The latest episode of the podcast “Sincerely, X” addressed the practice of ghostwriting for wedding speeches, eulogies, work emails and other personal occasions.
In an age when identity is commodified and personalities become brands, there are still trusted spaces of authenticity: love letters, wedding speeches, eulogies, job applications, etc. What happens when people seek out ghostwriters to represent them in these spaces? (Aside from the plot of Cyrano de Bergerac or Hitch, that is.)
“Sincerely, X” is an original podcast from TED and Luminary that allows speakers to share their perspectives anonymously. Season 2, Episode 7, titled “The Ghost,” dissects the practice and ethics of hiring a ghostwriter for such occasions.
The ghostwriter on the podcast, like every primary guest, is referred to only as “X” during the episode. Rather than write political memoirs or books for YouTube stars, X writes for daily life and personal occasions, for eulogies and wedding vows—even work emails.
In the episode, host and writer Sarah Kay questions this somewhat unusual focus area and addresses the levels of authenticity at which we engage with different types of written and spoken content. While Kay digs in with questions about the ethics of authorship for these purposes, X argues that his brand of ghostwriting is a public service.
He says that he has never written something that isn’t emotionally authentic. He considers ghostwriting a filter for the nuanced feelings his clients are trying to express and argues that he is helping others represent their emotions fully and accurately, just as a more traditional ghost would for a book project.
And X isn’t the only one ghosting for more personal matters these days. After all, the rise of dating apps has been accompanied by a boom in ghostwriting services for your Tinder conversations and OkCupid profiles.
Is there a hierarchy of ethics for working with a ghostwriter in different mediums and situations? After all, it’s widely accepted that most political speeches and celebrity memoirs, for example, are ghostwritten. But what about more personal situations?
Kay, weighing what situations might be ethically questionable in this regard, consults “microphilosopher” Julian Baggini about authenticity and deceit. Baggini acknowledges that ghostwriting can be a positive influence during occasions that may involve some vulnerability, focusing on X’s remarks around helping people: “If someone else, who has a better linguistic facility, can come along and help them to express themselves, to find the right words, then maybe suggest words to them, then yes, it is possible to present an authentic version of themselves.”
Therein lies the heart of X’s ghostwriting practice: People have ideas, but may not have the confidence to express them on their own. The emotional weight of a wedding speech or a eulogy may be too overwhelming for a client uncomfortable with the written word. With the added pressure of social media, “the fourth wall has come down in every room and the whole world is watching,” X says.
In the case of weddings and funerals that operate on a deadline, X explains that his clients often don’t have the time or ability to craft something appropriately profound for the occasion. Kay, who also works as an educator, proposes that this sort of help is warranted and people should be encouraged to find the language to express their authentic selves.
Tune in here to catch the full conversation. (Subscription required.)
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