As Ben Affleck’s privacy has been put on display for the world to see, it has become a media battle. What began as a controversial document leak on the widely talked about site WikiLeaks, has now turned into a controversial battle of wills between PBS and Affleck, and the rest of the world. The item in debate is the recently revealed subject that Affleck asked in written communication that PBS leave out the segment of the show, “Finding Your Roots,” that discusses a slave-owner ancestor. As email communication continued it was revealed that this had never been asked before from a guest of the show but was later decided that it could be deleted as long as no one knew about it. PBS and Affleck’s stance was that the edit of the show was within their right, but as other’s discuss the subject they feel that it was more like keeping a secret and that the network and celebrity should not have done it.
The fact that four of the five guests on that season had ancestors that were slave-owners and apparently much worse men than Affleck’s relative, according to written information in the email portion posted by host, Henry Louis Gates Jr., has no warrant for Affleck’s decision to not reveal that part of his history. As Anderson Cooper’s ancestor was a slave owner, Cooper was able to show proof that his ancestor was murdered by none other than a slave, though the slave was later hanged for his crime. This does not mean that every guest was proud of this fact by displaying their ancestry in regards to slavery, but rather it means that perhaps they were not as ashamed of it, and perhaps Affleck was.
Affleck’s choice to edit out his slave-owning ancestor could have stemmed from many reasons. However, in basic terms, he solely wanted to protect himself from publicly introducing that he had a slave-owning ancestor. Though he has not made direct statements as to his reasoning for asking PBS to remove such information from the documentary, perhaps he is simply ashamed of the fact that he had an ancestor who owned slaves. Many people would take the same position. Though slavery is an important part of U.S. history it is a frowned upon part, as documents have shown that slaves suffered tremendously under the rule of their owners. Being that his mother was a civil rights activist, perhaps he simply wanted to give her name a more publicized opportunity.
Now that information has been released about Ben Affleck’s attempt to hide the fact that he had a slave-owning ancestor, the part of the show where his mother was talked about is getting less attention. As well, his other ancestors that were talked about on the show, the ones that PBS decided to “focus on,” have also been diminished in their attention as the media hypes over the fact that Affleck wanted to hide his slave-owning roots. It could be argued that Affleck should have also been ashamed of his ancestor who performed seances, as this type of practice is often damned by religious believers, as it considered to be demonic. But as freedom of religion is covered in the constitution, freedom of slavery was not allowed in the constitution, but abolition of slavery became the 13th amendment. As previously stated, Affleck’s reasoning is unknown, but as media is condemning him for his decision they are forgetting Affleck’s right to choose.
Often celebrities do not get this right, as their lives are on display and are often exploited. However, this is not a matter where Affleck made damaging statements about someone, some moral issue, or some politically debated issue. This is only a matter where Affleck decided to not air his dirty laundry on television, a right that is provided to the average citizen. As Affleck has been on display for his wrongdoings before, this is hardly the most shocking information that has come out about him. In the news, “Ben Affleck hides part of his past,” the fact was not that his secrecy revealed he was a murderer, a rapist, or any other type of criminal. Though his ancestor can be seen as a criminal in the eyes of many for his possible treatment of slaves, this was not Affleck’s doing and wanting to have no part of it is a proper response, especially when being displayed in public.
PBS defended their decision to edit out said part of the show, as Gates stated that he maintains editorial control on his projects to decide what will make for the most compelling program. According to PBS Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor was just not interesting enough to be part of the show. Gates also stated, in defense of Affleck, that he is grateful that their guests let them into their personal lives, even when their past may be unpleasant. As the “guests” lives are on full display they should reserve the right to decide what part of their past they want displayed and what part of their past they want hidden. Though the email showed that Affleck was the first celebrity guest who asked for part of his show to be edited out, perhaps this move will prompt more guests to determine what private matters they want revealed about their history, giving them a bit more control over the private aspects that PBS wants to display.
In defense of PBS, a company who this information has slightly tarnished as they mentioned in the written statements that they knew if this got out it could damage the reputation of the company, their choice to edit out said material was most likely in respect of the guest, being Affleck, something that they reserve the right to do. Though, previous privacy laws do not specifically protect public figures like Affleck, PBS has a right to censor or otherwise delete any material that they use in their show. PBS is not the first network to do such.
Overall, as Affleck’s privacy has been on display, after the WikiLeaks Sony documents battle, the celebrity has now found himself the center of attention. The one fact that he wanted hidden from the show is now the one fact that everyone knows about. As many take the side of debate against Affleck and PBS, does that mean that the latter were wrong? Is privacy not still something to be valued in this country or was the statement made by Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems accurate, as he stated, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it?” It is the hope of the author that privacy does still exist, though it seems that it is a naive notion.
Opinion by Crystal Boulware
Photo Courtesy of PBS