Balancing Act

Grown-ups gone wild remind us the perils of a following

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Solange Knowles

Solange Knowles attends the "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014 in New York. (Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty photo)

Sometimes you don't want an audience after all.

If there's a solid take-away from this week's spectacular display of grown-ups gone wild, it's this: In a world teeming with selfies, fueled by followers and sustained on likes, we're all better off, sometimes, when no one's watching.

From Donald Sterling's pitiful attempt at an apology, which looked more like a man digging his own grave, to Ann Coulter's tone-deaf tweaking of #BringBackOurGirls, which backfired beautifully, to the Solange/Jay Z scuffle seen (if not heard) 'round the world, we are reminded once again that private thoughts and private lives can be surprisingly ugly.

But we're loath to keep them private. Disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Sterling's downfall began, of course, with a conversation he wasn't expecting to go public. But public it went, and public he followed Monday night on CNN, where he called Magic Johnson a bad example for kids and told Anderson Cooper, "I don't know why the girl had me say those things." Talk about misreading your cues (and the zeitgeist).

There's an old saying: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. When you find yourself with an audience, stop proving their worst suspicions.

Coulter, we know, thrives on proving our worst suspicions about her. But it's hard to believe she would have gone through with her lame, heartless Twitter stunt if she imagined the audience hijacking her meme so hilariously. Images of the pundit holding "#Bring Back My Soul," "I'm on Christian Mingle! User Name: RWNJ1958" and "I'm a miserable person who peddles hate to make money off dumb Republicans" went viral on Tuesday, after she tweeted a photo of herself mocking First Lady Michelle Obama by holding up a #BringBackOurCountry sign.

A regretful tweet? Join the club, Ann. Alongside scads of 7th grade girls and a bunch of others who should know better by now.

Meanwhile, the Internet continued to speculate what caused Beyonce's sister, Solange Knowles, to attack Beyonce's husband, Jay Z, in a hotel elevator at the Met Gala after-party, with outlets as divergent as The Atlantic, Gawker, Variety, Jezebel and the Washington Post weighing in with ruminations on family feuds, gender and race in pop culture and how quickly Solange deleted Beyonce's photos from her Instagram account. Beyonce may top Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world list, but she's powerless to steer — or stop — this Shakespeare-meets-TMZ tragedy.

My kids, 4 and 8, want nothing more than to post videos of themselves on YouTube. Inspired partly by Evan, an 8-year-old kid with his own YouTube channel (EvanTubeHD) that's garnered more than 270 million views, and partly by a culture that worships fame, they beg me to record them putting together Legos, reading books aloud and knocking down towers of pillows. No plot is too thin.

I've resisted so far, mostly because I don't want the cruel and fickle public feasting their eyes on my children's playful pursuits. But I post plenty photos of them on Facebook, and frequently show them pictures and videos that my friends post, so my message is hardly consistent.

Soon enough they'll be able to decide what to put out there — not just on YouTube, but on Instagram and SnapChat and whatever program has captured our attention by the time they're of age. So the conversation I feel compelled to have with them this week is about the perils of cultivating and feeding a following.

Because once you've invited the views, you've lost control of the message. An audience will turn away when you least expect them to and tune in hungrily when you least want them to.

We all screw up. It's part of living and growing and, hopefully, evolving. It's inevitable.

But fame, as we're learning this week, quickly turns to infamy. And that's a lot less fun.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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