the charm game

Sometimes there are things that you have to say, whether you mean it or not, just because it is necessary. It’s most obvious in celebrities and people in the public spotlight. When the news reporter asks you what you think about winning MVP, what do you say? Apart from the fact that it feels great (obviously), one of the things you have to say is, “Well, it was a team effort, and I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”

Of course you say that. Of course you do. If you don’t, you risk coming off as a douche and pissing off your teammates. Moreover, everyone knows that it’s what you have to say. It’s expected. So if you don’t say it, you not only come across as a douche, but you come across as being too stupid to realize what the social norms are.

There are other cases where it’s not as obvious. I was watching Daniel Radcliffe as a guest on the Graham Norton show. At one point, Graham comments that the work he has done as an actor since Harry Potter has been a bit edgy and out of the norm, and asked him if he is deliberately trying to push himself.

Daniel Radcliffe on the Graham Norton Show (Picture: PA)

Daniel Radcliffe on the Graham Norton Show (Picture: PA)

Daniel Radcliffe said (I’m doing this from memory, so this might not be an exact quote), “I love all of the roles that I’ve had, but I just take what comes along. Work is work after all!”

And everybody cheered and it was very charming. But let’s think about this for just a moment.

Daniel has an agent. That agent better be screening work opportunities long before they ever get into Daniel’s hands. And realistically it’s not as if Daniel has to work for the money, so his agent can afford to be very picky. He should only be presenting to Mr. Radcliffe those opportunities that he both thinks Daniel will like and that will further his career and his image.

Now, I’m sure that Daniel was telling the truth, inasmuch as he has taken whatever opportunities have been laid in front of him by his agent.  But when he says, “I take whatever comes along,” what he really means is, “I take whatever my highly skilled agent has decided to present to me.”  It doesn’t mean, “I just pick random crap out of the sky that happens to be there.”

When you think about it, of course this is what is happening. In fact, it better be what’s happening: because if his agent is not doing this kind of pre-screening for him then his agent is not doing his job and should be fired. That kind of screening is part of what the agent is supposed to do.

But what is Daniel Radcliffe required to say on stage? He says: “Oh, I just take whatever comes along!”

Of course he says that. How could he not? If he says he’s really picky, then he comes off as a snob. Plus, he alienates all of the actors out there who haven’t “made it” who really do need to take crap work to live. Then they will resent him for flaunting the fact that he doesn’t have to do the same.  So in order to not alienate his co-workers or his fans, he plays the charm game: “Oh, I just take what’s given to me! Work is work, after all!”

On some level, it’s a game because anyone who takes a moment to think about it knows what’s going on. It’s like when a celebrity is asked,” What do you think of your fans who do (some crazy thing)?” or “what do you think of (some crazy group of fans)?”  Every single celebrity says the same thing.  I’m sure you know this one by heart, so say it with me now:

“I love all of my fans!”

It’s the thing that has to be said.

Now keep in mind: I’m not saying that it’s not true. I truly believe that most celebrities (most of the ones who are decent people) know how blessed they are for the attention they get and truly and honestly appreciate their fans. I’ve met and known a few celebrities in my life and I know that they have really appreciated the love and adoration that their fans pour out at them.

At the same time, let’s face it: fans can get a little cray-cray. Fans can be a hassle. Some fans can be creepy.  But that’s not what you say when the camera is on you. You say: “I love all of my fans.”

Every once in a while, a celebrity will go on a talk show who has not been trained up quite the way he should. Or maybe he’s a little out of it for one reason or another. And he will slip, and he will say something other than the key phrase (“I love all my fans!”) that everyone expects to hear.

Have you seen this?  I have, and it’s actually jarring when it happens. We are so accustomed to the stock response, that we immediately think, “Oh, wow! Doesn’t he know what he’s supposed to say?”  Even if his answer is completely understandable.  I remember one young pint-sized celebrity admitting on camera in an interview that fans could “be a little crazy”, and it was a very awkward moment because everyone in the audience was simultaneously thinking, “He shouldn’t say that” and “Damn right.”

It’s a gaffe. It’s a blunder. You begin to wonder whether he just wasn’t coached enough, or whether he doesn’t realize how you’re supposed to answer, or what. And even though his answer might be his honest and instinctive answer, you judge him for it.  You judge him for it more for that than you would have if he had given the “coached” answer. The “coached” answer conveys, if nothing else, that he is suave enough and smart enough and together enough to know what he should say.

I have some friends that get completely bent out of shape when they feel that someone is lying to them in order to make them feel better or to avoid a confrontation. Little things, like saying “I’m busy that day” when they really mean “I don’t want to hang out with you.” I have friends that rage, rage against the night because of the deep offense of this insincerity. “Why can’t people just be honest?” my friends ask.

Personally, I don’t see the big deal. I think of it like the charm game that celebrities play: you say what you are “supposed” to say, because you are “supposed” to say it. It still conveys the same meaning (since nobody is really fooled), and at the very least it shows that you know how to be polite.

It’s a bit of a more laid-back attitude, that I think some people could benefit by. You really have two options when someone lies to you out of politeness: you can get mad of them for being dishonest, or you can appreciate the fact that they cared enough to play the charm game with you.



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  1. […] sometimes get something beneficial as a side-effect: they are forced to learn how to play the charm game, deal pleasantly with people they don’t like, and engage in a functioning relationship with […]


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