Yesterday, I read a story that has been all over the New York newspapers, about the birth of the daughter of pop stars Beyoncé and Jay-Z at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. The story (you can read the New York Times version here) is that the rock stars paid an undisclosed amount of money to build themselves a private birth suite in the neonatal unit at the hospital. In order to insure privacy for the famous new parents and their daughter, private security guards were hired to roam the halls, darkened glass was installed in the nursery, and, in a development that seems to me to be the most alarming, the hospital's regular security cameras were covered with paper to prevent curiosity seekers from glimpsing the new baby. Other parents with children in the neonatal intensive care unit were allegedly prevented from visiting their own babies, lied to, denied access to the hallways, and told that the additional measures had been taken because of a "special event" that had taken place.
I'm not going to talk here and now about the horrible inconvenience (and possible danger) to other parents and children caused by Beyoncé's special arrangements. Nor will I mention the public-relations disaster that this might become for Lenox Hill in a time of tight finances, hard-to-come-by health care, and class warfare. I am not even going to delve into my personal belief that all births are "special events," whether or not they take place in million-dollar private birthing suites. (Which, according to the Times, are routinely available to anyone, at an undisclosed price.)
What I want to touch on, lightly (because this space is limited), is the issue of entitlement to privacy in our celebrity-obsessed society. Volumes could be said about this, but I'll just keep it to a few brief, superficial observations.
There are many, many people in our society who make a living - and a good one, at that - by exposing their private matters to public view. These include, of course, memoirists, some of the more successful bloggers, sports idols, and performers. It is a profitable business to drum up interest in one's personal life, because it beefs up the revenues from one's professional life. Some famous performers try valiantly to shield their children from public view, because they have legitimate safety concerns. (Julia Roberts comes to mind.) Others milk their family life for all it's worth, encouraging their fans to follow their personal news as closely as they follow their professional news.
I'm thinking specifically of actors and actresses who pose with their new spouses and babies for the covers of tabloid magazines and who sell first rights to their family images for lucrative sums. Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who revealed Beyoncé's pregnancy in spectacular fashion at the MTV Video Music Awards in November, have encouraged fans to take an interest in their personal life. It's good business to have people following you on Facebook and Twitter and reading about you in Rolling Stone. It makes sense for a pop star to release a new song at just about the moment of his daughter's birth. (Read about that in Parade Magazine, in an article which interestingly describes Jay-Z as a "notoriously private rapper.") But, having purposely drummed up such an interest, can one then complain about the mob scenes at the hospital by fans and paparazzi desperate for a glimpse?
It seems to me that the Z family (nah, just kidding, their real surname is apparently Carter) could have afforded to build their private birth suite just about anywhere, including at a well-fortressed home, with all the medical equipment and expertise necessary for safety, and all the privacy they wanted, without inconveniencing others. But they chose to welcome their highly-heralded daughter at a large metropolitan hospital, renowned for its expertise in neonatal care, and to attempt to transform the NICU into their own private space.
I don't think they can have it both ways. What do you think?