How To Be Discreet
Surviving in a society where vulgarity has become currency
We live in exceedingly vulgar times. There is a gnawing sense that we are all hurtling toward the end of a civilization that may have been imperfect but still strove for decency. And yet here we all are, feeble spectators to an existential carnage where obscenity has become the new normal—be it in the form of dead bodies strewn along the streets, or white supremacists openly rallying for the return to the good old days of slavery, or presidents gleefully pillaging government funds for their personal benefit, or shameless senators coddling the proverbial big fish who happen to be related to someone powerful, or trolls buoyed by online anonymity pushing fake news and bullying those who oppose their views… the list is endless.
Amidst such vulgarity, there must still be some virtue in being discreet. Yet how does one remain discreet in an era where overexposure is celebrated, where an online presence seems to matter more than real life, where everything, from catastrophic floods to the loss of a 17-year-old son falsely accused by the police of being a drug runner, is treated as a photo op, with the more viral its reach, the better?
We lead such public lives these days, documented and shared on social media sites, that to insist on privacy can be construed as contrived— a cynical public relations move with another filter, just not Valencia.
Nowadays it would appear that there is more to being discreet than logo-less clothing, serious but understated jewelry, and private jets— accoutrements that whisper luxury rather than scream “designer.” Yet the definition of discreet has become most elusive. Perhaps it is easier to define what is not discreet rather than what is. For instance, however dismal the state of one’s marriage may be, is it discreet (never mind wise) to go crying to the president—a man for whom the words “boundaries” and “filter” have no meaning at all—about a financial settlement? By the same token, is it discreet to make a catfight between two extramarital lovers the basis for one congressman to suddenly bring on the heat upon another? Indeed, is it discreet to trumpet the fact that you are having an affair—“Doesn’t everybody have one?”—in a country where many men do have one, but many women have no recourse but to turn a blind eye and live in misery because we don’t have divorce? Indiscretion does have its advantages, however. Discretion was valued during more genteel times because it safeguarded secrets, protected hypocrisies, killed scandals before they could surface, and bestowed a veneer of propriety upon society. Think of all the closeted gay actors who portrayed dashing leading men. Or aristocrats who fathered children out of wedlock. Or presidents with insatiable sexual appetites who enjoyed a procession of paramours going in and out of the White House. JFK, is that you? Many may have lived to regret a moment of indiscretion, but if this one moment managed to bring about an investigation, or change legislation, or encourage greater transparency in personal, business, and government dealings, then perhaps it wasn’t all for naught. Just don’t go around posting on social media, accompanied by #blessed or #grateful or #thankful. But do mention your sponsors if you’re being paid to post. There is a discreet way of doing so. Just ask Bryanboy. •