write off this word as equivalent to phoniness, it’s not. Faking is an often futile attempt at creating a new appearance for yourself that might better please the people around you. Eluding, on the other hand, is gracefully spinning and dodging both people and their questions so that your audience can only get a glimpse at the mystery of who you are. When eluding, “I can’t answer” is not followed with a bowed, embarrassed head, but rather with poise, a wink, and a smile.
To be clear, I still hate it when I don’t get answers to all three of the Andy’s gossip-prompting questions. It’s just that I can’t seem to hate the celebrities that do have a filter as much as I would like to.
I can’t help picturing myself in the hot seat, thinking about what questions would make me freeze up and cringe—perhaps not if asked in front of a close friend, but if asked in front of potentially millions of strangers. Would I ever plead the fifth? Or would I give the gluttonous crowd what I know that they want?
Before my own mind’s eyes, I watch myself turn into the celebrity that I hold daily grudges against, agreeing that there really is just one best strategy for people living in a spotlight.
Answer only two, and keep everyone begging for more.
Michael Kelly (’14) graduated from Calvin College with a double major in psychology and writing. Shortly after graduating, he began his graduate level study of educational research, measurement, and evaluation at Boston College. When he is not studying learning and teaching, Michael learns and teaches through stories and writing—fiction and nonfiction, comedy and tragedy, and everything else in between.