The Public Figures We Think We Know

I've been pondering the enigma of the people we think we know, and obsess over, watching their reality shows, poring over gossip magazines and tabloids that feature them, buying their products.
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"Baby I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream," sings Taylor Swift in one of her pop songs.

Don't believe it. The chart-topping Swift is widely known as one of the world's nicest celebrities and regularly nurtures that image. When a couple tweeted that they became engaged at one of her concerts, she invited them backstage. After an encounter with some fans in a New York park, she handed them $80 for lunch. And in perhaps her most touching moment, Swift recently donated $50,000 to a preteen fan fighting cancer after seeing her crowd-funding video.

While that donation surely was a smart business move as an investment in her wholesome brand, it shows she indisputably has heart and cares about being viewed that way. She was also branded as a champion of fellow musicians, including thousands far less successful, when she demanded last month that Apple pay royalties during a trial period for its new music subscription service, effectively forcing the world's richest corporation to open its wallet.

This conflicts with so many other stars who are nightmares in real life and package themselves as wholesome.

For decades Bill Cosby pulled the wool over our eyes, portraying a wise and noble dad on TV, doling out sage advice to his son and daughters, and speaking out on moral issues, when all that time he allegedly was a relentless sexual predator who abused women by drugging them.

Accusations against him are now bolstered by the revelation of a deposition in a civil trial, sealed but recently leaked, in which he seems to have admitted drugging women. He faces a civil trial in California, sued by a woman who says he abused her as a teenager.

Cosby's career is finished, as well it should be. OJ Simpson may get an endorsement deal or TV work sooner than Cosby will.

It leaves me pondering the enigma of the people we think we know, and obsess over, watching their reality shows, poring over gossip magazines and tabloids that feature them, buying their products.

In this post-Howard Stern, social media world that seems constantly at war with boredom, it's shock value that drives the discourse.

Which brings us to another Trainwreck. That's the name of Amy Schumer's hit movie, which has propelled her from obscure comedian to a queen of the summer box office with a respectable opening of over $30 million.

It has also cast a spotlight on her early act's irreverent segments on race and earned some criticism. In one bit she suggested being raped by Hispanic men, and in another she ridiculed African American names and mannerisms.

But was that really a glimpse, as her Comedy Central show is called, Inside Amy Schumer?

The key to success for any comedian is to push the envelope, which gets much increasingly harder now that off-color, lewd or bawdy jokes have become de rigueur. The last frontier for shock value is race. But that's a minefield.

Every comic plays a character on stage and, news flash, very little of what they say actually happened to them or reflects on what they actually believe. It's clear from the routines that Schumer was trying to inhabit the character of a ditsy, privileged white girl with a blind spot on race and ethnicity, rather than parade the fact that she is one.

The bottom line is that people in general are complex, showing good and bad sides in various occasions. Add in the element of being a public figure and the narcissism that comes with it, and the picture of who they are and what's in their hearts and souls gets even more murky and complicated. It may well be that living in the public spotlight actually drives people nuts.

Which makes it even more refreshing to see a celebrity use her fame and fortune and pulpit to set examples of kindness and gratitude. Hopefully Taylor swift can send the message that you can thrive in the limelight and be a huge success without losing your soul in the process.

About the author:
Eli Verschleiser is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate. In his Philanthropy, Mr. Verschleiser is a board member of the American Jewish Congress, Co-Founder of, & President of OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth.

Mr. Verschleiser is a frequent commentator on political and social services matters.