Paparazzi of Plato

by Steve Martin


TABLOIDUS: Socrates, I wanted to show you my new Nikon FM2 with a 600-millimetre lens.

SOCRATES: Thank you, Tabloidus. It looks fine for taking pictures of ducks flying off in the distance.

MO-PED: That is a very fine purpose, in combination with a motorbike and an infrared night scope.

CLOOLUS: What else do you photograph besides nature?

TABLOIDUS: I love to photograph children.

SOCRATES: That, too, is a good and noble profession.

TABLOIDUS: There is nothing more beautiful to photograph than a mother breast-feeding her baby. Especially if it is Madonna.

CLOOLUS: You photographed Madonna breast-feeding her baby?


SOCRATES: What was she like in person?

TABLOIDUS: Well, I didn't actually meet her.

SOCRATES: Was she so full of herself that she would not speak to you?

TABLOIDUS: Oh, no. Because of the lens, I had to be three hundred yards away and shoot through her bedroom window.

CLOOLUS: It seems odd to me that Madonna would agree to have herself photographed this way.

TABLOIDUS: Her agreement was tacit.

CLOOLUS: But it seems to me you have invaded her privacy.

SOCRATES: Cloolus, what is privacy?

CLOOLUS: Privacy is when you are alone.

SOCRATES: Are you private when you are alone in a crowded market?

CLOOLUS: Certainly not.

SOCRATES: Are you private when you are alone in a car?

CLOOLUS: More so, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Are you private when you are in a car with tinted windows?

CLOOLUS: That is starting to be private.

SOCRATES: Are you private when you are in your home?

CLOOLUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Is it not true that if you tint your windows or stay home you are in some way protecting your privacy?

MO-PED: It cannot be otherwise.

CLOOLUS: But Madonna was in her home.

SOCRATES: Yes, but her windows were not tinted with UV-40 Reflecto-coat. Nor was she alone.

MO-PED: She was with her baby!

SOCRATES: Therefore, she was not protecting her privacy. And how can one invade what is not protected?

CLOOLUS: I am confused.

SOCRATES: Can something be tinted and not tinted a the same time?

CLOOLUS: It would be impossible.

SOCRATES: Can something be private and public at the same time?

CLOOLUS: They are mutually exclusive.

SOCRATES: And is it not true that privacy and UV-40 Reflecto-coat are one and the same?

MO-PED: He has proved it!

SOCRATES: Tabloidus, where were you when you took the picture?

TABLOIDUS: I was hiding on a rooftop. Further, I was wearing black clothing and a hood.

SOCRATES: So you were merely protecting your privacy while Madonna invaded your camera lens?

TABLOIDUS: I cannot argue otherwise, Socrates.

CLOOLUS: But is it not wrong to spy on a woman breast-feeding her baby?

MO-PED: When you become a singing star, it is wrong to want your breast-feeding to be private.

CLOOLUS: But why?

TABLOIDUS: Because of the public's right to know.

SOCRATES: Is it not true, Cloolus, that when the public is shopping in a supermarket, very often at the checkout point it has an overwhelming desire to see Alec Baldwin's newborn or Frank Gifford having sex?

CLOOLUS: I cannot deny it.

SOCRATES: This desire, known in a democracy as "the checkout point of freedom," is important, because without it Frank's children would never have known about his transgression.

CLOOLUS: Your argument is flawless. But why was there never a similar desire to see, say, Jimmy Stewart having sex?

SOCRATES: Because Jimmy Stewart didn't have "that special something."

TABLOIDUS: Alas, Cloolus, the public's taste in those days was not so sophisticated.

CLOOLUS: So I am living in a wonderful age.

MO-PED: There could not be one finer!

SOCRATES: Let us now go to the supermarket and see if we develop a desire to see a doctored photo of Tom Cruise biting Oprah's car seat!


This article appeared in The New Yorker magazine on September 22, 1997.




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